Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ishmael drives through the snow to his mother’s house. The power is still out there. She’s reading in the kitchen when he arrives. She remarks on how old she’s getting. She feeds her son soup and Ishmael tells her the jury hadn’t reached a verdict that night. His mother laments the jury’s prejudice that will likely inform their decision. She hopes Ishmael will write an editorial condemning their hatred. Ishmael again feels Milholland’s notes in his pocket.
Helen urges Ishmael to write the editorial condemning the court’s hatred because it is what Arthur would have done. The feeling of Milholland’s notes in his pocket reminds Ishmael of his moral duty to bring forth the notes and exonerate Kabuo, but at this point, it seems that his personal bitterness is still standing in his way.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
The power comes on at 8:00 p.m. and Ishmael turns off lights and turns on heaters. He sits in the house to listen for pipes thawing. His mother goes to bed and Ishmael sits in his father’s study, looking over his father’s books. There are a lot of virtuous, philosophizing volumes on the shelf—Thoreau, Rousseau, Emerson, and Plato, to name a few. There are also some books on gardening and nature. Ishmael remembers how his father loved to garden. He recalls his father tending, carefully, to his fruit trees. He also painted and built his own desk (at which Ishmael now sits).
Consumed as he is by moral anguish, Ishmael can’t help but think of his father, who embodied the height of moral integrity. The fullness of Arthur’s life and the breadth of his interests and occupations stand in stark contrast to the empty, meaninglessness of Ishmael’s present life. What’s more, Arthur’s love of gardening suggests on a symbolic level that personal morality like his can be an effective way of escaping societies prejudices—a kind of freedom that nature represents throughout the novel. 
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ishmael continues to reflect on his father’s life and legacy. Arthur had gone into the logging profession backed by thoughts of grandeur, but he’d outgrown these notions over the course of time. He’d then turned to reading and education, saved up his money, and started the San Piedro Review. He built his own house. He wrote about the big, sensational stories, but also wasn’t too big for the tedious: for the “garden club features, school board reports, horse show notices.”
Ishmael’s father respected the San Piedro Review in practice and in principle. He believed a reporter’s task of recording the facts of the times was of utmost importance, so he covered stories large and small. To Arthur, no aspect of island life was too inconsequential to find its way into the newspaper.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Arthur was meticulous in everything he did, and he acknowledged the gray areas of life. This was important, especially, on an island, where “surrounding waters […] imposed upon islanders certain duties and conditions foreign to mainlanders.” Arthur had known that living on an island prevents one from “blending into an anonymous background.” Living on an island forced one “by the very [isolated] nature of their landscape” to be wary of what they showed to others. For this reason, many islanders turned inward, to silence, “in fear of opening up.” Arthur hated this about islanders, but also loved it. As Ishmael sits in his father’s chair, he realizes that he shares this ambivalence—that he is “his father’s son.”
As Ishmael reflects on Arthur’s ambivalence toward island life—that he both loved and hated the isolation of the island and the insular quality this isolation instilled in its residents—he begins to see that he, too, regards the island in this way. Despite—or perhaps, because of—his cynicism, he is “his father’s son.” This realization seems to give Ishmael an ounce of hope that he can move forward in his life and start to be as virtuous and honorable as his father once was. That is, being moral doesn’t require total certainty; Arthur’s example shows that one can see gray areas and still avoid cynicism.
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
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Ishmael recalls when he’d gone with his father to cover the Strawberry Festival. It was a beautiful, picturesque day. His father took a picture of Mr. Fukida’s impressive display of strawberries. Arthur and Mr. Fukida made small talk about their children, and Arthur said he has “high hopes for [Ishmael].” Fukida agreed: “Oh, yes. […] We believe his heart is strong, like his father’s.”
Whereas before Ishmael might have regarded Mr. Fukida’s observation that Ishmael’s heart was “strong, like his father’s” as evidence of his failure to live up to Arthur’s image, he now feels hope that he will be able to embody his father’s strength of character.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Ishmael stops reminiscing. He leaves his father’s study and walks upstairs to his old bedroom. He returns to the farewell letter Hatsue sent him so many years before. He focuses on the last lines: “I wish you the very best, Ishmael. Your heart is large and you are gentle and kind, and I know you will do great things in the world […]. I am going to move on with my life as best I can, and I hope you will too.” Ishmael realizes how the war and his arm and everything have “made his heart smaller,” and that he’s not moved on with his life. He sees that the admirable qualities he used to possess—the reasons that Hatsue used to loved him—are no longer a part of him.
When Ishmael read Hatsue’s letter the night before, he remained heartsick and bitter over her rejection. Tonight, having realized he still has the capacity to live up to his father’s image, he realizes that Hatsue hadn’t meant to condemn his character, but rather to celebrate the strength of his heart. Ishmael sees that whereas before his heart had been “large” and he had been “gentle and kind,” it now is “smaller.” He sees how greatly the war and his cynicism have held him back, and have ripped from his personality the very qualities Hatsue once found so admirable. 
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ishmael puts the letter away. He puts on his coat. He sees Helen sleeping, observes her wrinkles, and thinks about how much he will miss her when she dies. Ishmael walks through the woods to the Imadas’ house. He sits with Hatsue and her parents and shows them Milholland’s notes. He explains the notes’ significance and why he’s finally come to talk with Hatsue.
After thinking about his father and reading Hatsue’s letter, Ishmael realizes that only he has the ability to change his life for the better. He resolves to regain the admirable qualities he lost after the war and goes to Hatsue’s to finally come forth with the coast guard’s notes.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon