Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the courtroom, Ishmael watches Hatsue talk to Kabuo. He forces himself to look away. When the court returns after the recess, it’s Carl Heine’s mother’s turn to testify. Etta Heine is a weathered old woman who spent decades working alongside her husband, Carl Sr., in the strawberry fields. Etta was born in Bavaria and speaks with an accent. Etta and Carl Sr. had eloped to Seattle. Etta liked Seattle but struggled to enjoy San Piedro, where the couple had returned to tend to Carl Sr.’s father’s strawberry fields.
Ishmael remains obsessed with Hatsue. The reader has yet to discover how or why their teenage affair ended, but Guterson builds tension and intrigue in moments like these. At first glance, Etta’s history is very similar to Fujiko Imada’s: she is an immigrant woman who speaks with an accent, and she followed her husband to San Piedro where she helped him work the land. The reader will soon discover that Etta is incredibly bigoted towards the Japanese. Guterson establishes the similarities between Etta and Japanese characters like Fujiko to emphasize Etta’s ignorance and hypocrisy.
Themes
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Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Carl Sr. had a heart attack and died in 1944. Alvin Hooks, the prosecutor, is excited to interrogate Etta Heine about her finances. Etta reveals to Hooks that she did the bookkeeping for her husband’s strawberry fields. The strawberry fields weren’t particularly lucrative, but they supported the family for years. Etta reveals that she knows Kabuo Miyamoto because his family picked in their fields back before the war. She recalls that the family “lived in one of the pickers’ cabins,” and that she used to watch them “sitting under a maple tree eating rice and fish off on tin plates.” She also notes that “they walked barefoot.” Of course she remembers the Miyamotos, Etta relays to Hooks, asking “How was it she was supposed to forget such people?” Judge Fielding calls for a recess, “seeing that [Etta’s] emotions had overwhelmed her.”
Through Etta’s testimony, Guterson introduces the land feud that developed between the Miyamoto and Heine families in the 1940s. Etta’s description of the Miyamoto family is riddled with bigoted, derogatory language. She emphasizes the pitifulness of their living quarters by calling it “one of the pickers’ cabins,” sees it as uncivilized that they “walked around barefoot,” and makes it clear that she considers the family to be “other” by referring to them as “such people.” When Judge Fielding brings Etta’s testimony to a halt because of her “emotions,” he draws attention to the bias in Etta’s language. Fielding’s actions here align him with the characters who resist the influence of prejudice in Kabuo’s trial.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Etta steps off the witness stand and her thoughts turn to the day Zenhichi Miyamoto came to the Heines’ house: Zenhichi asked to speak with her husband, and the two men left the room. Carl Sr. returned, explaining that Zenhichi wanted to buy seven acres of his land. Etta insisted that it wasn’t a good time to sell, and that Carl Sr. would regret selling the land. Etta also insisted that the Miyamoto family didn’t have the money to buy. Carl Sr. disagreed with his wife, and added that the Miyamotos were a good family. Etta, unimpressed, compared the Miyamotos to “Indjuns.” But Carl Sr, didn’t share his wife’s prejudices, saying: “People is people, comes down to it,” he said. Etta was exasperated by her husband, and told him to “go ahead and sell our property to a Jap and see what comes of it.”
Etta demonstrates the breadth of her bigotry when she refers to the Miyamotos as “Indjuns,” but the reader learns that Carl Sr. does not share his wife’s skewed worldview when he insists, “People is people, comes down to it.” Etta’s remark that the Heines will “see what comes of it” if they sell their land “to a Jap” reflects the novel’s preoccupation with fate. Etta seems to suggest here that Carl Sr.’s decision to sell the land sealed the family’s fate, leading to the many misfortunes that would befall them in the years to come (such as Carl Sr.’s death and Carl Jr.’s death). 
Themes
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Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Etta’s memory of this time moves forward as she returns to the witness stand to continue with her testimony. Etta tells Hooks that Zenhichi and Carl Sr. had worked out a “lease-to-own” contract for the land. Zenhichi would pay Carl $250 twice a year, in June and December. Carl would draw up papers but keep the land in his own name, as it was 1934, and people of Japanese descent couldn’t legally own land.
Guterson emphasizes how legitimate Zenhichi and Carl Sr.’s deal was: Carl Sr. only drew up the contract as a lease agreement because Japanese persons couldn’t legally own land in 1934. The legitimacy of the contract contrasts with Etta’s refusal to validate it, which shows the extent to which her bigotry poisons her perspective and influences her actions.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
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Judge Fielding interrupts Etta to explain the legality of the arrangement to the court. Because it was technically illegal for the Miyamotos to own land at the time of the arrangement, it was necessary for the papers to be drawn up as a lease; in reality, however, the lease agreement served as a legal loophole through which Carl Sr. could sell the seven acres to Zenhichi Miyamoto. At any rate, explains Judge Fielding, the restriction that had prevented the Miyamotos from purchasing land in the first place, the “Alien Land Law,” is “blessedly” no longer enforced. Etta scoffs at Fielding’s clarification, saying: “Them Japanese couldn’t own land. […] So I don’t see how them Miyamotos could think they owned ours.”
Judge Fielding explains the logistics and prejudice of the “Alien Land Law” in order to make the circumstances of Zenhichi and Carl Sr.’s contract clear. He emphasizes the contract’s legitimacy, explaining that the racist laws of the time made it necessary for the men to find a legal loophole through which Zenhichi could unofficially “purchase” the land from Carl Sr. Unlike Fielding, Etta has no interest in considering the circumstances that prevented the Miyamotos from owning land. In her prejudice, she turns a blind eye to asserting, simply that Japanese people could not own land. In short, she refuses to humor any perspective not in line with her bigotry.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Hooks tries to validate Etta’s bigotry as merely her honest attempt to recall the land purchase as she remembers it, but Fielding urges Hooks to move forward with Etta’s testimony. Through Etta’s testimony, the court learns that Kabuo was the Miyamotos’ first child: he was 12 in 1934. The Miyamotos’ thinking behind the eight-year “lease,” reveals Etta, was that Kabuo could officially purchase the land on his 20th birthday. In 1942, thus, the Miyamotos would be finished paying for the land, and Kabuo (who, unlike his parents, was born in the United States) would be able to own the land in his name.
Hooks downplays Etta’s bigotry. By moving the interrogation along, Fielding tries to minimize the influence of prejudice in his courtroom. The reader learns that Zenhichi Miyamoto’s ultimate plan was to have his son, a United States citizen, eventually inherit and legally purchase his land. Etta will frame Kabuo’s entitlement to the land as his supposed motivation for murdering her son.
Themes
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But, Etta reveals, the Miyamotos missed their final two payments. Etta hesitates and recalls the circumstances that prevented the Miyamotos from paying their last installments: people of Japanese ancestry had been ordered to relocate to internment camps. Carl Sr. was appalled by this news, but Etta was less sympathetic: “They’re Japs,” she told her husband. “We’re in a war with them. We can’t have spies around.” Carl shook his head at his wife and retorted, “You and me, we just ain’t right.”
Etta hesitation before revealing the Miyamotos’ reason for missing their final two payments seems to suggest that she knows her prejudice makes her argument unreasonable. When Etta calls the Miyamotos “Japs” and embraces the forced relocation of Japanese citizens, she further asserts her bigotry. Etta’s statement is also ironic, given that she is from Germany, with whom the United States is also “in a war.” By Etta’s logic, she could also be a spy. Carl Sr. condemns his wife’s statements when he says that the two of them “just ain’t right.”
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Etta Heine testifies that Zenhichi came to the Heine home to try to figure out how they’d handle the land in light of the family’s forthcoming relocation. Carl Sr. expressed sympathy. Etta scoffed as Zenhichi tried to discuss payments and as he offered to let Carl keep the berries he’d be able to pick from their seven acres. When Carl Jr. returned home, he saw Zenhichi and asked after Kabuo, with whom he was friendly. After Carl Jr. left to meet up with Kabuo, Zenhichi continued with his proposition, asking if it would be possible to make late payments on the seven acres and apply the additional berries the Heines could harvest from those acres toward future payments. Etta saw this suggestion as trickery on Zenhichi’s part.
When Carl Jr. asks for Kabuo, the reader learns that the two men had once been friends. Guterson includes this detail to complicate the reader’s current understanding of Carl and Kabuo’s history with one another. At this point in the novel, the reader knows little of the men’s relationship prior to Carl’s death. Etta’s immediate assumption that Zenhichi has come to her house to try to swindle the Heines out of their money is based on her bigoted stereotype of the Japanese as a tricky, suspicious people.
Themes
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Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Etta continues with her testimony: Zenhichi, she reveals, offered to pay the Heines $120 on the spot, but Carl Sr. refused to take it, as he knew that the Miyamotos would need that money for their looming departure. Etta remained frustrated by what she perceived as Zenhichi’s shrewdness. She observed that Zenhichi had “gone rigid, gone cold.” She saw Zenhichi’s silence as restrained but intense anger. Carl Sr. was more understanding. He assured Zenhichi that they would get the final payments figured out eventually. At the moment, Carl knew, the Miyamotos had more pressing matters to attend to.
Carl Sr. counters his wife’s bigoted cruelty with sympathy and kindness. When Etta notes that Zenhichi had “gone rigid, gone cold,” she demonstrates the double standard applied to silence: the silence of white people may be interpreted neutrally, but the silence of Japanese people is most always seen as “cold” or threatening.
Themes
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Continuing with her testimony, Etta recalls that Carl Jr. had returned later with fishing rod that Kabuo had loaned him. Without hesitation, Etta had instructed Carl to “take the fishing rod back to the Japs,” because the loan complicates the situation with the land payments. She had registered Carl’s hurt when she told him this, but she didn’t back down. Etta continues with her testimony, reiterating that the Miyamotos didn’t meet their payments, so she saw no problem with selling the land to Ole Jurgensen after her husband’s death. Kabuo, she believed, had been bitter ever since the sale, and had murdered Carl Jr. in anger.
The fishing rod is more evidence of Carl Jr. and Kabuo’s friendship. Kabuo had presumably given Carl the fishing rod for safekeeping while he was away at the internment camp. Etta’s order to return the fishing rod hurts Carl, and this hurt shows that Carl (at least at this point in his life) did not share his mother’s prejudice towards the Japanese.
Themes
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