Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 32 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The phones are dead along South Beach, where Ishmael’s mother and the Imadas live, so there’s no way to reach Judge Fielding. Ishmael, Hatsue, and her parents stay up all night discussing the trial. Hatsue remembers that Art Moran, in his testimony, had remarked on a spilled cup of coffee on Carl’s cabin floor. Hatsue believes this is proof that “something” must have knocked both the coffee cup and Carl down that night. Hatsue’s parents lament that this is not enough evidence.
The coast guard’s notes seem to have given Hatsue a new optimism about Kabuo’s trial. She searches for more facts–such as the spilled cup of coffee –that would support the claims made in the notes (that Carl was knocked off his boat by the freighter).
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Fujiko tells Ishmael she’d always thought highly of his family. She compliments Ishmael’s newspaper and gives him some cookies to eat. After midnight, Ishmael leaves. Hatsue expresses her gratitude. Ishmael says he hopes Hatsue will remember him when she’s “old and thinking back on things.” She says she will. She kisses him softly and tells him to “find someone to marry.” Ishmael returns home to his mother’s house.
It’s telling that Ishmael almost immediately gets some measure of what he wants as soon as he decides to behave morally: he is treated kindly, admired, and even gets the attention from Hatsue that he has desired for so long. This scene underscores that individual acts really do have great power to transform life, even though so much is still left up to chance.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Ishmael’s mother wakes him up before 7:00 a.m. She says that Hatsue is there for him. Hatsue and Ishmael talk in his father’s study. She tells him how much he looks like his father. Then, she tells him why she’s there: she thought about another piece of evidence that could help her husband’s case: the lantern. When Kabuo testified, he’d mentioned that Carl had a lantern hung from his ship’s mast, as his batteries had died and he needed some light. Hatsue thinks that if the lantern were still up, it would be proof that the batteries on Carl’s boat truly had died. Ishmael and Hatsue go into town to investigate.
Hatsue’s comment that Ishmael looks like his father signifies that Ishmael is finally starting to act with the level moral integrity his father possessed. Their renewed closeness also indicates that such integrity is a crucial part of having genuine relationships with others.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
The jury convenes at 8:00 a.m., so they’re a little crunched for time. Ishmael and Hatsue drive in Ishmael’s DeSoto. Ishmael thinks if they can go to Carl’s boat first, then they can go to the courthouse with all their new evidence (Milholland’s notes, the spilled coffee, the lantern) in hand and end it all at once. Hatsue sits in silence and tells Ishmael that she knows he’s known about the freighter. Ishmael admits that, yes, he sat on the crucial evidence for one day. He calls his actions “inexcusable.” She says she understands. They comment on the beautiful scenery around them.
Hatsue has always had a greater sense of the duties required of her, and Ishmael has habitually acted (or failed to act) based on feelings alone. Thus, in Hatsue’s presence, Ishmael recognizes how wrong and dishonorable it was to withhold the notes for so long. Hatsue’s ability to understand Ishmael’s failure speaks to her ability to see the bigger picture—something she was taught in her childhood lessons with Mrs. Shigemura.
Themes
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
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They arrive at the sheriff’s office and find Art Moran. He accuses them of being “on a mission.” Hatsue shows Moran the coast guard’s notes that Ishmael discovered, and Moran accuses them of “trying to be Sherlock Holmes.” Ishmael urges Moran to take the notes seriously. Moran reads the notes and Abel Martinson comes in announcing that the phones are back up. Moran says they’re going to go down to Beason’s Cannery dock to look at Carl’s boat. Moran makes Hatsue get breakfast while the men go down to the docks to investigate.
Moran’s “Sherlock Holmes” comment harkens back to Horace Whaley’s condescending remark to Moran at the beginning of the novel, making Moran seem somewhat hypocritical here. The sheriff seems to insinuate that the coast guard’s logs notes are not fact but speculation, even though he himself as been accused of making similar misinterpretations in the past.
Themes
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
The men arrive at Carl’s boat, the Susan Marie. There is no lantern on the mast. They look in Carl’s cabin. Ishmael brings up the coffee cup. Abel says that he himself picked it up earlier, thus tampering with the crime scene. Art Moran reprimands Abel but says that the coffee cup isn’t really evidence of much—if Carl had gotten “waked hard enough to go overboard,” there should’ve been more of a mess onboard the boat.
The fact that Abel—unbeknownst to anybody else until this moment—unintentionally tampered with the crime shows that one can never trust that the visible facts will reveal the truth.
Themes
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Abel shines a light where Carl would’ve hung the lantern. There are “cut lashings of net twine visible there, loose ends dangling.” Ishmael sees this as proof that the lantern once was there. Abel agrees. Art tells Abel to climb up to get a better look. Abel sees “a rust streak ‘crost these lashings,” which might’ve come from the lantern. He also finds some blood—likely from Carl’s cut hand. This suggests that Carl removed the lantern after he’d been with Kabuo and after he’d cut his hand on Kabuo’s gaff. The men turn to the “port side gunnel just below the mast.” They find “three small hairs […] embedded in the crack.” Carl must have been thrown from his boat as he was on the mast removing the lantern. Abel and Ishmael are pretty sold on this theory, but Art wants them to go to Judge Fielding first.
Despite the lantern’s absence, the “cut lashings of net twine” hanging on the mast and “a rust streak ‘crost” the lashings” are evidence that the lantern was likely there at some point. Guided by a new narrative of what happened the night of September 15, the men find more clues that support the version of Carl’s death evidenced in the coast guard’s notes. The discovery of so much evidence that had before gone unnoticed illustrates that one often sees only the truth one wants to see.
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The men consult with Judge Fielding. At 10:00 a.m., Fielding dismisses the jury and dismisses the charges against Kabuo. Ishmael returns to his newspaper office to write a story about the trial. He “trie[s] to imagine the truth of what had happened.” He sees the Susan Marie, dead in the water. He sees Carl light and hang his lantern from the mast. He sees Kabuo’s boat, the Islander, approach Carl. He sees Kabuo help Carl. The two men come to an agreement about the land, and then they part ways.
Judge Fielding dismisses the charges against Kabuo because the new evidence allows him to see the fuller, true picture of what happened the night of September 15. The evidence is no longer limited to the prejudiced, biased material the prosecution had previously offered. Ishmael’s attempt to write the story is a symbolic gesture toward correcting the unjust narratives that dominated the trial.
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Ishmael wonders whether Kabuo had initially found it “a fortuitous thing” to encounter Carl on the sea, since helping Carl might mean that Kazuo’s goal of owning and working the strawberry land could be closer than ever before.
Ishmael creates his own narrative of the night of September 15. He imagines that Kabuo might have felt fortunate that fate brought Carl to him, as their meeting resulted in the long sought-after return of his family’s strawberry fields. Such musings would be ironic, of course, given what unfortunate events would unfold the next day—Kabuo’s arrest, months of imprisonment, and the eventual trial.
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Ishmael imagines the scene that unfolded the night of September 15: as Kabuo, having just parted ways with Carl, was occupied by happy thoughts of the strawberry farm and his family’s future, The S.S. Corona grew closer and closer to Carl’s boat. Carl made coffee and listened to his radio.
Ishmael seems fascinated by how Carl and Kabuo could have both gone about their nights, completely unaware of the drastic changes fate would wreak on their lives later that night. 
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Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Over the radio, Carl heard the Corona decide, suddenly, to switch course—it would now plow right through Ship Channel Bank. As he listened to the freighter approach him, he wondered if his ship could weather the swell the freighter would make. Carl felt that he could manage it; still, the freighter’s wake would destroy the lantern he’d hung from his mast earlier. Carl proceeded to climb the mast to take down the lantern, “open[ing] the palm wound” in the process. In that moment, the wake hit his boat, and he was tossed overboard, hitting his head against the port gunnel on his way down. The Corona moved on, ignorant of the havoc it had wreaked.
Had Carl not climbed up the mast to remove the lantern, he might not have been pushed off the boat. Still, Ishmael decides, Carl’s tragic death was the result of a series of events and circumstances beyond anyone’s ability to control.
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In his newspaper office, Ishmael thinks about the fog and the series of fateful events that led to Carl and Kabuo’s meeting, and to Carl’s eventual death.
Ishmael once again contemplates the unavoidable role fate plays in life.
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Seated before his typewriter, Ishmael considers all that he has learned about life over the course of the trial, knowing, finally, “that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”
Ishmael’s final revelation speaks to the book’s theme of chance vs. choice: chance, or fate, controls all of life except for human emotions. In other words, despite the unavoidable forces of fate that shape the universe, every human still has the ability to make choices and exercise moral integrity. It is humanity’s task, thus, to both accept fate and exercise choice.
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