Snow Falling on Cedars : Chapter 11-12

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Summary of Chapter Eleven

In his jail cell, Kabuo examines his face in a mirror and sees the emptiness in his eyes, as he had seen in other war veterans. He remembers the first German boy he killed in the war and how the boy begged for mercy in German. The world is now unreal to him, and he knows he projects coldness to others. He understands what Hatsue means that his face looks like a murderer's. He wishes the jurors could see his “haunted spirit” from the war (p. 193). His attorney, Nels Gudmundsson, had broken through his mask with his directness before the trial, saying he wanted to get him out of jail, but he would have to tell the true story. Then he challenged Kabuo to a game of chess. He won, thus giving Kabuo confidence the old man knew what he was doing.


Commentary on Chapter Eleven

As a Buddhist, Kabuo feels the murder trial may be karma for the killing in the war. In his cell his memories afford a look into his character. He had come from a samurai family in Japan, and his sense of honor makes him go to war. Hatsue knows he will not return as the same person, but he asks this sacrifice of her, and she gives it to him willingly. His memories show how much he loves her, though he has not been able to be fully present as a husband and father. He also remembers his training in kendo, starting at age seven, which becomes part of his profile used against him at the trial. This chapter gives perspective on the Buddhist and samurai traditions of Japan, necessary background to understand important differences in the ethnic groups on the island.


Summary of Chapter Twelve

There is a major snow storm during the trial. As Ishmael walks in it, he remembers the meetings with Hatsue for four years in their cedar tree hideout. He had been totally in love with Hatsue and dreamed of marrying her and moving to Europe or someplace where they could be together. Sometimes he felt he loved more than she did, for there was a place in her she did not share. She tried to explain her religion to him: the impermanence of things, karma, duty. Ishmael said God could not condemn their love, but Hatsue argued that only she knew what God required of her. She told him of her training and that she felt she was betraying her family.


Commentary on Chapter Twelve

Hatsue is impressive for understanding herself, her religion, and her place in the universe. She tries to explain to Ishmael, but he has grown up with a different point of view and religion. In the West, romance is often the pinnacle of experience and treated as sacred in itself. Ishmael cannot imagine anything wrong with his love for Hatsue. It comes from his soul. Still, he has the Westerner's ignorance of the validity of other traditions or points of view. Even when she explains to him, he thinks her background is not really an obstacle to their future.

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