Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kabuo eats in his jail cell after the trial’s noon recess. The room is small and sparsely adorned. Kabuo looks in the mirror, noting how “he had come home from the war and seen in his own eyes the disturbed empty reaches he’d seen in the eyes of other soldiers he’d known.” Kabuo reflects on the Germans he’d been forced to kill during the war, in particular a young boy who had “refused to die.” The boy suffered on the ground at Kabuo’s feet, begging for mercy, and Kabuo squatted next to the boy as the life drained from his body. In his jail cell, Kabuo looks again at his face, and he thinks about how “he appeared to the world seized up inside precisely because this was how he felt.”
Kabuos’ reflections on “the disturbed empty reaches he’d seen in the eyes of other soldiers he’d known” shows the war’s lasting impact on his mental health. The fact that he continues to dwell on the vivid details of the atrocities he was forced to commit during the war, such as the suffering young boy who had “refused to die” demonstrates the extent of Kabuo’s guilt. When Kabuo looks in his face, he sees a reflection of “how he [feels],” demonstrating how wildly the court has misinterpreted his unreadable demeanor. Motivated by prejudice, the court believes that Kabuo is angry and bitter; in reality, he is psychologically tormented and emotionally “seized up.”
Themes
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The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
In his jail cell, Kabuo continues to look at his reflection. He wonders how he could begin to explain to the court “the coldness he projected” in his face. He realizes now that his unreadable demeanor doesn’t project what he originally intended it to portray: Kabuo had wanted to seem innocent and “haunted,” before the jury; but, instead of evoking his past traumas, his unreadable face seemed to suggest a “haughtiness,” as if he thought he was superior to the court and even to death. The jury gives Kabuo no benefit of the doubt.
Still, Kabuo is aware of the jurors’ prejudice. He can see how they would see “coldness” in his face. He also recognizes the problem this presents for him. Although he’d wanted his face to appear “haunted” (which would reflect his actual emotional experience) the jury had misinterpreted his intentions. The facts of the trial won’t be able to help him if all the jury can see is “haughtiness.” Fair or not, Kabuo acknowledges the role appearance and prejudice play in his trial.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Kabuo knows that his face, so much more than his testimony and the testimonies of others, will dictate how the jury regards him. As Nels Gudmundsson had cautioned Kabuo, the jurors will likely pay more attention to how Kabuo looks and acts than they will to the facts of the case.
Nels reasserts the importance of appearances in the court room. Nels’s advice to Kabuo draws on the book’s larger theme of facts vs. truth: in the courtroom, objective “facts” are often overshadowed by the jury’s subjective impressions of Kabuo. The jury’s interpretation of the truth, thus, is ultimately subjective.
Themes
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Kabuo likes Nels. He remembers the first time they met in his jail cell. Kabuo right away expressed his innocence. Nels told him they’d worry about that issue later—although, as Hooks was serious about pursuing the death penalty, they would eventually have to worry. Kabuo considered the real possibility of his own death, and observed that it seemed only right that he pay for the murders he committed as a soldier; “everything comes back to you, nothing is accidental,” he knew. Still, Kabuo had been fearful at the prospect of death.
Kabuo’s immediate fear of death stems from his overarching anxieties surrounding fate. He believes that the murder trial and the possibility of the death penalty are both fate’s way of punishing him for the atrocities he was forced to commit during WWII.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
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Kabuo recalls that Nels repeated his point that they’d worry about innocence later. Then, he pulled out a chessboard. “White or black?” he asked Kabuo. Kabuo put a black piece and a white piece behind his back and asked Nels to guess. Nels replied, “If we’re going to leave it to chance, left is as good as right. They’re both the same, this way.” Nels won that game.
This scene illustrates the novel’s larger theme of chance vs. choice. Kabuo puts a black and a white chess behind his back to allow Nels to “choose” his fate. Guterson seems to suggest that Kabuo is conflicted about the role fate plays in life. On the one hand, he believes that fate will always control certain aspects of life; on the other hand, he wants to be able to make choices for himself. For his part, Nels seems to accept his inability to control all aspects of life: “If we’re going to leave it to chance, left is as good as right.” Nels knows that there’s no point in maintaining the illusion of choice in certain situations.
Themes
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Now, in his jail cell, Kabuo resumes eating his lunch. He daydreams about wandering through the woods of San Piedro. Kabuo thinks some more about nature, recalling a trip he’d taken with Hatsue and their children just before his imprisonment, to Lanheedron Island.
Kabuo recalls a happier time in his life. San Piedro’s wood paths are untouched by the social prejudices and injustices that led to his imprisonment.
Themes
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Kabuo continues to think about Hatsue. He remembers seeing her before they’d been married, when they were 16: they’d both been employed to pick berries at the Ichikawas’ farm. Kabuo spotted Hatsue,, absorbed in her work picking berries. He watched as she brought some of the berries to her mouth and ate them. Later that evening, he went to Hatsue’s house and saw her walk outside with a bucket of kitchen scraps. As she passed by a row of raspberries, she picked some of them, brought them to her lips and ate them. Kabuo watched Hatsue’s mouth and wondered what it would taste like to kiss her at that moment.
Kabuo’s budding romantic feelings for Hatsue parallel Ishmael’s. Like Ishmael, Kabuo associates Hatsue with nature, placing her and his romantic feelings toward her in a sphere that is separate from the prejudices and constraints of society. Kabuo’s journey to Hatsue’s home also parallels Ishmael’s earlier trips there.
Themes
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Kabuo then remembers their budding romance in Manzanar. One night, after a long day of work in the camp garden, they spoke of San Piedro’s strawberry fields. Kabuo realized they “shared the same dream” of one day working their own strawberry fields, and he knew then that he loved her. One night some time later, they kissed in the back of a truck.
Kabuo’s realization that he and Hatsue “shared the same dream” perhaps suggests that he believes they are fated to be together. Their dream of working their own strawberry fields is born of a mutual desire to honor the legacy of their families, as well.
Themes
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Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Kabuo continues to reminisce about Hatsue. He recalls her unhappy reaction when he told her he’d enlisted in the military. Kabuo told her that he was obligated to join out of honor. Hatsue disagreed, arguing that love was more important than honor, but Kabuo could not align himself with his wife on this issue. To Kabuo, honor mattered more than love, and he could not commit himself to loving Hatsue if his honor was compromised. Hatsue eventually agreed with her husband, citing something she’d learned from Mrs. Shigemura, “that character was always destiny.”
An obligation to duty dictates Kabuo’s decision to enlist in the military. Hatsue and Kabuo are alike in this way, as both repeatedly choose to honor their obligations over acting on their desires, even though Hatsue claims to value love more than honor. Hatsue and Kabuo’s obligations both have significant ties to their cultural background: as Guterson revealed earlier in the novel, Kabuo was obligated to fight against the Japanese in order to prove his loyalty to the United States. When Hatsue accepts Kabuo’s need to enlist, it is because she recalls her lessons with Mrs. Shigemura, who instructed her in traditional Japanese culture. Hatsue understands her obligation to enlist through the Mrs. Shigemura’s position “that character was always destiny.”  
Themes
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Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
In his jail cell, Kabuo’s thoughts turn to his father and his father’s katana, which he’d brought to the United States from Japan. The sword had been in the Miyamoto family “for six centuries.” Kabuo’s father buried the sword, along with other personal belongings from Japan.
Like Hatsue’s, Kabuo’s sense of obligation stems from a need to honor his family and cultural heritage. The katana illustrates the Miyamoto family’s rich cultural history.
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His father had also buried a photograph of Kabuo, taken at the San Piedro Japanese Community Center. In the photograph, Kabuo was dressed in a traditional costume and held a kendo stick. In the jail cell, Kabuo’s daydreaming turns to the kendo training of his youth, which he started when he was seven years old.
Kabuo’s kendo training links him more closely to the narrative of his family’s cultural history. It also connects back to Horace Whaley’s earlier observation that Carl Heine’s head wound resembled the injury inflicted by a kendo stick.
Themes
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Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Kabuo remembers how his father had told him about his family’s samurai past. Kabuo’s great-grandfather had been a samurai who died because he was so devoted to being a samurai. Kabuo’s father believed it was an unfortunate twist of fate that Kabuo’s great-grandfather was a samurai in a society that no longer had any place or use for them. When the government told Kabuo’s great-grandfather he could no longer bear his sword, he became angry and started wishing to kill people. Zenhichi conceded that although his grandfather really was an incredible swordsman, “his anger overwhelmed him in the end.”
Kabuo’s great-grandfather’s “anger overwhelm[s] him” because society rejects the role of warrior he believes fate destined him to fill. He will eventually die because he is unable to honor this obligation he is fated to fulfill, which shows how believing in fate can often become a heavy burden.
Themes
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Kabuo recalls how Zenhichi told him that although it was in his blood to be a warrior, it was ultimately his decision to train to become one. Kabuo decided to take on the task, and began training with his father. As he remembers, he recalls his successes in kendo and how some people believed that he was willing to draw on his “dark side” in order to succeed as a fighter. Kabuo’s “fighting spirit” became apparent to him during the war, after he’d been forced to kill Germans.
When Kabuo decides to begin his training in kendo, he agrees to honor the long and complex warrior tradition that exists in his family. On the other hand, Guterson seems to suggest that Kabuo might not have chosen to train in kendo so much as felt it was his fate or destiny to do so. When others claim that Kabuo has a “fighting spirit,” they suggest that Kabuo’s very soul embodies the warrior spirit. Kabuo himself also acknowledges the reality of this innate “fighting spirit” when he sees how effortlessly he is able to kill German soldiers in WWII.
Themes
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Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
At present, as he sits in his jail cell, Kabuo feels trapped by his perception that his family’s warrior past has sealed his fate. Kabuo believes that being accused of Carl Heine’s murder and the unfair trial that followed was meant to be. He feels doomed by his fate.
Kabuo believes that fate is punishing him for the warrior spirit he inherited from his great-grandfather, which enabled him to kill so ruthlessly during the war. He believes that the unjust trial in which he now finds himself is fate’s way of making up for the death he caused.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
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