Snow Falling on Cedars

by

David Guterson

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Ishmael Chambers is the owner and sole reporter of San Piedro’s only newspaper, the San Piedro Review. Ishmael’s father, Arthur Chambers, founded the newspaper, and Ishmael often compares himself to his late father, feeling disappointed and resentful for not actively living up to his father’s “moral meticulousness” as a reporter. As a young person, Ishmael Chambers had argued with his father over the difference between “truth” and “facts”: his father had argued for a looser version of truth, picking and choosing facts to spin into a larger narrative “truth,” while the young Ishmael had naively believed that “facts are facts” and that it was wrong to be selective about which ones to report. Today, Ishmael’s cynicism prevents from looking thoughtfully at the world, and he writes only banal and insignificant pieces for the paper. Ishmael was drafted and fought in World War II, during which a bullet cost him his arm. He harbors feelings of bitterness towards his injury and overall involvement in the war. Compounded with the injury is his perpetual lovesickness for Hatsue Miyamoto, with whom he had a passionate romance in adolescence. Society’s disapproval of interracial relationships and the heightened racism inflicted towards people of Japanese descent during WWII forced the couple to meet in secret, often in the safety of a hollow cedar tree. Hatsue couldn’t bear to lie to her parents, and also never felt that things were “right” when she was with Ishmael, so she broke off the relationship abruptly. Over 10 years after their break-up, during the novel’s present day, Ishmael still harbors pain and resentment over the breakup, and this causes him to almost hold back information that would exonerate Hatsue’s husband, Kabuo Miyamoto, who is wrongly accused of murdering Carl Heine, a local fisherman. Ishmael ultimately comes to terms with his heartbreak and learns that he must and strive to live as morally, truthfully, and happily as he can.

Ishmael Chambers Quotes in Snow Falling on Cedars

The Snow Falling on Cedars quotes below are all either spoken by Ishmael Chambers or refer to Ishmael Chambers. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Snow Falling on Cedars published in 1995.
Chapter 4 Quotes

An unflagging loyalty to his profession and its principles had made Arthur, over the years, increasingly deliberate in his speech and actions, and increasingly exacting regarding the truth in even his most casual reportage. He was, his son remembered, morally meticulous, and though Ishmael might strive to emulate this, there was nevertheless the matter of the war—this matter of the arm he’d lost—that made such scrupulosity difficult.

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers, Arthur Chambers
Page Number: 34-35
Explanation and Analysis:

His cynicism—a veteran’s cynicism—was a thing that disturbed him all the time. It seemed to him after the war that the world was thoroughly altered. […] People appeared enormously foolish to him. He understood that they were only animated cavities full of jelly and strings and liquids.

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

The inside of the tree felt private. He felt they would never be discovered here. […] The rain afforded an even greater privacy; no one in the world would come this way and find them inside this tree.

Related Symbols: The Cedar Tree
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

“Not every fact is just a fact,” he added. “It’s all a kind of…balancing act. A juggling of pins, all kinds of pins, that’s what journalism is about.”

“That isn’t journalism,” Ishmael answered. “Journalism is just the facts.”

[…]

“But which facts?” Arthur asked him. “Which facts do we print, Ishmael?”

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers (speaker), Arthur Chambers (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

“That is the fundamental difference, Hatsue. We bend our heads, we bow and are silent, because we understand that by ourselves, alone, we are nothing at all, dust in a strong wind, while the hakujin believes his aloneness is everything, his separateness is the foundation of his existence. He seeks and grasps, seeks and grasps for the separateness, while we seek union with the Greater Life—you must see that these are distinct paths we are traveling, Hatsue, the hakujin and we Japanese.”

Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

She was of this place and she was not of this place, and though she might desire to be an American it was clear, as her mother said, that she had the face of America’s enemy and would always have such a face.

Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

“None of those other things makes a difference. Love is the strongest thing in the world, you know. Nothing can touch it. Nothing comes close. If we love each other we’re safe from it all. Love is the biggest thing there is.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers (speaker), Hatsue Miyamoto (Hatsue Imada)
Related Symbols: The Cedar Tree
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

“I’m not talking about the whole universe,” cut in Hatsue. “I’m talking about people—the sheriff, that prosecutor, the judge, you. People who can do things because they run newspapers or arrest people or convict them or decide about their lives. People don’t have to be unfair, do they? That isn’t just part of things, when people are unfair to somebody.”

Related Symbols: Snow
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

“You’ll think this is crazy,” Ishmael said. “But all I want is to hold you. All I want is just to hold you once and smell your hair, Hatsue. I think after that I’ll be better.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers (speaker), Hatsue Miyamoto (Hatsue Imada)
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“The defense hasn’t made its case yet, but you’re all ready to convict. You’ve got the prosecutor’s set of facts, but that might not be the whole story—it never is, Ishmael. And besides, really, facts are so cold, so horribly cold—can we defend on facts by themselves?”

“What else do we have?” replied Ishmael. “Everything else is ambiguous. Everything else is emotions and hunches. At least the facts you can cling to; the emotions just float away.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers (speaker), Helen Chambers (speaker), Kabuo Miyamoto
Page Number: 345
Explanation and Analysis:

“I can’t tell you what to do, Ishmael. I’ve tried to understand what it’s been like for you—having gone to war, having lost your arm, not having married or had children. I’ve tried to make sense of it all, believe me, I have—how it must feel to be you. But I must confess that, no matter how I try, I can’t really understand you. There are other boys, after all, who went to war and came back home and pushed on with their lives […]. But you—you went numb, Ishmael. And you’ve stayed numb all these years.”

Related Characters: Helen Chambers (speaker), Ishmael Chambers
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 31 Quotes

But the war, his arm, the course of things—it had all made his heart much smaller. He had not moved on at all. […] So perhaps that was what her eyes meant now on those rare occasions when she looked at him—he’d shrunk so thoroughly in her estimation, not lived up to who he was. He read her letter another time and understood that she had once admired him, there was something in him she was grateful for even if she could not love him. That was a part of himself he’d lost over the years, that was the part that was gone.

Page Number: 442
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 32 Quotes

Ishmael gave himself to the writing of it, and as he did so he understood this, too; that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.

Related Characters: Ishmael Chambers
Page Number: 460
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ishmael Chambers Character Timeline in Snow Falling on Cedars

The timeline below shows where the character Ishmael Chambers appears in Snow Falling on Cedars. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
...the courtroom, there are “out-of-town reporters” from larger cities covering the trial, as well as Ishmael Chambers, San Piedro’s sole reporter. Ishmael is 31 years old and has the look of... (full context)
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As he sits in the courtroom, Ishmael recalls how he’d tried to speak with the accused man’s wife, Hatsue Miyamoto, earlier that... (full context)
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Now, as he sits in the courtroom, Ishmael ponders this less than savory interaction with Hatsue. He feels uncomfortable sitting amongst the other... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...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... (full context)
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During the recess, Ishmael reflects on his ambivalence towards San Piedro and towards his post-war life. He moved to... (full context)
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Ishmael’s newfound love of books led him to pursue journalism as a career. Ishmael’s father, Arthur,... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Ishmael stops daydreaming about Arthur and redirects his thoughts to the morning of Carl’s death. The... (full context)
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Ishmael joined Art in talking to the fishermen, trying to learn more about the last night... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...by the ocean and in the strawberry fields. At age 10, Hatsue made friends with Ishmael Chambers, “a neighborhood boy.” The two children would explore what lurked underwater with Ishmael’s special... (full context)
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...wanted a life of working the fields with the man she loved. Hatsue thought of Ishmael, but she cast him quickly out of her mind. Kabuo asked Hatsue if she’d made... (full context)
Chapter 8
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In the courtroom, Ishmael Chambers watches Hatsue. He remembers their childhood friendship, thinking back to one particular day when... (full context)
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Young Ishmael anguished over Hatsue after their kiss as he worked odd jobs around town. He feared... (full context)
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Ishmael and Hatsue worked together at the start of that strawberry season, but she continued to... (full context)
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In the tree, Ishmael apologized for kissing Hatsue on the beach. Hatsue told him not to be sorry—she, herself,... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Back in the courtroom, Ishmael watches Hatsue talk to Kabuo. He forces himself to look away. When the court returns... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Outside Kabuo’s jail cell, it continues to snow. Ishmael Chambers walks outside and takes in the forces of nature that surround him, which Kabuo’s... (full context)
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Ishmael’s memories overwhelm him completely, transporting him back to his teenage love affair with Hatsue: unable... (full context)
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...with the intensity and dramatics of teenagers. But Hatsue is sometimes “cold and silent” with Ishmael in the cedar tree. Hatsue’s silence hurts Ishmael, but Hatsue insists she is not being... (full context)
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Ishmael recalls Hatsue’s “religious side.” Hatsue believes that “all of life [is] impermanent,” and that every... (full context)
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Back in the present, Ishmael remembers that Hatsue was crowned the Strawberry Princess at the 1941 Strawberry Festival. Ishmael’s father,... (full context)
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Ishmael’s memory flashes forward to when they were high school seniors: In the cedar tree, Hatsue... (full context)
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Hatsue expresses her fears about the war; Ishmael responds that he’s going to be drafted and that he has no choice. They sit... (full context)
Chapter 13
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On the school bus the next morning, Hatsue and Ishmael learn that the Japanese are making attacks all around the Pacific Ocean. Their bus driver... (full context)
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The radio is on all day at school, transmitting “cheerless and sober” voices. Hatsue and Ishmael’s teacher encourages the male students to “consider it an honor to meet the Japs head-on.” (full context)
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Ishmael’s father publishes the paper’s first war extra. It reads “ISLAND DEFENSE. SET!” and describes the... (full context)
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Hatsue approaches Ishmael as he reads his father’s war extra. Hatsue tells Ishmael that her family’s bank accounts... (full context)
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Later in the week, Ishmael helps his father with the paper, taking phone calls. The county sheriff calls, concerned about... (full context)
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...fact. […] It’s all a kind of…balancing act. […] that’s what journalism is about.” But Ishmael disagrees with his father’s assessment, arguing that journalism is only about reporting facts. Arthur replies... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Immediately, Hatsue thinks of her secret meetings with Ishmael and wonders if her mother knows about them. “I know who I am,” Hatsue tries... (full context)
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...looks like an enemy of the country even though she’s American.  Her thoughts turn to Ishmael, and as she reflects on their past together, she feels ill. (full context)
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Still, Hatsue knows she has feelings for Ishmael: she wonders what love could mean if it doesn’t mean the experience she shares with... (full context)
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...has made the idea of a future together even less likely than it was before. Ishmael adopts a more optimistic view, reasoning that they’ll graduate in a few months, and then... (full context)
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...Sunday, the day before she and her family must leave, Hatsue goes out to meet Ishmael in the cedar tree. Ishmael proposes a way for them to write to each other... (full context)
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Ishmael and Hatsue begin to kiss. “Let’s get married,” says Ishmael. Hatsue makes no response, but... (full context)
Chapter 15
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One day, Hatsue’s sister, Sumiko, intercepts a letter Ishmael sent Hatsue. Sumiko opens and reads the love letter before bringing it “regretfully” to Fujiko.... (full context)
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...the letter is unnecessary: Hatsue will write her own letter to break things off with Ishmael, as she realized she didn’t love him anymore when they were on the train en... (full context)
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...realizes that Kabuo is attractive and kind. She knows that she can’t stay sad over Ishmael forever. A few months later, “when Ishmael was mostly a persistent ache buried beneath the... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Ishmael’s life continues after the Imada family leaves San Piedro. He becomes a marine rifleman in... (full context)
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Eventually, Ishmael recovers. He’s trained as a radioman and sent to New Zealand as with the Marines.... (full context)
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Ishmael and his fellow marines “practice landing maneuvers at Hawkes Bay, where the tides [are] bad.”... (full context)
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On November 1, Ishmael’s division leaves Wellington, New Zealand—not for more training at Hawkes Bay, “but ending up instead... (full context)
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...men are instructed to write letters, as it might be the last chance they get. Ishmael writes to Hatsue: “I hate you, Hatsue, I hate you always.” He writes about “how... (full context)
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In the middle of the night, at 3:20 a.m., Ishmael receives his orders: the marines are to “lay topside to [their] debarkation stations.” The men—over... (full context)
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Ishmael sees the navy “packing medical field kits.” He remarks to Testaverde, a fellow marine, that... (full context)
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Ishmael sits next to his gear and gazes into the vastness of the sea that lies... (full context)
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After Second Platoon went ashore, Third Platoon (Ishmael’s group), would follow, assisting whoever needed assisting. There would be help from K Company, who... (full context)
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...led by a chaplain, sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” before the battle. Ishmael wonders what good this will do. He’s also uncertain as to what his role is... (full context)
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Ishmael crawls down the Heywood’s cargo net, but it is difficult with his full pack of... (full context)
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Another shell lands in the water near Ishmael’s platoon. Larry Jackson, another marine, expresses skepticism at the lieutenant’s assurance that the Japanese forces... (full context)
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Ishmael sees three other boats carrying soldiers to his left. He tries to calm his mind... (full context)
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Ishmael’s platoon, still aboard the Heywood, is being shot at. They make their way off the... (full context)
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Ishmael and some other men swim behind the ship, which continues to be shot at. He... (full context)
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Ishmael runs and hides behind the seawall as Bledsoe bleeds to death. Bledsoe pleads for help.... (full context)
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Hours later, at 10:00 a.m., Ishmael remains “crouched behind the seawall.” A sergeant from J Company appears and berates the men... (full context)
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Ishmael smells something “sweetish” and realizes it’s the stench of the dead marines that litter the... (full context)
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...everybody will go over the top of the seawall. A lieutenant from K Company asks Ishmael where his squad is. Ishmael tells him that everybody who’d been around him is now... (full context)
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Ishmael crouches against the seawall. He doesn’t want to think about Eric Bledsoe, whom he watched... (full context)
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At 1900 hours, Ishmael, Testaverde, and hundreds of other men in their new, re-formed squads finally go over the... (full context)
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Ishmael wakes hours later, beside two medical officials. A man next to him has suffered a... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Fielding, Hooks, and Gudmundsson retreat to the Judge’s chambers. The courtroom is empty, save for Ishmael Chambers, who is lost in thought. Ed Soames thinks that Ishmael is “a strange bird.”... (full context)
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Ishmael walks outside. The wind is blowing, and all the town’s power is out. Ishmael goes... (full context)
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Ishmael thinks of the things he has to do: visit his mother; figure out how to... (full context)
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Ishmael walks around town taking pictures of the snow’s impact on the town and townspeople. He... (full context)
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Ishmael wanders down to Tom Torgerson’s filling station. He asks him to put chains on his... (full context)
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Ishmael returns to the courthouse. Judge Fielding announces that the trial will continue tomorrow morning, when... (full context)
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Ishmael leaves town in his car—the high school kids had gotten around to putting chains on... (full context)
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On his way up to his mother’s, Ishmael sees a “Willys station wagon” that he recognizes as the Imadas’. The car has wiped... (full context)
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Hatsue is reluctant to speak to Ishmael. Most of the car ride’s conversation consists of Hisao explaining the details of how their... (full context)
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If the two of them were alone, Ishmael thinks, he’d like to ask Hatsue what she means by her expressionless look. Ishmael thinks... (full context)
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Finally, in the back of Ishmael’s car, Hatsue addresses Ishmael: “Kabuo’s trial, is unfair […].” She urges Ishmael to write about... (full context)
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Ishmael sympathizes with Hatsue, but he ultimately believes the jury can reach the right verdict. At... (full context)
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As Hatsue and Hisao leave his car, Ishmael thinks that he’s gained “an emotional advantage” over Hatsue because she wants him to write... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Ishmael heads over to the coast guard lighthouse on Point White. The lighthouse’s purpose is to... (full context)
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Ishmael sits before “the lighthouse chief petty officer, […] Evan Powell.” Ishmael tells Powell he’s writing... (full context)
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Ishmael tries to concentrate on the abundance of records, but his thoughts are pulled back to... (full context)
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During this period, Ishmael would seek refuge in nature, taking long hikes along the beach. On one of these... (full context)
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Ishmael stops daydreaming and focuses on his task of combing through the maritime records. His thoughts... (full context)
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Ishmael asks Levant who Milholland might be. Levant explains that Milholland was the radioman whom he... (full context)
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Ishmael pieces together the meaning of these logs: “that on the night Carl Heine had drowned,... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Ishmael arrives at his mother’s house. He feels the logs in his coat pocket. His mother,... (full context)
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Ishmael recalls a conversation with Helen in which he’d expressed his agnosticism. Helen asks Ishmael, if... (full context)
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Back in the present, Ishmael once more feels the coast guard’s logs in his pocket. He thinks about God some... (full context)
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Helen urges Ishmael to stay the night, and they get to discussing the trial. Helen considers it a... (full context)
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Ishmael cites Kabuo’s “unmovable and stolid” posture in court, and how Kabuo seems not to care... (full context)
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Helen challenges her son. Didn’t Kabuo serve in the United States military, just as Ishmael did? Ishmael stubbornly refutes this, dismissing this fact as irrelevant. Helen accuses her son of... (full context)
Ishmael is upset with Helen, who doesn’t seem to understand the hardships he’s endured. He compares... (full context)
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Helen tells Ishmael that she’s tried to understand his sadness: she knows his arm, the war, and being... (full context)
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After he and his mother eat dinner, Ishmael retreats to his room. He thinks about his childhood. He goes outside to check on... (full context)
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Ishmael’s thoughts turn to his father’s death. Arthur had pancreatic cancer, and had died in Seattle.... (full context)
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Ishmael looks in his bedroom closet, where he knows he will find Hatsue’s final letter to... (full context)
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Ishmael thinks about his life after Hatsue and after the war. He’d slept with three women... (full context)
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Ishmael decides he will write the article in the San Piedro Review that Hatsue asked him... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...to the public, as the storm has given them no other warm place to go; Ishmael looks at his notes. (full context)
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Ishmael looks at Hatsue from across the courtroom. He thinks about her testimony, and about how... (full context)
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Ishmael thinks back to Nels Gudmundsson’s closing statement, remembering how he’d reminded the jury that Hooks’s... (full context)
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Ishmael looks at Hatsue again, examining her physical attributes. He thinks about “all the times he... (full context)
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Ishmael passes Hisao Imada on his way out. Hisao thanks him for his help with the... (full context)
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Ishmael walks outside and sees that the snow has stopped. He continues to walk and sees... (full context)
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Ishmael continues to look at the destruction the storm has wrought on the harbor and knows... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Ishmael drives through the snow to his mother’s house. The power is still out there. She’s... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Ishmael continues to reflect on his father’s life and legacy. Arthur had gone into the logging... (full context)
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...“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... (full context)
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Ishmael recalls when he’d gone with his father to cover the Strawberry Festival. It was a... (full context)
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Ishmael stops reminiscing. He leaves his father’s study and walks upstairs to his old bedroom. He... (full context)
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Ishmael puts the letter away. He puts on his coat. He sees Helen sleeping, observes her... (full context)
Chapter 32
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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,... (full context)
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Duty vs. Desire Theme Icon
Fujiko tells Ishmael she’d always thought highly of his family. She compliments Ishmael’s newspaper and gives him some... (full context)
The Psychological Impact of War  Theme Icon
Ishmael’s mother wakes him up before 7:00 a.m. She says that Hatsue is there for him.... (full context)
Duty vs. Desire 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... (full context)
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Facts vs. Truth Theme Icon
Ishmael wonders whether Kabuo had initially found it “a fortuitous thing” to encounter Carl on the... (full context)
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Ishmael imagines the scene that unfolded the night of September 15: as Kabuo, having just parted... (full context)
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
In his newspaper office, Ishmael thinks about the fog and the series of fateful events that led to Carl and... (full context)
Chance vs. Choice Theme Icon
Seated before his typewriter, Ishmael considers all that he has learned about life over the course of the trial, knowing,... (full context)