Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the courtroom, it’s Nels Gudmundsson’s turn to cross-examine Susan Marie. He looks at Susan Marie’s “tragic, sensual beauty” and feels “self-conscious about his age.” He thinks about a prostate he’d recently had removed. He hasn’t been able to get an erection in quite some time. He thinks some more about his non-existent sex life and the sadness of aging—his wife has recently died of cancer, it’s harder for him to read, and his mind is going.
Even Nels Gudmundsson, who’s supposed to be cross-examining Susan Marie, can’t help but be distracted by her beauty. Nels’s distraction highlights the extent to which superficial appearances can affect the way one receives and interprets facts.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Nels stops daydreaming and directs his attention to the matter at hand. He asks Susan Marie about the conversation Carl had with Kabuo on September 9. She admits that she has “no firsthand knowledge of its content,” as the men had gone outside to talk.
It’s important that Susan Marie admits to having “no firsthand knowledge of the content” of Kabuo and Carl’s conversation, because it shows that what she “knows” to be true about it is speculation, not fact. 
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
When Carl had come back from talking to Kabuo, Susan Marie agrees, he didn’t want to discuss their conversation. She also agrees that Carl expressed concern over what Etta would think of his selling the land to Kabuo, which he had also expressed to Kabuo.
Susan Marie’s admission about Carl’s reluctance to discuss the conversation speaks more to his quiet personality than to the content of the conversation itself. Meanwhile, Carl’s concern for Etta suggests that he feels some obligation to honor her wishes.
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When Nels suggests that Carl had made Kabuo hopeful that he would seriously entertain selling him back the land, Susan Marie disagrees, though she admits that Carl hadn’t been wholly unwilling to do so.
Nels tries to get Susan Marie to speculate in a way that would benefit his narrative of the truth (that Kabuo would have no incentive to kill Carl because the men were on good terms about the land), but Susan Marie cannot be certain of the facts. 
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Prompted by Nels, Susan Marie says she “suppose[s]” that Kabuo had seemed to be a childhood acquaintance of Carl’s. Nels also brings up the “dirty looks” that Kabuo “is supposed to have aimed at [Etta].” Susan Marie says that, yes, she remembers Carl mentioning these looks. She can’t speak for Etta or Carl, but she knows that none such looks had been directed at her. Nels agrees that Susan Marie cannot speak for Etta or Carl, as this would be hearsay. He goes off on a tangent about hearsay and speculation and Fielding tells him to please stop, as Susan Marie is “under oath to tell the truth,” thus, they are all obligated to trust what she says is the truth.
Susan Marie’s repeated use of “suppose” in her testimony underscores her uncertainty: she can’t say with certainty that Carl and Kabuo were friends, or that Kabuo aimed mean looks at Etta, because she was neither present nor directly involved in either of these scenarios. Nels uses Susan Marie’s uncertainty to make a point to the jury about how much speculation and hearsay is involved in the trial’s representations of “truth.”
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Fielding turns to the jury and explains the significance of the “Deadman’s Statute” in this case: normally hearsay is deemed inadmissible in a court of law. However, “in criminal cases,” the statute doesn’t prevent hearsay from being presented. The statute thus “creates a…shady legal area.” Gudmundsson says that this is exactly the point he was trying to make. The lights in the courtroom go out: a tree has downed the power line.
Gudmundsson wants to make sure the jury is aware that the admission of hearsay in criminal cases “creates a…shady legal area” because it increases the likelihood of them seeing reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case against Kabuo.
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon