Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Judge Lew Fielding calls for a recess and observes the snowfall. Everybody seems grateful for a break; the jurors’ faces “appear quiet and even faintly reverent.” Ishmael Chambers recalls how he found out about Carl’s death the morning of September 16. He’d been in the newspaper office and called the coroner, Horace Whaley, to verify the death. Whaley affirmed that Carl had, in fact, died, which was hard to fathom given that “The man had survived Okinawa.” Ishmael notes that he and Carl had attended high school together and had both graduated in 1942.
The “quiet and […] reverent” looks on the jurors’ faces shows how Guterson conveys silence in a positive light when it pertains to white characters. Horace’s comment points to the irony of Carl’s death. “Okinawa” refers to a particularly ferocious, deadly WWII battle that occurred in 1945 between the U.S. and Japan. Over 150,000 soldiers were killed. For Carl to have survived Okinawa but died so pitifully at sea seems, to Horace, to be an unlikely and unlucky twist of fate.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
During the recess, Ishmael reflects on his ambivalence towards San Piedro and towards his post-war life. He moved to Seattle after the war, and though he hadn’t felt great, he attributed this to the experience of being a war veteran. He’d lost an arm in combat, and he was—and still is—bitter about it, especially because he knows that the missing arm bothers other people. In college, Ishmael studied American literature. And though he was cynically certain that he would hate Moby Dick, he surprisingly took great pleasure in reading the novel, whose character Ishmael bears his name. However, he couldn’t stand Ahab, which ruined the book for Ishmael.
Ishmael notes the war’s intense impact on his mental health. His missing arm is a constant, visible reminder of all the horrors he witnessed as a solider. His interest in Moby Dick is significant within the larger context of his life. Some of that novel’s main themes parallel questions that Ishmael struggles with in his own life, such as fate vs. free will. It’s ironic that Ishmael hates Ahab, given the similarities he shares with him: both men are tortured, complicated, and have lost a limb. Ishmael’s hatred of Ahab seems to suggest that he knows how negatively the war has affected his life and he hates himself for it.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Ishmael’s newfound love of books led him to pursue journalism as a career. Ishmael’s father, Arthur, had also been a journalist, though he was a logger when he was Ishmael’s age. Arthur founded the San Piedro Review, whose first issue boasted the headline “JURY ACQUITS SEATTLE’S GILL,” which detailed a scandal involving Mayor Gill. Arthur later was drafted into General Pershing’s army, fighting “at Saint-Mihiel and Belleau.” When the war was over, Arthur returned to San Piedro to run his newspaper.
Ishmael’s love of reading aligns him with his father, Arthur, whose character and values he aspires to emulate. Arthur both founded and built the San Piedro Review into a legitimate, provocative publication. Guterson’s choice to highlight Arthur’s article about the trial of Mayor Gill shows how Arthur refuses to shy away from the big, pressing issues of his time. The fact that Arthur served in WWI (and in Belleau Wood, a particularly significant battle in U.S. history) and was able to return immediately to his paper shows how Arthur—unlike his son—didn’t let cynicism overcome him.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
From this point on, Arthur committed himself fully to observing and reporting on San Piedro, knowing that doing so gave him both power and purpose. Arthur rarely took vacations, publishing even on holidays. He was a great believer in the capabilities of journalism, namely its ability to uncover and deliver the truth to the masses. Arthur was “deliberate in his speech and actions” and “morally meticulous.” To this day, Ishmael longs to live up to his father’s legacy—personally and professionally—but his perpetual bitterness holds him back. Unlike his father, Ishmael’s time spent serving in the military has rendered him cynical and less invested in island life.
Arthur didn’t live in the past after returning from the war: he was invested in and energized by island life. He channeled this energy into making the Review a legitimate paper. His decision not to rest on holidays underscores his commitment to the paper and to journalism as a whole, whil his “deliberate […] speech and actions” show how seriously Arthur valued the power of words and opinions to influence how others perceive the truth. Guterson shows the similarities in Arthur and Ishmael’s histories to introduce one of Ishmael’s major sources of tension throughout the novel: that he is not the “morally meticulous” man he thinks he could and should be, and that he doesn’t honor his obligation as a journalist to report the truth.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Ishmael stops daydreaming about Arthur and redirects his thoughts to the morning of Carl’s death. The morning of September 16, Ishmael had arrived at the Amity Harbor docks to find Art Moran talking with several fishermen. The fishermen regarded Ishmael wearily, as he “made his living with words and was thus suspect to them.” On San Piedro, residents regard words with great skepticism. They much prefer “the silent-toiling, autonomous gill-netter,” regarding this as “the collective image of the good man.”
Ishmael’s cynicism alienates him from other Islanders, but his career also sets him apart from much of the island’s population. That he “ma[kes] his living with words” and not with his hands identifies Ishmael as an outsider to the many fishermen who work and live on the island. Ishmael’s investment in “words” is particularly problematic to the fishermen, as they are such a “silent-toiling” bunch. These men believe a silent man who keeps to himself is a “good man,” and they view Ishmael’s prodding, vocal profession as suspicious and even immoral.
Themes
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ishmael joined Art in talking to the fishermen, trying to learn more about the last night of Carl’s life. The fishermen offered that they’d seen Carl’s ship, the Susan Marie, out on Ship Channel Bank as late as 7:30 or 8:00 the night of September 15. Moran asked what other ships had been out on Ship Channel Bank, and the fishermen recalling seeing several others, among them the Islander, Kabuo Miyamoto’s ship. When they were through with the fishermen, Art Moran and Ishmael left the docks together. Art revealed to Ishmael that, “off the record,” he was investigating Carl’s death as a murder.
It’s critical to note that the fishermen confirm seeing Carl’s and Kabuo’s boats on Ship Channel Bank. This location and the closeness of the two boats to one another are critical details in Kabuo’s trial. Art’s admission that he’s investigating Carl’s death as a matter shows how quickly—perhaps, too quickly—Art decided there was foul play involved in the death. The fact that he tells Ishmael this information “off the record” perhaps suggests that Art isn’t fully confident in the validity of his murder theory.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon