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Snow Falling on Cedars : Chapter 5-6

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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.


Commentary on Chapter Five

The coroner who is also a physician remembers Carl's tenderness as a father when he brought his little boy the week before to him for a cut that needed stitching. He remembers Carl was not friendly, but everyone trusted him because he was fair. The man had no friends, because he was war-damaged, as Horace himself was. Horace has to think of Carl as the deceased instead of as a person, in order to dissect his corpse. The author gives many details about this autopsy showing the dismay people feel about the finality of death. This is a pertinent theme in the book, for Ishmael is one of the characters who is not reconciled to the indignity and injustice of death. It is suggested here that the coroner has helped to set the chase for a possible murderer towards a Japanese person who knows kendo because the cut over the left ear looks like it was made with a kendo stick. This fits into the theory that Kabuo is the murderer, for he is a kendo master. Horace, like others in San Piedro, never left the war behind but is still suffering from it.


Summary of Chapter Six

Nels Gudmundsson cross-examines Horace Whaley.  Nels establishes the foam in Carl's mouth shows he died by drowning instead of being killed and then thrown overboard. He was alive at the time of submersion. Further, he had two cuts. One was a fresh cut on his hand, and the second was a cut on the head, above the left ear. Horace concludes something flat and narrow caused the wound to the head. He has to admit, though, it might not have been caused by a weapon; it could have been caused by part of the boat, either before Carl went into the water, or as the corpse was lifted out of the water by the sheriff.

The narrative now flashes back to the moment when Sheriff Art Moran told the widow, Susan Marie Heine, that her husband was dead. She is an attractive woman, with two young sons, and a baby daughter. Carl had built the house they live in on the ocean shore. The widow collapses in silence, not surprised.


Commentary on Chapter Six

Nels's cross-examination is beginning to bring out that people are all too willing to jump to conclusions. Horace cannot forget the deaths on Okinawa with cuts to the heads of American soldiers by the Japanese soldiers that looked like the one on Carl's head. The narrative is more than a murder trial. The author analyzes the prejudice and trauma left on the community by the war. Susan Heine is not surprised by the fishing accident, because it is a dangerous profession, and as is disclosed later, Carl had been trying to quit fishing to become a farmer.


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