Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The first witness, Art Moran, the county sheriff, is called to the stand. Moran had been at his office on the morning of September 16 when his deputy, Abel Martinson, announced over the radio that Carl Heine’s fishing boat “had been sighted adrift in White Sand Bay.” Moran relates to the prosecutor, Alvin Hooks, that he was concerned about the sighted boat and went over to investigate around 9:00 a.m. A “lean” and “unimposing” man, Moran never had very strong feelings about being sheriff. He wears his uniform uncomfortably, as though “dressed for a costume party.” Last night, Moran tossed and turned all night, anguishing over his role as a witness in Kabuo’s trial.
Art Moran doesn’t seem to make to much of an impression on anyone—in fact, he is “unimposing.” Again, Guterson shows how an unreadable demeanor is most always perceived as neutral for white characters; that is, Moran’s lack of expression doesn’t seem to strike anyone as suspicious. The fact that Moran anguished over his testimony the night before the trial suggests that he’s anxious about having to turn over his “facts” to the jury. He seems to recognize the complexity of turning individual facts into a cohesive narrative of truth.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
The night before Carl’s death, Moran recalls, had been very foggy. He describes the morning he and Abel Martinson went to investigate Carl’s boat, the Susan Marie, in White Sand Bay: Moran and Martinson arrived at Carl’s boat, but Carl was nowhere to be found. They assessed the conditions of the ship: the lights were all on, which gave Abel “a bad feeling.” Carl’s net was full of salmon. Abel speculated that Carl might’ve fallen overboard. The men wondered where Carl fished last night, with Abel suggesting that he might’ve gone to North Bank, Ship Channel, or Elliot Head. The men investigated Carl’s cabin. They found a battery next to the wheel in the cabin. The cabin lamp was left on, which gave Art “the ominous impression of an extreme, too-silent tidiness.”
Art’s testimony is full of concrete, objective facts: they scrutinize the Susan Marie carefully and throughly. Still, despite the men’s best efforts to be fair and objective in their investigation, so much of their search is dictated by emotion and subjectivity: when Abel observes that he has “a bad feeling,” for example, Guterson shows that human emotion can lead to bias, despite one’s best efforts. 
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Art suggested that they check to see if Carl’s dinghy was over the reel; it was. After a quiet moment, Abel proposed that they look under the boat’s deck—maybe Carl had experienced engine trouble—but Art observed that there was no room to crawl around beneath the deck.
The men are thorough and objective in their work. Still, Guterson emphasizes how much speculation is involved in their investigation as the men try to reconstruct Carl’s actions the previous night. They create options for a narrative “truth” to try to understand what might have happened to Carl, and to help them move their investigation of the boat forward. This shows how much speculation and subjectivity is involved even in an examination of relatively straightforward “facts.”
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
As the men searched for Carl, Art thought about the missing fisherman, whom he’d been fond of. Carl was of German descent, and “from old-time island stock.” His grandfather and father (Carl Sr.) had been strawberry farmers. Carl’s mother, Etta, had sold his father’s strawberry fields after his death in 1944. The Heines were “hard-toiling, quiet people.” Carl was a veteran who had served on the U.S.S. Canton, which later sank during the invasion of Okinawa. He had blond hair, and was a large, broad man who dedicated himself to the quiet life of a fisherman. He kept to himself and was polite, though not particularly warm.
Again, human emotion figures significantly into the men’s search for the “truth” of Carl’s whereabouts. Even as he tries to be clearheaded and objective, Art can’t help but think about Carl as a person. In Art’s memories of Carl, Guterson emphasizes how much of an insider Carl is on San Piedro: he’s “from old-time island stock,” and he’s “hard-toiling” and “quiet,” all traits that would make him a respected and well-liked figure on the island. He is also blond and white. All of these traits will add to the jury’s later prejudice towards Kabuo: not only is Kabuo an outsider, but he (supposedly) murdered someone who represents everything the island respects in one of their own. Additionally, Carl’s service on the U.S.S. Canton is important to note. It grounds the novel in tpost-WWII culture and contextualizes the resentment many islanders feel towards their Japanese neighbors. Carl’s service onboard a ship that later sank in the invasion of Okinawa is a crucial detail. Okinawa Island, located to the south of Japan’s mainland, was the site of one of WWII’s bloodiest battles. It lasted from April through June in 1945.  For Carl to have left the U.S.S. Canton before it was sunk in Okinawa, only to drown in the relative safety of San Piedro’s waters, seems like an unlucky stroke of fate.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Moran thought that the death of such a typical and revered fisherman would be hard for the other residents to come to terms with. San Piedro’s people already regarded the vast sea that surrounded them on all sides with a sense of fear—a fear that Carl’s death only perpetuates.
Moran explicitly reveals that Carl’s death would hit the islanders hard because he is the quintessential San Piedro working man. Carl’s death at sea would let the islanders know that such a fateful tragedy could happen to any one of them.
Themes
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
The men continued to search. Abel suggested that they start up the boat’s engine—if all the lights had been on for hours, it would’ve drained the battery quite a bit. Art turned the key, and the engine came on sounding strong.
The fact that the Susan Marie’s engine started up with no problem will be a crucial piece of evidence in the trial: it will cause the court to speculate that Carl couldn’t have had battery trouble the night of his death.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
As the men prepared to bring up Carl’s net, Art considered whether he should warn Abel of the possibility that Carl would be in the net. Art had seen this happen twice before, but Abel, only 24, had never witnessed something so gruesome in his career as deputy. Art kept this fear to himself, but as the men brought up Carl’s net, they immediately saw Carl’s face among the fish and kelp. Abel vomited. They laid Carl down on the deck and observed his open mouth and the blood vessels that had burst in his eyes. Abel noticed a wound on Carl’s head and observed that he “must have banged it against the gunnel going over.” Art inspected the wound, noting how Carl’s head was dented, but then “turned away from it.”
When he wonders whether he should warn Abel about the possibility of seeing Carl’s corpse, Art again emphasizes the human, subjective qualities of their supposedly factual, detached investigative work. The fact that Abel has witnessed the accidental drowning of multiple fishermen shows that such a death is somewhat common. When the men pull Carl out of the water, Abel’s first thought is that Carl “must have banged [his head] against the gunnel going over.” Abel’s observation is objective and represents the most obvious, likely scenario that contributed to Carl’s death. But when Art “turn[s] away from” the wound, he also turns away from Abel’s objective observation. Art’s initial turning away emphasizes his—and so many other’s—decision to “turn away” from the facts that are right in front of them in favor of a less likely “truth” fueled by prejudice and subjectivity.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon