Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
San Piedro Island lies in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, north of Puget Sound and Seattle, Washington, and just south of the U.S.-Canada border. San Piedro is a small island with a population of about five thousand people, mostly farmers and fishermen. Its largest town is Amity Harbor, which houses a few businesses and is the center of the local government.
A substantial number of Japanese have lived on the island since 1883, when they began to settle in as growers, especially of strawberries, and as fishermen. The Japanese have since had a congenial but somewhat separate existence from the white population of the island. Their children, however, have attended the same schools, and their daughters routinely win the title of queen during the annual strawberry festival.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japan, which brought the United States into World War II, and the subsequent panic along the West Coast of the United States, changed everything in the community. The relocation of the inhabitants of Japanese ancestry to Manzanar internment camp in California, and military service of the local men in the Pacific theater, fighting the forces of the Imperial Japanese military, further distanced the two groups. After the war, residual racism and prejudice against the local Japanese who had returned to San Piedro continued.
It is now 1954. Local fisherman Carl Heine is not on his boat, the Susan Marie, when it is found in...
(The entire section is 800 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Snow Falling on Cedars Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Chapters 1-11 Summary
Snow Falling on Cedars opens in 1954 in the small town of Amity Hill. The fictitious island of San Piedro in Washington's Puget Sound is the setting of a trial. Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with the murder of a fellow fisherman, Carl Heine Jr.; Carl's body was discovered in his nets by the sheriff and his deputy. A fracture in Carl's skull cast suspicion on his death. Evidence points to Kabuo.
In addition to fishing, farming (especially strawberries) is a major industry on San Piedro. Many Japanese worked these fields and became members of the community. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, however, people of Japanese descent were sent away to internment camps. In 1954, there is still lingering distrust towards the Japanese and the prejudice is an unspoken but important force in Kabuo's trial.
Guterson structures his novel around the trial, the only event told in chronological order. As each witness takes the stand, Guterson allows the reader to enter that character's mind and witness important experiences—related to the trial or not—in his or her life. Guterson also introduces the reader to Ishmael Chambers, the town's newspaper reporter and a veteran of the war.
In his youth, Ishmael had been romantically involved with a beautiful Japanese girl named Hatsue Imada, who is now Kabuo's wife. Ishmael and Hatsue kept their relationship secret, meeting in a large hollow cedar in the woods. Hatsue felt guilty for keeping...
(The entire section is 307 words.)
Chapters 12-22 Summary
Guterson presents Ishmael's wartime experience, which includes, most notably, the loss of his arm. This experience sharpened Ishmael's feelings of bitterness and resentment. When he returned from the war, he occasionally saw Hatsue with Kabuo (whom she had married at Manzanar) and their children. Rather than move on with his life, Ishmael allowed his bitterness to consume him. At the beginning of Kabuo's trial, Ishmael sees the events as a potential opportunity to get back into Hatsue's life.
As the trial continues, details of a land deal gone wrong are revealed. In 1934, Kabuo's father, Zenhichi, made arrangements to secure seven acres of strawberry fields from Carl Heine Sr. Because foreign-born Japanese were not allowed to become citizens, and because only citizens could own land, Zenhichi and Carl Sr. worked out a lease-to-own arrangement so that the land would be paid for by the time American-born Kabuo would be old enough to own it. Although Carl Sr. was a sympathetic man, his wife, Etta, disapproved of the deal and felt that the Japanese were beneath them. When the Japanese Americans were sent to the internment camps, Carl Sr. assured Zenhichi he was not to worry about the land. Carl Sr. died in 1944, however, and because Zenhichi missed the last two payments on the land, Etta sold it to someone else and returned Zenhichi's money. When Kabuo returned home and discovered what had happened, he was angry and offered to buy the seven acres from the new...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
Chapters 23-32 Summary
As the trial nears its close, Ishmael visits the lighthouse to find weather information for the newspaper. He discovers the watchman's notes from the night of Carl's death, and they contain information that would exonerate Kabuo. A freighter had passed by Carl's boat, throwing off a powerful wall of water that would have knocked a man overboard. Ishmael keeps the notes until he decides whether to reveal his discovery or keep it secret. He hopes that if Kabuo is imprisoned or executed, he will be able to win Hatsue back.
While the jury wrestles with a verdict (eleven members vote "guilty" and one finds reasonable doubt), Ishmael reveals the contents of the notes. The jury is released, Kabuo is freed, and Ishmael is finally able to consider a new life for himself. He makes peace with his painful memories and begins looking to the future.
(The entire section is 145 words.)