Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susan Marie Heine is the prosecution’s next witness. It’s been three months since her husband’s death, but she’s still dressed all in black. Susan Marie projects “the air of an unostentatious young German baroness,” and Hooks recognizes “the value” of her as a witness: in particular, he notes that “the men especially would not wish to betray such a woman with a not-guilty verdict at the end of things.”
Susan Marie’s looks and mourning clothes will cause the jury to regard her and her situation sympathetically—they won’t want to “betray” someone who is herself a victim of Carl’s tragic death. When Guterson highlights Susan Marie’s “German” features, he emphasizes her whiteness. Susan Marie’s whiteness establishes her as an insider, which gives her testimony a level of extra legitimacy in the eyes of the prejudiced jury.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
On the afternoon of September 9, Kabuo had gone to the Heines’ house to talk to Carl Jr. about the land he’d recently purchased from Ole. Susan Marie let Kabuo into the house. She observed that “his back was straight, his demeanor formal.” Susan Marie found everything about Kabuo to be very deliberate. Carl came in soon after, and the two men left to discuss the land.
Like so many others, Susan Marie reads into Kabuo’s “straight,” unreadable demeanor. She sees his composure as affected and deliberate, inferring that his face conceals some ulterior motive.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
After the two men left, Susan Marie turned her thoughts to when she first met Carl. Her good looks could have guaranteed her any man on the island, but she’d wanted Carl. From the very beginning, their relationship was extremely sexual. Susan Marie seemingly boasts quite a fetching physique. She’d apparently been very happy in her marriage to Carl: “In his grave, silent veteran’s way he was dependable and gentle,” she observed. Carl didn’t talk much, and their sex life continued to be the backbone of their marriage.
Immediately after Susan Marie expresses skepticism towards Kabuo’s unreadable demeanor, she paints Carl’s “silent” composure as “dependable and gentle.” Put simply, Susan Marie sees white silence as positive and Japanese silence as sinister. Carl’s graveness is passed off as the “veteran’s way.” Kabuo is also a veteran, yet this fact is hardly mentioned.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Susan Marie had stopped daydreaming, then, as Carl had returned alone. Kabuo wanted to buy the land, Carl revealed to his wife. He’d responded to Kabuo’s request ambivalently, which inspired a “real polite, but frozen” response from Kabuo. Carl hadn’t known what to say to Kabuo, and Susan Marie observed that she’d never been sure whether the two men were friends or enemies. She’d never seen them together, but she had a feeling that they were still somewhat friendly as a result of their childhood friendship.
Carl also regards Kabuo’s silence with skepticism, noting his “frozen” response to Carl’s ambivalence about selling the land. Susan Marie’s failure to discern whether Carl and Kabuo are friends is likely the result of her husband’s unreadable silence on the matter. Yet she, like the others, speaks favorably of her husband’s quiet nature. Again, Guterson draws the reader’s attention to the double standards applied to silence: nobody views Kabuo’s silence in a positive light.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
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Carl told Susan Marie that he should just sell the land to Kabuo, as he knew that Susan Marie was never keen on moving back to work the land. At the time, Carl couldn’t quite seem to express what was making him uncertain about the decision to keep or sell his newly purchased land. Susan Marie had guessed it was because of the hate Etta harbored against the Miyamotos. Still, Carl insisted it wasn’t about that; rather, he said, “it comes down to the fact that Kabuo’s a Jap. And I don’t hate Japs, but I don’t like ‘em either.”
Carl appears to have inherited some of Etta’s prejudice, made evident by his use of the derogatory word “Jap” to describe his childhood friend. Carl’s use of the slur also points to the psychological impact of his military service: fighting against the Japanese could have instilled this racial bias in him.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Susan Marie then reminded Carl of his childhood friendship with Kabuo. Carl said that the friendship was of the past, “Before the war came along.” One of the Heines’ children cried and their conversation ended abruptly. The couple rushed outside to find their older boy had sliced his foot open. Susan Marie watched Carl tend to the child and saw that Carl was “transformed,” and “no longer a war veteran.”
When he states that Kabuo was his friend “before the war came along,” Carl confirms that fighting against the Japanese has caused him to be biased in a way he was not in his childhood. Still, Carl’s ability to “transform[]” into an affectionate father shows that he remains capable of tenderness and compassion despite the psychological burdens he carries from the war.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
The couple didn’t talk about Kabuo again after this. Susan Marie knew that was unacceptable “to open up her husband’s wounds and look at them unless he asked her to.”
Susan Marie calls attention to Carl’s silence, and to the way the war has affected his personality.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
After Carl’s passing, Susan Marie reflected again on her marriage. She considered again how largely sex had figured into the relationship, remembering how they had sex in the shower on the last day she saw him. After this episode, the couple cleaned up. They talked minimally. Carl left to fish, and this was the last Susan Marie saw of her husband.
The Heines’ marriage is highly physical and minimally verbal. Again, Susan Marie calls attention to Carl’s silence, as well as the emotional burden he shoulders as a veteran. 
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon