This is Ishmael Chambers' story. The name Ishmael comes from the Bible; Ishmael is the bastard son of Abraham and Hagar, whose name in Hebrew means "the outcast." After the war Ishmael Chambers had lived in Seattle until the death of his father; then he had returned to Amity Harbor and took over his father's newspaper. As a newspaperman in his own hometown, Ishmael had "kept to himself." Like his namesake, he is an outcast, although his is partially self-imposed. He has "the face of a man willing to wait forever." His life story has three turning points, each one of which propelled him in a very specific direction. In just one of them—the last turning point—he recognizes he does control his own destiny.
Ishmael's first turning point accompanies his first kiss with Hatsue when they are both fourteen. She runs away from it; he "stood up only to watch her go ... He decided then that he would love her forever no matter what came to pass. It was not so much a matter of deciding as accepting the inevitability of it. It made him feel better, though he felt perturbed, too, worried that this kiss was wrong. But from his point of view, at fourteen years old, their love was entirely unavoidable." Five years later the second turning point comes when, as a U.S. Marine recovering from fever and dysentery in a Fort Benning hospital, he discovers how easily people become detached from each other.
He lay in his T-shirt and underwear, and...
(The entire section is 2864 words.)
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As the reporter for the island of San Piedro, Ishmael is covering the murder trial. He is a native of the island, thirty-one years old, tall, with a hardened expression. Ishmael's father, Arthur (who is deceased at the time of the trial), started the town's newspaper many years ago, so the boy learned the trade from his father. Arthur was a somewhat controversial figure when he was running the newspaper because of his sympathetic views toward the Japanese. Despite losing subscribers, throughout the war Arthur continued to publish the kind of newspaper of which he could be proud. His dedication and integrity seem to be carried out in the character of Ishmael. Ishmael also studied journalism in college.
Ishmael's interest in the trial is personal, however, because he shared an adolescent romance with the accused's wife, Hatsue. Although Ishmael believed that their love would last despite the social obstacles they faced, Hatsue knew that her future lay elsewhere. When she broke off the relationship, he reacted with bitterness, cynicism, and hate, feelings that were compounded when he lost his left arm in World War II.
At the beginning of the novel, Ishmael harbors feelings for Hatsue and sees the trial as an opportunity to work his way back into her life. In the end, he chooses selflessness over selfishness by revealing evidence exonerating Hatsue's husband. At this point, he makes the important choice to move on with his life and seek a better...
(The entire section is 244 words.)
Hatsue (Imada) Miyamoto
Hatsue is Kabuo's wife. She watches his trial with intensity and controlled emotion. She is thirty-one, graceful, tall, and thin. When her husband is taken into custody, she becomes terribly lonely. Although she enjoyed a teenage romance with Ishmael, she knew that their relationship would never survive. As a teenager, she was known for her great beauty and was crowned Princess of the Strawberry Festival in 1941. Hatsue's mother taught her to be a proper Japanese young lady and to value tradition and family. Because of her secret romance with Ishmael, Hatsue felt deep shame. She also understood that the cultural differences between them would never support a lasting relationship, so she ended it. She met Kabuo at Manzanar and fell in love with him. When they were married, she finally felt that everything was right.
Hatsue is sensitive, insightful, and humble. Caught between the Japanese culture of her family and the American culture of her home, she struggled in her youth to make sense of her identity. Hatsue is intelligent and aware of the differences between the Eastern and Western cultures. While her husband is on trial, she is devastated, yet she has the ability to advise her husband on how his expressionless manner probably makes him look guilty to the all-white jury.
(The entire section is 213 words.)
As the novel opens, Kabuo stands accused of the murder of fellow fisherman Carl Heine Jr. Kabuo is composed, proud, and hard-working. He is physically strong and has angular facial features and short hair. His parents raised him to be a respectable Japanese man, teaching him their trade (strawberry farming) and kendo, the method of stick-fighting used by samurai. Kabuo's mind is strong, as seen in the description of his time spent in jail. Not only is he an excellent chess player, but he retains control of his surroundings by keeping his light bulb unscrewed so that he does not have to see his cell, allowing him to use his mind to maintain a sense of freedom.
Kabuo is unlike Hatsue in that he has never felt torn between two cultures; he adheres to his Japanese heritage while remaining capable of functioning in American society. As a young man, he admired Hatsue, but it was not until they were at Manzanar that he had the opportunity to pursue her romantically. There, he proved himself to be a reliable, thoughtful, and capable young man, and Hatsue's family was delighted at the union. Against Hatsue's wishes, he enlisted to fight in the war for the Americans as a matter of loyalty. The guilt he continues to feel for having killed three men in Europe haunts him, and his belief in karma leads him to understand his current persecution as a consequence for committing murder during the war. When he returned from the war, he discovered that the...
(The entire section is 297 words.)
Helen is Ishmael's mother. The nature of their relationship is revealed toward the end of the book after Ishmael discovers evidence that exonerates Kabuo. Rather than tell her exactly what is bothering him (whether to reveal the evidence), Ishmael talks to his mother about God and about moving on with life after the war. When he asks her what he should do, she thinks he is asking for advice about his life, not about the trial. She encourages him to get married and start a family. This discussion about deeply personal matters shows that their relationship is a close one while the advice she gives Ishmael shows that she still mothers her adult son.
Nels is Kabuo's appointed defense attorney. He is a doddering seventy-nine-year-old man who is plagued by partial blindness, arthritis, and various other ailments. He wears bow ties and often loops his thumbs under his suspenders when he addresses a witness.
Nels has a strong sense of justice, a low tolerance for prejudice, and a keen mind. He is sensitive to the humanity of his client, which the reader sees when he insists on giving Kabuo and Hatsue a few private moments to speak. In court, he is able to draw important facts and observations out of witnesses without being aggressive, and he is forthright in his closing statement when he discourages the jury from allowing the trial to be about race.
(The entire section is 1346 words.)