Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the courtroom, Horace Whaley, the Island County coroner, testifies to Alvin Hooks. He describes the autopsy he performed on Carl’s corpse. He’d found a watch in Carl’s pocket, which had stopped at 1:47. Carl’s body was frozen and pink. Whaley forced himself to regard Carl “as the deceased and not as Carl Heine.” He lamented the gruesome nature of his job, and how it forced him to become detached from the task at hand, citing another drowned fisherman he’d examined in 1949, and “the other men who had died in tidal pools” he’d observed during the Pacific War.
Horace’s need to think of Carl “as the deceased and not as Carl Heine” shows how, initially, Horace tried to be objective and detached in his autopsy. Guterson includes the detail that Horace had seen “other men who had died in tidal pools” in the Pacific War to foreshadow his prejudices. The Pacific War refers to the battles of WWII fought in the Pacific and in Asia. Horace’s involvement in the Pacific War causes him to develop prejudices against people of Japanese heritage, which becomes clear as the novel goes on.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
As he worked, Horace recalled Carl’s silence and unreadable temperament in life, noting that, though “the man seemed to have no friends, […] other men admired him because he was powerful and good at his work.” Horace stopped daydreaming and reminded himself that he had to be objective. He pushed against Carl’s chest and a pink foam came out of Carl’s mouth. Horace recognized the foam as a sign that Carl had still been breathing when he’d fallen overboard.
Despite Horace’s determination to remain detached as he conducts his autopsy, it’s impossible for him to do so completely. When Horace remembers that Carl “seemed to have no friends,” though “other men admired him because he was powerful and good at his work,” he demonstrates how Carl’s silence was never viewed negatively. That is, other men “admired” Carl despite—or even because of—his “powerful” silence. In contrast, such benefit of the doubt is never offered to Kabuo Miyamoto. Horace’s discovery of the pink foam is an important piece of evidence because it proves that Carl was alive when he fell off his ship.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Horace continued to examine Carl, as “it was his duty to find out the truth.” He then saw the wound on Carl’s head that Abel had noticed earlier. The wound reminded Horace of the wounds he’d seen during his time in the Pacific War, administered by Japanese soldiers trained in kendo, a Japanese martial art administered at close range with the butt of a gun. Whaley knew that many Japanese soldiers were trained to kill in this manner, and that a majority, too, inflicted this type of wound “over the left ear.”
That “it was [Horace’s] duty to find out the truth” is ironic because so much of Horace’s task as coroner relies on speculation. Horace’s job underscores the novel’s theme of truth vs. facts—his autopsy involves making assumptions about the facts in front of him to form a narrative of truth. Horace is quick to connect Carl’s head wound with the kendo wounds he observed during the war—this premature association shows bias present in Horace’s supposedly objective, detached autopsy. Horace might claim that he must be detached during autopsies, but his impulse to associate Carl’s wound with personal details from his past reveals his bias. 
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Continuing with his testimony, Horace Whaley recalls that Art Moran had then entered the examination room. Horace let the sheriff in on the connection he’d made to the kendo wounds he observed during the Pacific War. Horace admitted that, while “anything could have happened,” the wound on Carl’s head struck him as “funny.” Art agreed and asked Horace whether it’s possible someone hit Carl in the head. Horace mocked Moran and accused him of “play[ing] Sherlock Holmes.” Art rebuffed the accusation, but maintained that Carl’s head wound was truly odd.
When Horace admits that “anything could have happened,” he betrays how biased it was of him to immediately associate the gash on Carl’s head with the kendo wounds he saw during the Pacific War. When Art Moran refers to the wound as “funny” he shows how strongly feelings and hunches motivate his own assessment of Carl’s corpse. It’s also ironic that Horace accuses Moran of “play[ing] Sherlock Holmes,” or playing detective, seeing as both men have just made overconfident leaps in their assessments of Carl’s head wound.  
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
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In the courtroom, Horace continues with his testimony, recalling that he told Art Moran that if Moran were to play “Sherlock Holmes,” he should look “for a Jap with a bloody gun butt—a right-handed Jap, to be precise.”
Horace slips a blatantly biased speculation into his testimony when he asserts that “a Jap with a bloody gun butt” had inflicted the wound found on Carl’s head. His “Sherlock Holmes” detective work is motivated not only by what he could physically see on Carl’s head, but by his personal experience in the war and his residual bias towards the Japanese.
Themes
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon