Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Snow Falling on Cedars can help.

Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s now December 7, the morning of the second day of Kabuo’s trial. It’s freezing and snowing outside, but the courtroom is warm. Alvin Hooks calls Dr. Sterling Whitman to the stand. Whitman is the hematologist who examined the blood found on Kabuo’s gaff. He describes the process of typing blood as “a standard procedure” in his line of work.
Again, Guterson draws the reader’s attention to snow, evoking the court’s responsibility to decide where they can (and must) exercise their free will, and where they must leave things to chance. Meanwhile, Dr. Whitman’s profession makes him seem reliable: because he regards typing blood as a “standard procedure,” the jury considers his testimony—his presentation of facts—as legitimate.
Themes
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Ed Soames, the bailiff, brings Hooks the gaff, which is a piece of the prosecution’s evidence against Kabuo. Whitman identifies the evidence as the gaff he examined, and verifies that it is in identical condition. He shares his findings with the court: that the blood on the gaff was human blood, and that he identified it as B-positive. He checked this blood type against Carl Heine’s, and found that Heine’s blood was also B-positive.
Whitman’s testimony that the blood found on the gaff is human blood contradicts Kabuo’s earlier remarks: on the day of his arrest, he told Art that the blood might have been from a fish. Whitman’s testimony, therefore, is damning for Kabuo; it’s even worse that the blood type, B-positive, matches Carl Heine’s. In short, Whitman’s selection of facts discredits Kabuo’s supposed account of the truth.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks asks Whitman whether he can say with certainty that the blood is Carl’s; he admits that he cannot, although he does say that the B-positive blood type is somewhat rare. In contrast, Kabuo’s blood type is O-negative. Thus, the blood on the gaff was neither animal blood nor Kabuo’s own blood.
Whitman can’t prove beyond reasonable doubt that the blood is Carl’s. The notion of reasonable doubt becomes important later on when the jurors must deliberate and render a verdict.
Themes
Nels Gudmundsson rises to question Whitman. Whitman verifies, again, that he took the blood sample from the butt of the gaff. Nels asks him if he found anything besides blood and wood scrapings on the sample, such as “strands of hair, or particles of scalp.” Whitman admits that no, there were no strands of hair or particles of scalp. Nels speculates that this is odd, as the prosecution’s theory seems to be that Kabuo hit Carl over the head with the gaff.
Hooks’s interrogation of Whitman purposely avoided the question of whether or not there were “strands of hair, or particles of scalp” found on the gaff. He chose not to include this detail in the facts he presented to the jury because it didn’t line up with the “truth” he wanted them to believe—that Kabuo struck Carl over the head with the gaff. Nels purposely widens the scope of the facts in order to discredit Hooks’s version of the truth.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Get the entire Snow Falling on Cedars LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow Falling on Cedars PDF
Nels directs Whitman’s attention to the second wound found on Carl’s corpse, on his hand. He asks whether it’s possible that the B-positive blood could’ve been transferred to the gaff from this wound on Carl’s hand (as opposed to the wound on Carl’s head). Whitman admits that this is possible; what’s more, he says that, though his findings prove that the blood on the gaff is B-positive, they don’t prove how the blood got there.
Nels further widens the scope of the facts to include Carl’s second wound, a detail Hooks also chose to omit when he examined Whitman. By including the fact of Carl’s wounded hand, Nels introduces a second—and equally likely—possibility of how B-positive blood could have ended up on Kabuo’s fishing gaff.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Nels positions Whitman to admit that the percentage of males of Japanese descent with B-positive blood is even higher than the percentage of Caucasian males (20% versus 10%), suggesting that the blood could’ve come from any number of men. Finally, he asks Whitman to determine whether it’s more likely that the blood was transferred to the gaff from a hand wound or a head wound. Whitman believes it’s “more probable” that the blood came from a hand.
Nels widens the scope of the facts again. In doing so, he shows the jury that it’s hardly certain that the blood on the gaff is Carl’s, even if the blood types match: the higher percentage of Japanese men who have B-positive blood creates a reasonable possibility that the blood could be someone else’s. Whitman’s admission that it’s “more probable” that the blood on the gaff came from a hand discredits Hooks’s examination. 
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Three fishermen testify that they’d seen Carl and Kabuo’s boats near one another on September 15, the night of Carl’s death, at Ship Channel Bank. Leonard George, a gill-netter, tells Nels Gudmundsson that Ship Channel is similar to other places the men typically fish: it is “narrow” and with a “limited seafloor topography.” These features force the fishermen to “fish within sight of other men.”
George’s testimony places Carl’s and Kabuo’s ships in the same area (Ship Channel Bank) the night of Carl’s death. He also backs up his account with logic, stating that the “narrow,” limited space of the Ship Channel requires gill-netters to “fish within sight of other men.” This extra detail legitimizes George’s initial observation: not only did he see the two boats near each other, he can provide a logical explanation for their nearness.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
The nearness of other men’s boats combined with the typical fog observed that time of year on San Piedro made it necessary for the fishermen to move around carefully, so as not to hit another man’s net. Thus, it would make sense that Leonard George would remember seeing Carl and Kabuo’s boats at Ship Channel Bank: he would’ve been on high alert so as not to bump into either of them. They were fishing in the same area, with Carl “a thousand yards closer to the shipping lanes that gave Ship Channel Bank its name.”
George provides another fact to legitimize why he noted the two boats in the first place: the narrow dimensions of Ship Channel Bank require gill-netters to be acutely conscious of other boats in their vicinity.  George’s ability to explain why he knows what he knows strengthens his credibility as a witness.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Nels Gudmundsson then asks Leonard George if it’s common for gill-netters to board each other’s ships at sea; George reveals that it is not. There aren’t many reasons to board another’s ship. George cites helping out a man with a stalled boat as one of these rare cases, however. George emphasizes that the men generally keep to themselves.
George brings up a compelling point; still, just because something doesn’t usually happen doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t ever happen. George’s observation is closer to speculation than it is to fact.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Nels then asks if fishermen ever argue on the open sea. George says yes, when “a guy gets corked off.” He explains that a gill-netter’s net consists of a top and a bottom part. The top of the net rests above water, allowed to float with bits of cork tied to it; the bottom rests beneath the surface, weighted down with lead. When one man places his net up current from another, he essentially takes all the fish in that area before they can drift to the net behind his—this is getting “corked off.” A man who’d been corked off might motor past the fish-stealer and lay his net up current, thus corking off the man who’d done it first to him, essentially setting up a game of “leapfrog.” Still, as infuriating as a situation like this would be, George emphasizes, it wouldn’t be a serious enough argument to warrant boarding another man’s boat.
George’s expertise on the behaviors and habits of gill-netters lend more credibility to his testimony. George presents the scenario of getting “corked off” to suggest that even in extreme, infuriating situations, it is highly unusual for a gill-netter to board another gill-netter’s boat—in other words, even if Kabuo and Carl had bad blood between them, it would be odd for them to act on their feelings while they were both on the open sea.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
The trial continues. Alvin Hooks calls Army First Sergeant Victor Maples, who trains combat troops, to the stand. He testifies that he remembers Kabuo due to the kendo expertise he demonstrated during training. Kabuo was so skilled that, in a practice exercise, Maples was unable to hit him back. So impressed was Maples with Kabuo’s skills that he’d asked to study with him. In his testimony, Maples asserts that “a man with no training in kendo had little chance of warding [Kabuo] off.” What’s more, Kabuo struck him as “willing to inflict violence on another man.” In fact, “it would not surprise” him to hear that Kabuo had murdered another man with an implement like the fishing gaff.
Hooks selects Maples as a witness to add credibility to Horace Whaley’s earlier remark about Carl’s head wound looking like a Japanese kendo wound. Even though Maples’s testimony paints Kabuo as a man “willing to inflict violence on another man,” it does little to prove that Kabuo’s supposed willingness lead him to actual murder. Again, Hooks’s case against Kabuo includes a lot of speculative, hypothetical “facts.”
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon