Snow Falling On Cedars Summary

David Guterson

Snow Falling On Cedars

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Snow Falling On Cedars Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson.

Snow Falling on Cedars is a 1994 novel by American writer David Guterson. Guterson wrote the book over a period of ten years, while working as a teacher. When the novel became successful, he quit his job to write full-time. The novel became an instant bestseller, and won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It was adapted into a film that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999. In 2007 it was adapted for theatre.

The novel takes place on the fictional island of San Piedro, in the northern region of Washington State. The year is 1954, and Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman, has been accused of murdering a fellow fisherman, the well liked and respected Carl Heine. They live in a close-knit community, and much of the story is told through a series of flashbacks, explaining who these characters are and their relationship to one another. The novel is set in the period just after World War II, at a time when anti-Japanese sentiments were widespread.

Carl’s body is being pulled out of the sea, having been trapped in his own net. It is September 16, 1954. His watch is water damaged, and stopped at 1:47. The trial is being held in December of that year, during a fearful snow storm that holds the entire island in its throes. The editor of the town’s one-man newspaper is covering the case. Ishmael Chambers, who runs the San Piedro Review, is a World War II veteran of the US Marine Corps, and lost an arm fighting against the Japanese at the Battle of Tarawa. Chambers is torn between his hatred for the Japanese and his love for Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue. He battles his own conscience, and wonders if Kabuo is innocent. A series of flashbacks reveal that Chambers fell in love with Hatsue while the two went to high school together, before the war. They were dating in secret and lost their virginity to each other.

Leading the case against Kabuo is prosecutor, Alvin Hooks, and the town’s sheriff, Art Moran. The defense is headed by an old, but very experienced man named Nels Gudmondsson. Etta Heine testifies against Kabuo, accusing him of murdering her son for both racial and personal reasons. Kabuo is a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, but despite his war record, he often experiences prejudice and racial hatred because of his Japanese heritage, especially after the events of Pearl Harbor. The town coroner, Horace Whaley, is also involved.

Another man, Ole Jurgensen, sold his strawberry field to Carl. This is contested during the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr., long ago when the Miyamotos lived in a small house on the Heines’ land. They were hired to help pick strawberries for Mr. Heine. Kabuo and Carl Heine Jr. were close friends when they were children. One day, Kabuo’s father asked Heine Sr. if he could purchase 7 acres of the farm, a small plot of land. They agreed to this deal being paid out over the next ten years (although Etta didn’t like the idea). Shortly before the last payment was finalized, however, the war broke out. All of the islanders with Japanese ancestry were relocated to internment camps. Hatsue and her family were taken to Manzanar camp in California, and Hatsue is pressured to break up with Ishmael by her parents. She marries Kabuo while at Manzanar. A flashback of Ishmael losing his arm aboard a navy hospital ship shows him falling unconscious; his last thoughts reflect his anger towards Hatsue.

Carl Sr. died in 1944 due to heart problems. Etta sold the land to Jurgensen at this time. Kabuo returned after the war, and was very angry with Etta for going back on the deal his father had made with her late husband. Later, Jurgensen suffers a stroke and decides to sell the farm. Carl Heine beat Kabuo to the punch, arriving at Jurgensen’s just hours before Kabuo does and buying the land back. This feud is presented in trial as the motive behind the murder.

Ishmael makes a trial-changing discovery at Point White lighthouse station, while looking through some maritime records. On the night that Carl Heine died, a freighter, the SS West Corona, passed by Carl’s fishing boat five minutes before his watch stopped. It happened in a narrow channel, which would mean the freighter’s wake had capsized Heine’s small fishing boat, drowning him. Ishmael is torn because of his feelings for Hatsue, but he decides to come forward with this information. More evidence is found: Carl had been climbing the mast to cut down a lantern, and was knocked from the height by the freighter, hitting his head before being thrown into the sea. Kabuo is cleared of all charges, Hatsue thanks Ishmael, and Ishmael is finally able to release his love and bitterness towards Hatsue.