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 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s Alvin Hooks’s turn to cross-examine Hatsue. He finds Hatsue’s “story” about Kabuo’s excitement towards the news that Carl had decided to sell him the seven acres “terribly interesting.” Hooks tries to paint Kabuo’s emotional state that morning as “agitated” but Hatsue insists that Kabuo was “excited, […] not agitated.”
By calling Hatsue’s testimony a “story” Hooks insinuates that Hatsue has not told the truth. He tries to spin Hatsue’s facts to fit the narrative he wants to tell, reframing Kabuo’s excitement as agitation, thus painting it in a more negative, suspicious light.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks asks Hatsue to reaffirm that the “story” she told to Nels was true, which she does. Hooks then asks Hatsue whether the couple had called any friends or family to share the exciting news of the returned land. Hatsue says they didn’t, because it seemed in poor taste to tell people so soon after they’d learned of Carl’s death; what’s more, the accident changed things. She explains that their circumstances were no longer so certain.
When Hooks asks Hatsue why the couple hadn’t told anyone about their good news, he seems to want the jury to doubt Hatsue in light of these new details. In other words, Hatsue hadn’t mentioned to Nels that the couple kept news of the new land agreement to themselves—why had they not told anybody? Hooks’s new perspective reframes Hatsue’s narrative in a way that leaves room for doubt.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks twists Hatsue’s words, suggesting that Carl’s death had been what prevented the couple from sharing the news. Hatsue asserts that it wasn’t the death that had prevented them from sharing their news, but, rather, the fact that things were still somewhat up in the air. Hooks continues to twist Hatsue’s words, saying: “Worse than up in the air […]. On top of your husband’s real estate deal going sour, a man, we might note, had died.”
Hooks tries to present Hatsue’s sincere explanation in a way that makes the couple’s actions seem suspicious. Hooks imposes a narrative of suspicion and premeditation on Hatsue’s testimony to make her appear calculating to the jurors. He suggests that Hatsue and Kabuo had been selfish and more concerned over the possible loss of their land than they were with the loss of Carl’s life.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks asks Hatsue why the couple hadn’t gone to the police when they learned of Carl’s death—did they think it might be useful for authorities to know about Carl’s battery dying, and about Kabuo helping him? Hatsue says they’d considered coming forward, but ultimately decided not to, because the coincidence of Carl dying immediately after Kabuo had been aboard Carl’s ship “looked very bad.” Hooks twists these words, too. What did the Miyamotos have to be afraid of, he reasons, if Kabuo had truly done nothing wrong? Hatsue stands her ground: “Silence seemed better.” Hooks maintains it was “deceitful” of them to withhold information.
Hatsue tells Hooks that she and Kabuo hadn’t gone to the police because they realized the situation “looked very bad.” Implicit in Hatsue’s confession is the couple’s fear that the Miyamotos’ Japanese ethnicity would prevent the police from hearing their story fairly and without prejudice. Hooks continues to twist Hatsue’s words, changing her narrative from one of honest fear and hesitation to one of deceit, trickery, and suspicion. Hatsue’s insistence that “Silence seemed better” echoes the conversation she had with Fujiko after Hisao’s arrest, about the difference between the Japanese and the American ways of life. The court’s inability to understand the Miyamotos’ silence, thus, may be seen as a prejudiced ignorance of Japanese culture.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Snow Falling on Cedars LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow Falling on Cedars PDF
Hooks continues to tell Hatsue that withholding information has made the Miyamotos appear suspect. She argues that there wasn’t time to come forward before Sheriff Moran arrested Kabuo. Hooks continues to act flabbergasted at the Miyamotos’ actions in an effort to get Hatsue to appear angry—and it works. “Wait a minute,” she tries to interject, upset. But Judge Fielding gives her a stern look, urging her to keep her emotions in check. Hatsue looks at her husband. He nods at her, and she immediately composes herself once more.
Hooks effectively tells Hatsue that her culturally informed silence appears suspicious to the court. This sentiment parallels the consistent suspicion white characters direct at the unreadable, supposedly cold and calculating composure of the Japanese characters. But when Hatsue finally lashes out at Hooks’s repeated attempts to bait her, Fielding scolds her. Hatsue (and the rest of the novel’s Japanese characters) can’t win: they are judged when they keep silent, and they are judged when they speak.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Gudmundsson’s next witness is Josiah Gillanders, president of the San Piedro Gill-Netters Association. Gillanders has been president of the association for 11 years, and has been fishing for 30. Nels asks Gillanders if he’d ever tied his boat to and boarded another fisherman’s boat. Gillanders explains that it would be very rare for this to happen—he’s only experienced it about half a dozen times over the past few decades. Nels asks Gillanders what had precipitated these few rare occasions in which a man tied up to another man’s boat. Gillanders says that in an emergency, no gill-netter would hesitate to help out another man. Nels asks Gillanders if he’d ever board a man’s boat for a reason other than an emergency. Gillanders replies with a resounding no, never—it’s an “unwritten rule of the sea” for fishermen to keep to themselves.
Gillanders’s position within the San Piedro Gill-Netters Association and his tenure as a fishermen lend a sense of credibility to his testimony. The jury can be confident that the facts he delivers about the habits and principles of fishermen can be trusted. Nels asks Gillanders about the likelihood of a man boarding another man’s boat on the open sea in order to dispel the prosecution’s theory that Kabuo boarded Carl’s ship to carry out his premeditated murder. Gillanders’s statement about the fishermen’s “unwritten rule of the sea” also indicates that in some cases, silent forms of communication are respected amongst the islanders—it’s generally only people of Japanese ancestry who are criticized for keeping quiet. 
