Snow Falling on Cedars : Chapter 3-4

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Summary of Chapter Three

Nels Gudmundsson is the court-appointed attorney for the defendant who now cross-examines the sheriff. Nels appears to be old and incompetent at the age of seventy-nine, with his “geriatric awkwardness” and half blindness (p. 23), but he has a sort of prescience and catches all the holes in the testimony. He establishes that the night of September 15 was thick fog, and that even in the morning, all the lights were going on the Susan Marie. They draw a lot of power, but Carl had put in a spare battery, a D-6, next to his D-8, having to bang out the well to make room for it. Carl's D-8 spare was dead, so this substitution had to be made. Kabuo's boat uses D-6 batteries. His boat had two D-6 batteries in place when examined but no spare. When the sheriff hauled Carl's body out of the water, it was difficult, and it is possible he could have banged his head being pulled out of the water.


Commentary on Chapter Three

Nels Gudmundsson is a character who resembles the famous TV detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk. Gudmundsson has only one good eye and is  shabby in appearance, but although he is half senile, he is brilliant in his defense and detective work. The testimony begins to assemble facts that do not fit or are mysterious and unexplained, such as the bang on the head, and the switched batteries. The prosecutor has used the facts to assemble one story, that Kabuo murdered Carl, while Nels tries to find alternate reasons for the facts, so he can establish “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the jury.


Summary of Chapter Four

During a recess in the trial, attention goes to reporter Ishmael Chambers, who first heard of Carl's death on the day the body was discovered. He called on the coroner, Horace Whaley, to hear if this story was true. Horace told him Carl hit his head on something and drowned. Ishmael had played football with Carl in high school. Ishmael is the reporter and editor of the island's only newspaper, the San Piedro Review, started by his father.  Ishmael is dissatisfied with his life and does not know why he remains in San Piedro. He came back from the war at twenty-three with an amputated arm. He had gone back to school to study history and literature.

The history of Ishmael's father, Arthur, is told. He was an important influence on him and a liberal champion in the community for minority people. Arthur had been a logger, coming from a Scottish background, and began the island newspaper in his twenties. After serving in World War I, he married and lived on the island, using his newspaper to create balance and common sense in public opinion. Ishmael had grown up setting press and learning the business. Arthur was “morally meticulous” (p. 41), and Ishmael wanted to live up to his father's standard, but after the war, found himself swimming in cynicism. He is never comfortable about his lost arm, and so others feel awkward around him.

Ishmael views the Susan Marie and talks to the sheriff. The sheriff is interviewing the fishermen. It turns out that Kabuo Miyamoto was out near Carl in his boat, the Islander. The fishermen begin saying nasty things about “Japs.” The sheriff privately asks Ishmael to say in his paper it was an accident and not to talk about an investigation. Ishmael agrees.


Commentary on Chapter Four

Ishmael is one of the major characters, and now we hear of his background. His father had been a champion of justice and a liberal force in public opinion on the island, and Ishmael would like to live up to his legacy, but since the war and his amputation, he has been drifting and unhappy. He does not believe in anything anymore. One major theme in the book is the effect of war on men. Kabuo, Ishmael, and Carl were all young men who went to war and survived, but they came back fragments of who they once were. They are silent, withdrawn, and barely functional. With the gossip at the dock, we see the force of prejudice against the Japanese that remains even ten years after the war, and yet, as Kabuo tries to remind everyone, he is an American, a second-generation Japanese on the island, who fought on the American side. Already on the day of discovery, the investigation into Carl's death is turning into a suspicion of murder.


Summary of Chapter Five

The testimony of the coroner, Horace Whaley, is taken at the trial. He too is a war veteran who feels guilt at the men he did not save when he was a medical officer. Horace survived Okinawa as Carl had. Now he has to perform an autopsy on Carl's corpse. Whaley finds Carl's watch in his pocket, stopped at the moment of death (1:47 a.m.). He finds a foam coming out of the lungs, proving the man died by drowning. He knows the man was alive as he went into the water. The wound to the skull, however, looks as though it could have been inflicted by someone else. Horace remembers such wounds caused by the Japanese in the war who knew kendo or stick fighting. He mentions this to the sheriff.

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