Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The snowstorm continues outside the courtroom, beating against the windows. Kabuo hasn’t been able to sense the snow from his windowless jail cell, though. In his jail cell, Kabuo thinks about the mess he’s in. He reveals that, when Nels had asked him for his side of the story months before, he lied: he failed to disclose the fact that he’d seen and helped Carl Heine the night Carl was last seen alive.
Guterson again uses snow to symbolize fate and the distinction between the uncontrollable (chance) and the controllable (choice). Kabuo’s inability to see the snow seems to point to complete lack of agency. Imprisoned, Kabuo is rendered unable to make choices about his life: it is the court who dictates what his future will hold, not fate or his own actions. Guterson also reveals a crucial piece of information: that Kabuo originally lied to Nels about the night of Carl’s death. 
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Kabuo recalls how, at first, Nels had taken Kabuo’s statement as the truth. But when he received the sheriff’s report, Nels told Kabuo that there were “a few facts [he was] concerned about.” Nels cited the evidence that the blood on the gaff matched Carl’s blood type, as well as the mooring lines found on Carl’s boat, and waited for Kabuo to come forward with the truth. Nels had told Kabuo that he couldn’t do anything for him if Kabuo continued to lie.
Without Kabuo’s side of the story, the facts of the sheriff’s report are highly incriminating. In other words, the selection of facts that the sheriff’s report offers present a narrative of Kabuo’s guilt. The report contradicts Kabuo’s initial narrative that he didn’t interact with Carl the night of his death.
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Kabuo recalls that Nels had returned the next day with the sheriff’s report. He told Kabuo that he could read it to know what they were up against, in order to prepare “a more defensible lie.” But, if Kabuo read the report before constructing a new story, Nels would no longer trust Kabuo—and he’d “rather it didn’t turn out that way.”
Nels and Kabuo must assemble a new narrative to incorporate the facts in the sheriff’s report. Nels’s offer to prepare “a more defensible lie” means that, if Kabuo is guilty, he can read the sheriff’s report and the two men can construct a narrative that aligns itself with the evidence in the report. The second option is for Kabuo to tell Nels a new account of the truth before reading the report. If Kabuo is truly innocent, his new account will hold up next to the facts contained within the report. When Nels says he’d “rather it didn’t turn out that way,” he means that he’d rest easier knowing that the new narrative is actually the truth—not a story they’ve constructed to make it appear that Kabuo is innocent.
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When Kabuo remained silent, Nels seemed to sense Kabuo’s motivations for silence: “You figure because you’re from Japanese folks nobody will believe you anyway.” Kabuo admitted that, yes, this was part of it. “We’re sly and treacherous,” he said. “You can’t trust a Jap, can you?” Nels reminded Kabuo that the law applies to everyone, or is supposed to, at least. He urged Kabuo to tell the truth. “The truth isn’t easy,” Kabuo replied. But he knew it had to be told.
Nels seems to intuit that his client is innocent. He understands that Kabuo withheld his story in the first place out of fear that prejudice would render his version of the truth meaningless in the eyes of the biased San Piedro legal system. Kabuo’s responses— “We’re sly and treacherous,” and “You can’t trust a Jap, can you?”—mimic the prejudiced language of white islanders. Similarly, when Kabuo says, “The truth isn’t easy,” he conveys his doubt regarding Nels’s reminder that the law applies to everyone: it might be easy to speak the truth, but it’s less easy for the truth to be believed when one is up against prejudiced listeners. 
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
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Kabuo recalls the night of September 15: he checked his boat’s engine. He was determined to have a good night on the water. On the advice of others, he’d decided to fish at Ship Channel—there was supposed to be an abundance of fish there. Kabuo drank green tea from a thermos and listened to the other gill-netters communicating over the radio channels. He ate his dinner at dusk. The fog around him grew thicker, and he became a bit concerned. At 8:30 p.m., Kabuo idled his engine. He could hear the lighthouse station’s foghorn in the distance. He moved here and there, as he wasn’t completely sure that he was out of the shipping lane (and out of the way of the freighters that might pass through it). He turned on his mast light in attempt to increase his visibility.
Kabuo runs through his actions the night of September 15, this time including the interaction with Carl Heine he’d originally withheld from Nels. He is more forthcoming in his selection of facts: this time, he must construct a narrative that contains every detail of his night. It’s important to note that Kabuo recalls deciding to fish at Ship Channel. It was confirmed earlier in the novel that Leonard George spotted both Carl’s and Kabuo’s ships in this location.
Themes
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Kabuo waited and listened to the radio. He heard the other gill-netters complain about the thickness of the fog. At 10:30 p.m., he checked his net and saw that there were salmon in it. He was happy about the salmon, and daydreamed about his family’s future: how they would hopefully—and soon—be able to buy back their land. Kabuo caught more fish. At 11:30 p.m., he moved west “in order to fish the tide turn,” thinking that “on the turn the salmon would pile up.” He was correct. There were few fisherman in this area, as most (as they’d discussed on the radio earlier) had turned back to Elliot Head because of the fog.
Kabuo’s new account confirms Hatsue’s earlier statement that he had been optimistic about his chances of buying back his family’s land and honoring their legacy. This is noteworthy because, if Kabuo was optimistic, it’s unlikely he and Carl were on such bad terms that Kabuo would consider murder.
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Kabuo drifted through the fog, laying on his fog horn from time to time in order to alert oncoming boats (should there happen to be any) to his presence. After Kabuo signaled half a dozen times, he heard an air horn respond to his signals. He heard a voice call out before him: “I’m dead in the water, drifting.” The voice belonged to Carl Heine. Kabuo stumbled upon Carl, “his batteries dead, adrift at midnight, in need of another man’s assistance.” Kabuo instructed Carl to tie up; he had battery power to spare. Kabuo remarked that he hoped they weren’t in the shipping lane. He saw that Carl had put up a lantern to alert other boats of his presence. “Best I could to,” responded Carl, who’d lost access to the radio transmissions when his battery died.
Because Kabuo consistently sounded his fog horn to alert other ships of his presence, Carl was able hear him approach and reach out for help with his dead battery. As Josiah Gillanders conveyed in his earlier testimony, the fishermen’s unspoken moral code dictates that a man will always help a man “in need of another man’s assistance.” Kabuo honors this code and helps Carl. Carl’s lantern will be important later in the novel, so it’s important to note that Carl has a lantern hung from his mast to alert other boats of his presence while his battery is dead.
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Kabuo told Carl he had two batteries. Carl responded that his boat ran D-8s. Kabuo’s boat ran D-6s, but Kabuo said they could make them fit. The men set to work. Kabuo hoped that Carl might want to discuss the land, even though Carl seemed as silent as ever. Kabuo reasoned that Kabuo would have to say something, given the fact that the two men were adrift together at sea, with nothing else to do.
Kabuo’s reading of Carl’s impenetrable demeanor is optimistic, as he hopes that Carl is thinking about the land just as Kabuo is. Even after all that Kabuo has been through in his efforts to regain his family’s land, he chooses to see the best in Carl. Kabuo’s optimism stands in stark contrast to the judgment he’s received from Ole and Etta, among others, for his own silent, unreadable demeanor.
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Kabuo reflected on how long he’d known Carl. He knew that Carl avoided speaking whenever possible. Kabuo remembered, in particular, a moment from their childhood, when the two boys had sat together in a rowboat on the water after sunset. Carl had remarked on the beauty of the sunset, and Kabuo “even at twelve […] had understood that such a statement was out of character.” It was Carl’s nature, he knew even then, to keep everything bottled inside. Kabuo observes that the two men “were more similar in their deepest places than he cared to admit.”
Guterson gives the reader more insight into Kabuo and Carl’s childhood friendship, something that, up until now, has remained fairly mysterious. Kabuo’s memory of being shocked by Carl’s remarks on the sunset underscores how little Carl has spoken all his life, but still neither Kabuo nor the white islanders judge Carl for his characteristic silence. In contrast, Kabuo’s silence is consistently painted in a negative, skeptical light by most people.
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Kabuo lifted one of his batteries from his battery well. He carried it to Carl. Carl said they could make it fit. Kabuo retrieved his gaff—they could use it to hammer the battery into place. Carl hammered the battery hold with the gaff. At one point, his hand slipped, and he cut himself. Once the battery was in place, Carl tried to start up the engine. Kabuo’s battery worked, and Carl’s boat started up successfully. Kabuo told Carl to go on fishing—he could return the battery to him in the morning.
It’s important to note that Carl slips and cuts his hand on the gaff. Carl’s hand wound—not his head wound—is the source of the blood is later discovered in Sheriff Moran’s investigation. It’s also relevant that Carl’s boat starts up after Kabuo’s battery is set in place: when Moran and Martinson check on Carl’s boat the morning of September 16, they will find that the boat’s battery works fine. Kabuo’s offer to let Carl return the battery the next day relates back to the fishermen’s unwritten honor code of helping each other at all costs.
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Before Kabuo could depart, Carl brought up the subject of the seven acres. He asked Kabuo what he’d pay for them, hypothetically. Kabuo asked Carl if this hypothetical meant he’d be willing to sell the land. Carl responded, jokingly, that he might charge Kabuo a high price but that he probably shouldn’t, since then maybe Kabuo would take the battery back. Kabuo smiled, and said that the battery was already in; plus, he knows Carl would do the same for him. Carl joked that although he “might” do the same for Kabuo, he’s “not screwed together like [he] used to be.”
When Carl jokes that Kabuo could leave him stranded at sea if he didn’t offer a fair price for the land, Kabuo’s response that he knows Carl would do the same for him evokes the idea of the fishermen’s unwritten code and suggests that Kabuo and Carl really do have some kind of genuine bond. Carl’s admission that he “might” do the same because he’s “not screwed together like [he] used to be” alludes to the prejudice against the Japanese Carl holds as a result of his WWII military service. 
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The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
But Carl stopped joking and apologized for the big mess of the land, his mother, and the war: “I was out at sea, fighting you goddamn Jap sons a—” he began, in defense. But Kabuo interrupted him. “I’m an American,” he told Carl. Besides, he reminded him, Carl was of German descent. By Carl’s logic, wasn’t he a “big Nazi bastard,” himself? Carl admitted that he was a “bastard.” He told Kabuo he still had the bamboo fishing rod Kabuo had given him so many years ago, to keep safe while Kabuo was away at the internment camp. Kabuo told Carl he could keep the fishing rod. The two men settled their differences, and Carl agreed to sell Kabuo his family’s seven acres for $1,200 an acre. Carl asked for $1,000 down, and said that they could sign papers the next day. Kabuo offered $800 and agreed to their deal, and the men parted ways.
Carl’s apology signifies that he knows he must set aside his prejudiced feelings to do what is right and honor his obligation to return the Miyamotos’ land to Kabuo. When Carl starts to defend his racism, Kabuo reminds him that his German ancestry makes him just as much of a theoretical enemy to the United States –by Carl’s logic, Carl is as much a “big Nazi bastard” as Kabuo is a “goddamn Jap.” Kabuo’s comparison illustrates the illogical and racist underpinnings of San Piedro’s prejudices against the Japanese.
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The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
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