Snow Falling on Cedars


David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Back in the courtroom, the snow continues to fall heavily on San Piedro. It covers all the roads, impacting the daily goings-on of the island. Islanders are wary of the storm and all the unknowns it presents. Still, they recognize that the snowstorm could present some positive aspects, like cancelled school and workdays, and more time for families to spend together. At any rate, islanders know that they cannot predict the intensity of the storm, and they resign themselves to the hands of fate: “there was nothing to be done except what could be done. The rest—like the salt water around them, which swallowed the snow without any effort, remaining what it was implacably—was out of their hands, beyond.”
Guterson describes the uncontrollable aspects of the snowstorm in order to establish it as opposite from the very controllable nature of Kabuo’s trial. On San Piedro, there are elements that remain “out of their hands, beyond,” and there are elements that remain completely within humanity’s ability to influence and control. One of the book’s driving themes is the struggle to determine and act on the situations in which one has the power to do so.
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After the trial’s afternoon recess, Alvin Hooks calls Art Moran once more to the witness stand. Art is restless. Hooks asks Art to identify four pieces of mooring line rope that Art had collected as evidence. Exhibit A is from Kabuo’s boat, explains Art. It is old and matches the rest of Kabuo’s lines—except for one, “on the port side cleat second up from the stern.” The un-matching rope, Exhibit B, is new, which is very uncharacteristic of the ropes Kabuo keeps on his ship. Moran emphasizes that Kabuo keeps his ropes generally worn down, so the new rope (Exhibit B) stands out.
Art’s testimony consists of facts supplemented by narrative or speculation. He identifies the pieces of rope before him (facts), but he follows this by making an inference about how Kabuo usually keeps his ropes (narrative speculation). Art can’t know how Kabuo keeps his ropes all the time, yet his inference is seen as fact by the court. 
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The next piece of rope (C) was found on Carl’s boat. It is new, and has an intricate, hand-braided knot at the ends, which is characteristic of the ropes found on Carl’s ship. But the fourth rope, which was found on Carl’s boat, isn’t like these fancy, new ropes. It’s more like Kabuo’s worn out ropes. This suggests that, at some point, Kabuo had been “tied up to Carl Heine’s boat.”
Again, there’s nothing literally incorrect about Art’s testimony, but it takes a single possibility, that Kabuo had been “tied up to Carl Heine’s boat,” and frames it as fact. Art is only speculating that Kabuo might’ve tied himself to Carl’s boat, but the jury could interpret his speculation as absolute fact.
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In response to Hooks’s prompting, Art explains that he was inspired to investigate something as small as “a new mooring line” after talking with Carl’s relatives, who’d brought Art up to speed on Carl’s supposed bad blood with Kabuo Miyamoto. Feeling that the land feud was a reasonable lead to follow, Art had resigned to search Kabuo’s boat, the Islander, before Kabuo took it out fishing the night of September 16.
Art is only convinced to investigate Kabuo’s boat in the first place because of a biased, one-sided rumor that Kabuo and Carl have bad blood. This suggests that Art’s supposedly objective investigation was riddled with bias from the start.
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