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Nels explores another area. He asks Gillanders if it’s difficult to tie up to another man’s boat on the open sea. Gillanders says that it can be difficult to tie up at sea, yes. Nels then asks if it would be possible to board another man’s ship, at sea, against his will—as a manner of attack. Gillanders says he’s “never heard of it.” It would be difficult to board another man’s ship on open water without his consent. Josiah insists that this would an unfeasible—if not impossible—method of attacking or killing another man. Carl’s large size, in particular, would make this method of attack extremely unlikely.
Gillander’s assessment that it would be very difficult to tie up to another man’s boat at sea suggests that it is unlikely that Kabuo would have planned to murder Carl at sea: attempting such a feat would be difficult and impractical. Still, one should note that Gillanders’s statements are not facts that determine whether or not Kabuo committed the murder; rather, they simply speculate on the likelihood of his being able to do so. It’s still up to the jury to decide on the most plausible narrative overall.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Nels shifts focus to Carl’s battery troubles. Gillanders says it would be unlikely for a gill-netter to carry a spare battery on their boat. Nels says that there were a D-6 and a D-8 battery on Carl’s boat at the time of his death, as well as a spare D-8 on the floor of the boat by his cabin. Gillanders says this spare battery is strange—especially because it was dead. Typically, a boat runs off two batteries; when one battery dies, the gill-netter can use the second one as back up until they can get back onshore to replace the dead one.
Gillanders notes that it is very unlikely that Carl would carry a spare battery on his boat. Thus, the presence of a spare battery implies that Carl acquired the battery from another fishermen. Gillanders’s testimony creates a narrative that attests to the likelihood of Carl receiving help.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Gillanders thinks that Hatsue’s story—that Carl’s batteries had died, and that Kabuo had given him his spare—must be true. If Carl’s batteries were both dead, he wouldn’t even have access to a radio on which to call for help. He’d have to rely on the odd chance that someone happened by his boat in time to help him.
Gillanders compiles his facts— that is, what he knows about gill-netting from his 30 years of experience—in order to attest to the likelihood that Kabuo did help Carl when his boat’s battery died on the open sea.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Gillanders adds that the dangerous location of Carl’s boat—in the middle of the Ship Channel Bank—would have made it especially critical that Carl seek out whatever help he could get: “big freighters” barrel through the channel regularly, and Carl’s boat could easily have been destroyed. Gillanders thinks it’s most likely that Carl would have blown his boat’s horn in an attempt to capture the attention of a nearby boat; a horn, after all, would require no battery. Finally, Nels expresses how unlikely it would be for Kabuo to be able to premeditate running into Carl, in such a compromised position, under such compromised, foggy weather conditions; in other words, so many odd circumstances would have to line up exactly in order for Kabuo’s supposed plan to murder Carl to be executed successfully. Gillanders agrees wholeheartedly with this speculation.
Gillanders’s statement about the “big freighters” that regularly pass through Ship Channel Bank matches the description of what actually happened to Carl Heine (as it is recorded in the coast guard’s log Ishmael discovered the day before). Nels speculates that there are too many things that would have needed to line up exactly to make Kabuo’s supposed plan for murder a success; unless one attributes those extraordinary coincidences to fate, it seems impossible that Kabuo could have anticipated all of those factors aligning.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
It’s Alvin Hooks’s turn to cross-examine Gillanders. He plays off of the “hypothetical” situation Nels had proposed for Gillanders and that Gillanders had accepted as possible (that Kabuo had successfully boarded Carl’s ship on the open sea and loaned him a battery) by posing a different hypothetical scenario.
Using the facts Gillanders conveyed to Nels, Hooks rebuts Nels’s speculation with a contrasting speculation of his own; in other words, Hooks spins the facts a different way in order to support a different version of the truth.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks tells Gillanders to consider another possibility: that Kabuo wants to murder Carl; that Kabuo follows Carl out to sea, so as to know where Carl’s boat is, despite the thick fog; that Kabuo then shuts off his boat’s power, pretending that his own batteries have died; that he then signals to Carl for help. Because Gillanders had previously asserted that a gill-netter will always help another gill-netter in an emergency—even if there was bad blood between them—Carl would have had no choice but to board Kabuo’s boat to help him with his supposedly dead batteries. Once Carl was onboard Kabuo’s ship, Hooks hypothesizes, Kabuo would have been able to murder Carl.
Hooks imagines an alternate scenario in order to downplay the unfeasibility of Kabuo murdering Carl on the open sea. Hooks’s hypothetical scenario takes the same facts Gillanders gave to Nels, but spins them in a different way to suggest a different, incriminating outcome.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Gillanders admits that this scenario “could have happened,” though he doesn’t think it did. Hooks says that what Gillanders “thinks” doesn’t matter. What matters is that Gillanders has admitted that such a hypothetical situation is entirely within the realm of possibility—or, it’s at least as possible as the hypothetical situation Nels had entertained in his own examination of Gillanders.
Gillanders has to admit that Hooks’s scenario “could have happened,” though he insists that Hooks’s is the less likely of the two hypothetical scenarios. In these two competing scenarios, Guterson shows that a difference of perspective can allow two different people to approach the same set of facts but arrive at very different outcomes. The journey from facts to truth is more complex than it would first appear.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon