Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s 3:00 p.m., and the jury leaves the courtroom to begin their deliberations. Hatsue goes to Kabuo and tells him that he’ll be free: the jury will do the right thing. Kabuo tells her that regardless, he loves her and their children. Nels packs up his papers; Ed Soames leaves the courtroom open to the public, as the storm has given them no other warm place to go; Ishmael looks at his notes.
Hatsue’s encouragement reflects her hope that the jury will set aside their prejudices and go about their deliberations objectively.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Ishmael looks at Hatsue from across the courtroom. He thinks about her testimony, and about how his private knowledge of her allowed him to understand “what each expression [of hers] suggested, what each pause signified.” He really wants to hold and smell her. He wants to have a different life. He feels the coast guard’s log that is still in his pocket. He knows all he’d have to do is tell Ed Soames he needs to speak to Judge Fielding and he’d have done the right thing.
When Ishmael looks at Hatsue, he at first ruminates selfishly: he relishes the fact that their teenage romance allows him to have a private knowledge of her subtle expressions and mannerisms. However, the coast guard’s logs in his pocket remind Ishmael of his duty to come forward with the truth of Carl’s death.
Themes
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ishmael thinks back to Nels Gudmundsson’s closing statement, remembering how he’d reminded the jury that Hooks’s case had assumed that the jury would act on their prejudices, how Hooks “is counting on [them] to act on passions best left to a war of ten years ago.” But, Ishmael thinks, 10 years isn’t really such a long time ago, and he doesn’t know how to let go of his feelings for Hatsue—the same way he still feels pain in his phantom limb. He thinks about the horrors he witnessed in the war.
Ishmael compares the jury’s decade-long grudge against the Japanese to his own grudge against Hatsue for abandoning him. Needing to find a way to validate how unhappy he is, how little he’s done with his life, and his failure to bring forth the coast guard’s notes, he reasons that 10 years isn’t really a long time. In other words, Ishmael seems to believe that the jury deserves to act on their prejudices, and so does he.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Ishmael looks at Hatsue again, examining her physical attributes. He thinks about “all the times he had touched her body and the fragrance of all that cedar…” Ishmael leaves the courtroom just as the lights flicker back on. Ishmael celebrates the return of the electricity with Nels, who tells him how much he liked Ishmael’s father. “Arthur was one admirable man,” says Nels. Ishmael agrees and parts ways with Nels.
Ishmael’s memories of his teenage romance and the cedar tree reflect his longing to return to a world separate from society’s prejudices and complexities. Nels’s admiration of Arthur seems to jolt Ishmael back into the present moment, however; Nels’s praise reminds Ishmael that he isn’t half the man his father was.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
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Ishmael passes Hisao Imada on his way out. Hisao thanks him for his help with the car the other day. Ishmael buttons his coat and again feels Milholland’s coast guard’s log. Hatsue again tells Ishmael how unfair Kabuo’s trial was. She tells Ishmael he needs to write about it “in [Arthur’s] newspaper.” Ishmael says it’s not “[his] father’s newspaper.” It’s his newspaper. He tells Hatsue he’ll be at his mother’s if she wants to talk to him.
The feeling of Milholland’s coast guard’s log in his pocket reminds Ishmael of his moral obligation to bring forth the evidence that will clear Kabuo’s name. When Hatsue refers to the Review as “[Arthur’s] newspaper,” Ishmael responds with annoyance because her comment reinforces how inferior Ishmael is as a reporter and a man compared to his father.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ishmael walks outside and sees that the snow has stopped. He continues to walk and sees some cedars along the road. He notices that the town’s docks are under water from the storm and thinks about how “such destruction could be beautiful.” He connects this scene to the failed battle 10 years ago in which he’d lost his arm: “He was reminded of Tarawa atoll and its seawall and the palms that lay in rows on their side, knocked down by the compression from the navel guns.” He thinks about this often. He is both disgusted by and attracted to his memories of war.
Ishmael’s observation that the storm’s “destruction could be beautiful” suggests, symbolically, that Ishmael is comforted by the forces of nature he cannot control. If one lacks the ability to choose in the first place, there is no risk of choosing incorrectly. This reflects Ishmael’s current predicament of whether he’s obligated to come forward with the coast guard’s notes or if he can selfishly keep them to himself. Ishmael’s thoughts of Tarawa atoll also show that even in the beauty of a snowstorm, he is haunted by the violence of his military past.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ishmael continues to look at the destruction the storm has wrought on the harbor and knows that he is different from other men because of the destructions he witnessed during the war. He feels Milholland’s coast guard’s notes in his pocket and doesn’t know what to do about them. Nothing in the world can tell him what to do about it. Ishmael looks at the destruction of the harbor and realizes there is no inherent rhyme or reason to why things happen the way they do.
Ishmael dwells some more on how the war has affected him, perhaps as a means of defending his hesitancy in bringing forward the coast guard’s notes: the war was cruel to Ishmael, so it’s acceptable for him to exercise cruelty of his own. As Ishmael looks at the harbor, he reflects on the indifference of nature to human suffering, perhaps realizing that he shouldn’t take the hardships he’s suffered so personally; perhaps he shouldn’t hold a grudge.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Back in the courthouse, the members of the jury are in the midst of their deliberations. All but one of the twelve jurors have decided that Kabuo is guilty. Alexander Van Ness, the sole unconvinced member, stubbornly holds his ground. He wants to heed Fielding’s cautions about reasonable doubt.
Alexander Van Ness seems to be less motivated by prejudices than the rest of the jury. He wants to consider the facts on their own, not view them through a subjective narrative of bias.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Other members of the jury suggest that there’s always room for doubt in life: “Nobody ain’t ever sure about nothing,” says Harold Jensen. Others believe the physical evidence found on the boats is damning. Others cite Kabuo’s supposedly guilty demeanor; they think he’s a liar. “Then […] what’s he hiding?” asks Van Ness. Van Ness maintains his doubts.
Emboldened by prejudice, members of the jury cast judgment on Kabuo’s guilty demeanor. Van Ness argues that a guilty face is not enough: if the jury really thinks Kabuo’s face is hiding something, he wants to know exactly what that something is.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Members of the jury craft hypothetical situations in which it would be necessary and expected to make an imminent, necessary choice despite the presence of some uncertainty. For example, suppose a comet crashes down through your roof, Burke Latham poses to Van Ness; does Van Ness move to another place in the room, or does he take his chances and stay where he is? Certainly it’s reasonable to have doubt there—you can doubt everything. But, you still have to make a decision. Van Ness argues it would be unreasonable to move his position, as he’d run the same risk of being hit anywhere. Van Ness acknowledges that the hypothetical situations the other members of the jury pose are interesting, but not applicable to the specific matter at hand—they don’t relate to whether Kabuo should hang or go free.
Van Ness argues that hypothetical situations are irrelevant to the task at hand: they must avoid speculation and limit their concentration to the facts presented to them in the trial. In other words, the jury has a duty to settle on a truth based on facts—not based on what they’d like to believe.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
The jury continues to mull over the evidence presented in court, and to craft hypothetical situations to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable doubt. Many still just don’t believe in Kabuo, personally. Alex Van Ness maintains that he is open to hearing what the other members of the jury have to say, but he still holds his ground. He refuses to rush a decision where a man’s life is on a line, especially in light of the abundance of reasonable doubt present in the state’s case against Kabuo.
Van Ness alone heeds Judge Fielding’s warning that they have a duty to be objective and careful in deciding whether a man lives or dies. Other jurors maintain that their personal dislike of Kabuo (a dislike that is likely a result of racist prejudice) is enough to convict him. 
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
The jury continues to deliberate. Ed Soames announces that the jury will resume their deliberations the next day, since they haven’t yet reached a verdict.
The jury’s inability to come to a unanimous decision underscores just how hard it is for people to agree on what the truth really is. Even this group—who were specially selected for being fair-minded—can’t easily come to a consensus.
Themes
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon