Study Guide

Snow Falling on Cedars Quotes

  • Memory and the Past

    "He got hit pretty hard with something fairly flat, Art. Puts me in mind of a type of gun butt wound I saw a few times in the war. One of those kendo strikes the Japs used." (5.52)

    Memories of war haunt several of the characters. Here, such memories (and a good dose of prejudice against the Japanese) inspire Horace Whaley to tell Art Moran that he should be looking for a Japanese killer—when it isn't even established that a murder has been committed.

    Judge Fielding called for a recess then, seeing that her emotions had overwhelmed her, and Etta followed Ed Soames into the anteroom, where she sat in silence, remembering. (9.10)

    We're not sure how anyone has any mental energy to devote to the court proceedings, given how much time they're spending offering us detailed flashbacks. Etta has been testifying for the prosecution, and in the process we got to go back in time and see events as they occurred more or less through her (xenophobic) eyes.

    Ishmael Chambers was out walking aimlessly in the snow, admiring it and remembering. The trial of Kabuo Miyamoto had brought that past world back for him. (12.2)

    Ishmael, too, has been overwhelmed by the past and memories as a result of the trial. In particular, he's thinking about Kabuo Miyamoto's wife, Hatsue, who was his girlfriend as a teenager. They parted under painful circumstances, and Ishmael has never really gotten over it, so these memories sting and are pretty debilitating for him.

    "We've known each other forever," she said. "I can hardly remember not knowing you. It's hard to remember the days before you. I don't even know if there were any." (14.70)

    This is Hatsue speaking to Ishmael inside their beloved hiding place, the cedar tree. In this moment, Hatsue is trying to reconcile her strong feelings for Ishmael with a gnawing sense that she might not actually love him. She looks at their shared history—a history that blots out memories of anything that preceded it—to fight her doubts.

    He had come home from the war and seen in his own eyes the disturbed empty reaches he'd seen in the eyes of other soldiers he'd known. They did not so much seem to stare right through things as to stare past the present state of the world into a world that was permanently in the distance for them and at the same time more immediate than the present. (11.3)

    Kabuo is thinking about the war and its impact on him. Like many other characters who experienced combat, he expresses not being completely able to live in the present, given what he experienced in wartime (and can't forget).

    The courtroom was empty except for Ishmael Chambers, who sat in the gallery with the look on his face of a man willing to wait forever. (22.13)

    Ishmael is paralyzed by his memories throughout the novel; apparently, he can often be found staring off into space thinking about Hatsue. This paralysis is a big problem for him; as his mother remarks, he hasn't really been able to live his life since he returned from the war. Of course, his mother chalks it up to his war experience, not knowing that Hatsue has a ton to do with it.

    He was alone then with the fog of his breath in the lantern light and the crates of maritime records. The room smelled of salt water and snow and of the past—it was full of the scent of lost days. Ishmael tried to concentrate on his work, but the image of Hatsue in the backseat of his car—her eyes meeting his in the rearview mirror—carried him away into his memories. (23.22)

    Does the combo of Ishmael's propensity for daydreaming + Hatsue in a rearview mirror + Ishmael behind the wheel make anyone else nervous? It seems like Hatsue, her father, and Ishmael made it to their destination without incident, but afterwards Ishmael remains his same-old paralyzed self in the face of his memories.

    "I'm putting an article together on this storm. I'm wondering if you have archives of some kind, weather records from way back, maybe, something I could take a look at. Go through old logs, something like that, try to make some comparisons. I can't remember a storm like this one, but that doesn't mean it never happened." (23.4)

    Here, Ishmael is talking to an official at the local coast guard office, trying to get information to use in a story about the current snowstorm. His suggestion that the past continues to have ramifications for the present—and, in fact, might teach us something about the present—seems important given the novel's larger thematic concerns, no?

    "Look," she said. "You know I can't. I can never touch you, Ishmael. Everything has to be over between us. We both have to put it all behind us and go on, live our lives. There's no halfway, from my point of view. I'm married, I have a baby, and I can't let you hold me. So what I want you to do right now is get up and walk away from here and forget about me forever. You have to let go of me, Ishmael." (23.34)

    Of course, while the past can be instructive, it can also just be a means of regressing or stalling yourself. That's the kind of nonsense Ishmael can't seem to avoid (despite Hatsue's pleas). This moment comes from a flashback to one of Hatsue and Ishmael's first conversations after the war, in which he suggests that if she just allows him to hold her, he'll (probably) be able to develop into a functional human being. Three cheers for Hatsue for calling shenanigans on that one, we say.

    He did not want to tell his mother about Hatsue Miyamoto and how he had, many years ago, felt certain they would be married. He did not want to tell her about the hollow cedar tree where they'd met so many times. He had never told anybody about those days; he had worked hard to forget them. Now the trial had brought all of that back. (24.50)

    Regardless of Ishmael's contention that he had managed to forget his past with Hatsue until the trial, the fact that he's been totally unable to develop a meaningful personal life and move beyond his post-war numbness indicates his memories and the past have been very much present for him all along.

  • Imprisonment

    After the noon recess was called that day Kabuo Miyamoto ate lunch in his cell, as he had seventy-seven times. The cell was one of two in the courthouse basement and had neither bars nor windows. It was big enough for a low military surplus bunk, a toilet, a sink, and a nightstand. There was a drain in the corner of its concrete floor and a foot-square grate in its door. Other than this there were no openings or apertures through which light could seep. (11.1)

    Obviously, being in jail is a very literal form of imprisonment, and unfortunately Kabuo Miyamoto knows all too much about that when the novel opens, having been in jail for almost three months. It doesn't sound like he's in the most festive of surroundings.

    Now, in his jail cell, he stared into the mirror at the mask he wore, which had been arranged by its wearer to suggest his war and the strength he'd mustered to face its consequences but which instead communicated haughtiness, a cryptic superiority not only to the court but to the prospect of death the court confronted him with. (11.6)

    Kabuo is not only imprisoned in a cell; in a larger sense, he's kind of trapped behind his own reserve. Despite his efforts to convey his positive qualities to the jury, all that's coming through is "haughtiness" and "superiority," and he doesn't quite know what to do about that.

    He dreamed without sleeping—daydreams, waking dreams, as had come to him often in his jail cell. In this manner he escaped from its walls and roamed in freedom along San Piedro's wood paths, along the verges of its autumn pastures crusted over with skins of hoarfrost; he followed in his mind certain remnants of trail that gave out suddenly in blackberry riots or in fields of unexpected Scotch broom. (11.34)

    Apparently Kabuo's only means of escape from his imprisonment is daydreaming and, you know, night dreaming. Poor dude.

    It had been, he saw now, a war marriage, hurried into because there was no choice, and because both of them felt the rightness of it. They had not known each other more than a few months, though he had always admired her from a distance, and it seemed to him, when he thought about it, that their marriage had been meant to happen. His parents approved, and hers approved, and he was happy to leave for the war in the knowledge that she was waiting for him and would be there when he returned. And then he had returned, a murderer, and her fear that he would no longer be himself was realized. (11.43)

    Kabuo and Hatsue had married when they were imprisoned in Manzanar, and they did it in a hurry because "there was no choice." Not only did they have to do it in jail, but also, they couldn't even pick the timing because Kabuo had to head off to war. It's not exactly how one grows up picturing their special day...

    The arrested men rode on a train with boarded windows—prisoners had been shot at from railroad sidings—from Seattle to a work camp in Montana. Hisao wrote a letter to his family each day; the food, he said, was not very good, but they were not really being mistreated. They were digging trenches for a water system that would double the size of the camp. Hisao had gotten a job in the laundry room. Robert Nishi worked in the camp kitchen. (14.50)

    Prior to the Imada family's incarceration at Manzanar, Hisao got a jump on the "party" and was sent to a work camp in Montana. Supposedly, he was sent there for possession of prohibited objects (basically, though, the charges were bogus).

    The train stopped at a place called Mojave in the middle of an interminable, still desert. They were herded onto buses at eight-thirty in the morning, and the buses took them north over dusty roads for four hours to a place called Manzanar. (15.5)

    This is our first introduction to Manzanar, the camp where Hatsue, Kabuo, and other Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

    There was something tragic in the wall of invisible mesh he'd hung to choke the life from them while they traveled to the rhythm of an urging they could not deny. He imagined them slamming against his net in astonishment at this invisible thing that finished their lives in the last days of an urgent journey. (27.36)

    These are Kabuo's thoughts while he was catching fish, offered via flashback prior to Carl's death and his own incarceration. As you can see, he feels a certain amount of sympathy for the creatures he's trapped—interesting foreshadowing, perhaps?

    "In God's name, in the name of humanity, do your duty as jurors. Find Kabuo Miyamoto innocent as charged and let him go home to his family. Return this man to his wife and children. Set him free, as you must." (29.13)

    This is part of Nels Gudmundsson's closing arguments in the trial. He is trying to convince the jury to overcome their prejudices and set Miyamoto free. Little does he know, those prejudices are about as easy for them to surmount as Mt. Everest.

    Considered and considerate, formal at every turn, they were shut out and shut off from the deep interplay of their minds. They could not speak freely because they were cornered: everywhere they turned there was water and more water, a limitless expanse of it in which to drown. They held their breath and walked with care, and this made them who they were inside, constricted and small, good neighbors. (31.6)

    The narrator suggests that living on the insular San Piedro island makes one a bit closed off and narrow. Hmm, we wouldn't have guessed.

    At ten forty-five the jurors were told that they were released from any further duties; the charges against the accused man had been dismissed; new evidence had come to light. The accused man himself was set free immediately and walked out of his cell without leg irons or handcuffs; standing just outside its door, he kissed his wife for a long time. Ishmael Chambers took a photograph of this; he watched their kiss through his viewfinder. (32.66)

    Here, Kabuo has just been freed. He's just spent the last two plus months wearing handcuffs and leg irons whenever he left his cell. Think about that the next time you equate being grounded with jail. Unless this is what being grounded is like for you—in which case you should contact authorities.

  • Truth

    An unflagging loyalty to his profession and its principles made Arthur, over the years, increasingly deliberate in his speech and actions, and increasingly exacting regarding the truth in even his most casual reportage. (4.19)

    Ishmael's father was apparently a huge stickler for morals and the truth. Ishmael's morality and style of reporting prove to be very different from his father's.

    This was what his father had taught him: the greater the composure, the more revealed one was, the truth of one's inner life was manifest—a pleasing paradox. (11.4)

    This is Kabuo reflecting upon the lessons his father taught him. Unfortunately, the truth—which is that he's a good guy—is not really evident to the jury "because of" his composure. Of course, it's really because of their prejudices that they view his calmness as evidence that he's haughty and aloof and, by extension, totally different from themselves and inscrutable.

    "Not every fact is just a fact," he added. "It's all a kind of ... balancing act. A juggling of pins, all kinds of pins, that's what journalism is about." (13.57)

    This quote comes from Arthur Chambers, who was talking to Ishmael at the time. In his journalism, Arthur purposely played up the contributions of Japanese Americans to the community and the U.S. war effort. Ishmael thought that was bias, but Arthur defends the choice, explaining here that the way facts are presented always has an angle, in his view.

    Through all of it Hatsue had struggled with the temptation to reveal the truth to her sisters and school friends, because the truth was a burden to carry in silence and she felt the need, like most young girls, to speak about love with other girls. But she never did. (14.62)

    Like Ishmael, Hatsue kept the truth about their relationship a secret. Her inability to share this key detail of her life weighed her down, making her feel dishonest and isolating her from others.

    "Write your own letter," she said in Japanese. "Tell him the truth about things. Put all of this in your history. Tell him the truth so you can move forward. Put this hakujin boy away now." (15.72)

    This is Fujiko talking to Hatsue, who has just assured her mother that she doesn't love Ishmael. In order for Hatsue to get the relationship behind her, Fujiko is recommending that she let Ishmael know the truth—ASAP.

    They were as good as lost forever, it seemed to Ishmael, and no one knew the truth of the matter: that on the night Carl Heine had drowned, stopping his watch at 1:47, a freighter plowed through Ship Channel Bank at 1:42—just five minutes earlier—no doubt throwing before it a wall of water big enough to founder a small gill-netting boat and toss even a big man overboard. Or rather one person, he himself, knew the truth. That was the heart of it. (23.56)

    Ishmael has just found the evidence that Carl Heine likely wasn't murdered at all, and he's kind of power tripping on the fact that, had it not been for him, the information might never have been discovered. Also, he's trying to figure out what to do with the intel. Ishmael doesn't actually seem too keen on the prospect of the truth getting Kabuo sprung, since he wants to snuggle up to Hatsue.

    '"You said yourself the trial isn't over," Ishmael's mother pointed out. "The defense hasn't made its case yet, but you're all ready to convict. You've got the prosecutor's set of facts, but that might not be the whole story—it never is, Ishmael. And besides, really, facts are so cold, so horribly cold—can we depend on facts by themselves?" (24.39)

    Like her husband, Helen Chambers has a more complicated view of facts than their son; she admits that there's a lot of other stuff beyond "facts" that goes into figuring out the truth.

    Wasn't that the strangest part? That by entering her he'd granted her the means to understand the truth? He'd wanted to be inside of her again, and he'd wanted her to ask him to be there again, and on the next day she'd gone away. (24.72)

    Ishmael is remembering the very brief sexual encounter he had with Hatsue right before she left for Manzanar. First, it's worth noting that she didn't "ask him to be there" in the first place. Immediately after this "entering" Ishmael mentions, she became very agitated and asked him to stop (which he did). Looks like some enthusiastic consent training might have been helpful.

    Despite her reaction, Ishmael apparently thought they would have a second go at some point. Oh, Ishmael, really? Then, he dresses up this unwanted sexual contact as some great opportunity that gave her access to the "truth" that she didn't love him. He seems to think this is ironic, but it's really only ironic from his perspective (since he was having a great time). It's less ironic or "strange" when we consider that Hatsue (whose mind we can see into as well during the flashback to this event) didn't seem into it at all.

    "The truth isn't easy." (27.25)

    These are Kabuo's words to Nels Gudmundsson when the latter is trying to get the real story of what happened between Kabuo and Carl the night of Carl's death. Kabuo had his personal reasons for not coming out with the details right away (apparently, he didn't think anyone would believe him), so that's probably kind of what's on his mind here.

    The truth now lay in Ishmael's own pocket and he did not know what to do with it. (30.26)

    At the eleventh hour, right as the trial is wrapping up, Ishmael is still considering what to do with the evidence he found at the coast guard office. Tick tock, Ishmael...

  • Prejudice

    He had nothing in principle against the vacationers from Seattle who frequented San Piedro all summer long—most islanders disliked them because they were city people—but on the other hand he did not especially enjoy seeing them as they wandered up and down Main Street. Tourists reminded him of other places and elicited in him a prodding doubt that living here was what he wanted. (4.9)

    San Piedro is kind of an insular place, and even Ishmael, the somewhat worldly reporter, seems to share in some of that closed-off attitude and is not super-welcoming of visitors and other interlopers.

    "Suckers all look alike," said Dale. "Never could tell them guys apart." (4.90)

    Dale is one of the fishermen Art Moran interviews after Carl Heine's death. The fishermen point Art in the direction of Kabuo Miyamoto, who had been out fishing that night as well. Dale actually doesn't immediately remember which member of the Miyamoto family was the captain of the Islander, so this is how he explains his confusion. Lovely.

    And the majority of Japs, Horace recalled, inflicted death over the left ear, swinging in from the right. (5.33)

    According to Horace Whaley (the coroner), the wound on Carl Heine's head resembles some of the ones he saw during World War II.

    "Puts me in mind of a type of gun butt wound I saw a few times in the war. One of those kendo strikes the Japs used."

    "Kendo?" said Art Moran.

    "Stick fighting," Horace explained. "Japs are trained in it from when they're kids. How to kill with sticks."

    "Ugly," said the sheriff. "Jesus." (5.52-55)

    Here, Horace explains that Carl's wound looks an awful lot (to him) like the ones inflicted by Japanese soldiers using kendo blows during World War II. As you can see from the use of the slur "Jap" here and in the previous quote, Horace is not particularly fond of the Japanese.

    Then—and afterward he would remember this, during the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, Horace Whaley would recall having spoken these words (though he would not repeat them on the witness stand)—he said to Art Moran that if he were inclined to play Sherlock Holmes he ought to start looking for a Jap with a bloody gun butt—a right-handed Jap, to be precise. (5.75)

    Although apparently Horace didn't feel quite enough on the up-and-up to repeat this to the court, he definitely set Art Moran on the trail of a "Jap" with his analysis of the head wound. The moment makes clear that there's a lot of prejudice and animosity—as opposed to evidence—behind his recommendation. Otherwise, why would he hesitate to say it in court?

    In the back of Judge Lew Fielding's courtroom sat twenty-four islanders of Japanese ancestry, dressed in the clothes they reserved for formal occasions. No law compelled them to take only these rear seats. They had done so instead because San Piedro required it of them without calling it a law. (7.1)

    Here we get yet another example of the ongoing insidious racism and animosity toward the Japanese that pervade San Piedro.

    Thirty-nine Japanese worked at the Port Jefferson mill, but the census taker neglected to list them by name, referring instead to Jap Number 1, Jap Number 2, Jap Number 3, Japan Charlie, Old Jap Sam, Laughing Jap, Dwarf Jap, Chippy, Boots, and Stumpy—names of this sort instead of real names. (7.2)

    Discussing the history of Japanese Americans in San Piedro, we get this charming tale of how particular workers were "identified." Sounds like a nice welcoming place... not.

    With all the seriousness of a fortune-teller she predicted that white men would desire Hatsue and seek to destroy her virginity. She claimed that white men carried in their hearts a secret lust for pure young Japanese girls. Look at their magazines and moving pictures, Mrs. Shigemura said. Kimonos, sake, rice paper walls, coquettish and demure geishas. White men had their fantasies of a passionate Japan—girls of burnished skin and willowy long legs going barefoot in the wet heat of rice paddies—and this distorted their sex drives. (7.39)

    When Hatsue is young, Mrs. Shigemura tells Hatsue that white men often get their jollies by exoticizing the Japanese, turning them into a stereotyped fantasy rather than really understanding or seeing them and their culture. For this reason, she warns Hatsue against hooking up with a white boy.

    "First of all, you've got Horace's off-the-cuff statement regarding a coincidental resemblance between the would in Carl Heine's head and ones he saw inflicted by Japanese soldiers—now does that really point us toward Miyamoto? You've got Etta Heine, who I won't get into, but suffice it to say I don't trust that woman. She's hateful, Art; I don't trust her." (18.24)

    This is Judge Fielding talking to Art Moran, who has just come to him for a warrant. Unlike a lot of the other people involved in this case, Fielding seems inclined to try to keep racist sentiments and biases out his life (and courtroom), so he's pretty hesitant to go after Kabuo Miyamoto on the basis of the circumstantial evidence that people like Etta Heine are offering.

    It occurred to him, too, that for all his arrogance Horace Whaley had been right. For here was the Jap with the bloody gun butt Horace had suggested he look for. Here was the Jap he'd been led to inexorably by every islander he'd spoken with. (18.86)

    Here we're dipping into Art Moran's mind through free indirect discourse. He now seems to be convinced of Miyamoto's guilt, viewing this conclusion as somehow "inexorable." Because he's inwardly using the same slurs that Horace and others throw around so liberally, it appears that Art's looking at the case through his own lens of prejudice.

    "The counsel for the state," added Nels Gudmundsson, "has proceeded on the assumption that you will be open, ladies and gentlemen, to an argument based on prejudice. He has asked you to look closely at the face of the defendant, presuming that because the accused man is of Japanese descent you will see an enemy there. […] If you see in his face a lack of emotion, if you see in him a silent pride, it is the pride and hollowness of a veteran of war who has returned home to this. He has returned to find himself the victim of prejudice—make no mistake about it, this trial is about prejudice—in the country he fought to defend." (29.10)

    In his closing arguments, Nels finally calls out the elephant in the room, namely the racism and xenophobia that's been coloring everyone's impressions of Miyamoto. He makes a compelling plea for people to put those feelings aside... unfortunately, all of the jury members except one march right out and vote to convict.

  • Warfare

    He was, his son remembered, morally meticulous, and though Ishmael might strive to emulate this, there was nevertheless this matter of the war—this matter of the arm he'd lost—that made such scrupulosity difficult. (4.19)

    This is Ishmael thinking about how different he is from his father, attributing their differences to his participation in the war and all he endured there.

    "He got hit pretty hard with something fairly flat, Art. Puts me in mind of a type of gun butt wound I saw a few times in the war. One of those kendo strikes the Japs used." (5.52)

    Even a decade (ish) after World War II ended, you can see that people still think a lot about the war during the novel's present-day timeline. Here, Horace Whaley sees a head wound (one that ultimately turns out to be from a boat) and concludes it's got to be from a kendo-esque strike.

    The fishermen felt, like most islanders, that this exiling of the Japanese was the right thing to do, and leaned against the cabins of their stern-pickers and bow-pickers with the conviction that the Japanese must go for reasons that made sense: there was a war on and that changed everything. (7.14)

    The novel takes us through the period after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when Japanese Americans were forced to enter internment camps. Here, we get the perspective of the fictional fishermen of San Piedro on these events.

    He had come home from the war and seen in his own eyes the disturbed empty reaches he'd seen in the eyes of other soldiers he'd known. They did not so much seem to stare right through things as to stare past the present state of the world into a world that was permanently in the distance for them and at the same time more immediate than the present. (11.3)

    Sitting and reflecting on things in his jail cell, Kabuo expresses feeling the same kind of hollowness and disorientation that Ishmael, too, seems to experience. Also like Ishmael, he's always kind of looking into the past rather than engaging with the present.

    The face in the hand mirror was none other than the face he had worn since the war had caused him to look inward, and though he exerted himself to rearrange it—because this face was a burden to wear—it remained his, unalterable finally. He knew himself privately to be guilty of murder, to have murdered men in the course of war, and it was this guilt—he knew no other word—that lived in him perpetually and that he exerted himself not to communicate. Yet the exertion itself communicated guilt, and he could see no way to stop it. (11.6)

    Because of the fact that he killed people during the war, Kabuo kinda-sorta feels like the trial is karma rolling around and trying to punish him for those wartime deaths. Even though he's innocent of killing Carl, he still feels like a murderer.

    "Look at my face," interrupted Hatsue. "Look at my eyes, Ishmael. My face is the face of the people who did it—don't you see what I mean? My face—it's how the Japanese look. My parents came to San Piedro from Japan. My mother and father, they hardly speak English. My family is in bad trouble now. Do you see what I mean? We're going to have trouble." (13.40)

    Right after Pearl Harbor (but before Japanese internment has been announced), Hatsue is trying to impress on Ishmael the seriousness of what's happened in terms of her life and the lives of other Japanese Americans.

    The army asked owners of mules and horses on San Piedro to register their animals with the county agent, describing the request in the pages of the Review as "a patriotic obligation": islanders were also asked to check their automobile tires and to drive in a manner consistent with preserving them: rubber was in short supply. (13.62)

    Here we get some details about post-Pearl Harbor fear and wartime preparations on the island. It's kind of crazy to think about having to surrender your farm animals and drive your Prius gently to help with a war effort, no?

    "Think of it as a war sacrifice," the FBI man interrupted. "Figure to yourself there's a war on, you see, and everybody's making some sacrifices. Maybe you could look at it that way." (14.47)

    This is the FBI agent trying to put lipstick on pig—that is, convince Hisao and his family that having their personal items seized by the FBI is a good thing and part of a "war sacrifice." It must be kind of hard to view yourself as part of the U.S. war effort when the U.S. is treating you like criminals, though. Soon after this, Hisao is arrested.

    An army truck took Fujiko and her five daughters to the Amity Harbor ferry dock at seven o'clock on Monday morning, where a soldier gave them tags for their suitcases and coats. (15.1)

    Soon after Hisao was arrested, the rest of the Japanese Americans on San Piedro were ordered to head to detention camps. This quote describes the rest of the Imadas' departure from the island.

    While they watched he turned his dark eyes to the snowfall and gazed at it for a long moment. The citizens in the gallery were reminded of photographs they had seen of Japanese soldiers. (28.45)

    As Kabuo finishes testifying as part of his own defense, we learn that the residents of San Piedro who have been watching the trial are not convinced—in large part, it seems, because they seem unable to disassociate Kabuo's ancestry from the Japanese who attacked the U.S. and fought with the Axis powers.

  • Death

    He knew, for instance, what brains looked like spilling out of somebody's head. (4.19)

    Because he fought in World War II, Ishmael has some experiences with death that go far beyond the typical person's. This quote is only one of several grisly memories we get throughout the story.

    In America, she said, there was fear of death; here life was separate from Being. A Japanese, on the other hand, must see that life embraces death, and when she feels the truth of this she will gain tranquility. (7.36)

    These are some life lessons that Mrs. Shigemura taught Hatsue regarding the differences between Americans and the Japanese. In her view, the Japanese have a healthier attitude toward death than Americans, since they view death as continuous with life (not a separate entity).

    He knew himself privately to be guilty of murder, to have murdered men in the course of war, and it was this guilt—he knew no other word—that lived in him perpetually and that he exerted himself not to communicate. (11.6)

    Though wartime killing is traditionally viewed as different from murder, Kabuo views himself as a murderer because of the killing he did during the war.

    The death penalty, Kabuo said to himself. He was a Buddhist and believed in the laws of karma, so it made sense to him that he might pay for his war murders: everything comes back to you, nothing is accidental. The fear of death grew in him. He thought of Hatsue and of his children, and it seemed to him he must be exiled from them—because he felt for them so much love—in order to pay his debts to the dead he had left on the ground in Italy. (11.19)

    Kabuo perceives the fact that he's on trial—and might receive the death penalty—as fitting karmic retribution for the fact that he killed people in World War II.

    Private Willis had been killed two days later on patrol, by friendly mortar fire he'd called for at the direction of Lieutenant Kent himself, who'd given the correct coordinates. Seven men in the platoon had died on that occasion. (16.2).

    Private Willis had used the private parts of a dead Japanese boy for target practice... and then was shot by accident in friendly fire two days later. Ishmael's memories of war are a mish mash of grotesque accidents and atrocities such as these.

    Hinkle went down over the starboard gunnel and dropped down into the water. Men began to follow him, including Ishmael Chambers, who was maneuvering his eighty-five-pound pack over the side when Hinkle was shot in the face and went down, and then the man just behind him was shot, too, and the top of his head came off. (16.33)

    Here we get some details about Ishmael's participation in the Battle of Tarawa. Ishmael remembers that the Japanese presence was so strong that soldiers were being struck down in droves before they could even get up the beach.

    Ishmael saw Eric Bledsoe bleed to death. Fifty yards away he lay in the surf pleading in a soft voice for help. (16.35)

    Although Ishmael and some other soldiers were close enough to go get Bledsoe, they were forbidden from doing so, since they would likely get shot. So, they had to sit there under cover, watching him bleed out—brutal stuff.

    He did not want to explain to her his coldness or reveal himself. He had watched her, after all, mourn her husband's death and it had been for her in part the discovery that grief could attach itself with permanence—something Ishmael had already discovered. It attached itself and then it borrowed inside and made a nest and stayed. It ate whatever was warm nearby, and then the coldness settled in permanently. You learned to live with it. (24.42)

    Ishmael is contrasting his mother's experience of death and grief (as she experienced it with her husband's passing) with his own feelings of grief, which are likely (in large part, if not entirely) related to losing Hatsue, as opposed to his brushes with death in the war.

    "I'm dead in the water." (27.46)

    Carl says this when Kabuo finds him floating out in the fog with a dead battery. Obviously, it's a sad bit of foreshadowing, since Carl himself is dead in the water not long after this point.

    It must have been that in the ghost fog that night he never saw the wall of water the Corona threw at him. The sea rose up from behind the fog and welled underneath the Susan Marie so that the coffee cup on the cabin table fell to the floor, and the angle of deflection high up the mast was enough to jar loose the astonished man who hung there not grasping the nature of what was happening, and still he did not foresee his death. (32.77)

    This is Ishmael imagining the moment of Carl's death as he gets ready to write the story of the whole affair down.

  • Love

    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. It had started on the day they'd clung to his glass box and kissed in the sea, and now it must go on forever. He felt certain of this. He felt certain Hatsue felt the same way. (8.41)

    Ishmael's love for Hatsue is intense, long-lasting, and ultimately (when she stops returning, or pretending to return, it) debilitating for him. It also appears to involve a certain amount of denial or just self-involvement on his part, since he is consistently out of touch with how Hatsue is feeling.

    He and Hatsue spoke of little things at first, then of the San Piedro fields they'd left behind and the smell of ripening strawberries. He had begun to love her, to love more than just her beauty and grace, and when he saw that in their hearts they shared the same dream he felt a great certainty about her. (11.39)

    This is a description of how Kabuo's love for Hatsue grew gradually. It's interesting that his love for her grows on the basis of shared dreams and experience, whereas that doesn't really seem to be the case with Ishmael.

    He was twenty yards off when she called his name and asked if he would marry her before leaving. "Why do you want to marry me?" he asked, and her answer came back, "To hold a part of you." She dropped the hoe and walked the twenty yards to hold him in her arms. "It's my character, too," she whispered. "It's my destiny now to love you." (11.42)

    Whereas Hatsue felt everything was wrong, wrong, wrong with Ishmael, things with Kabuo are so groovy and right that she feels loving him is "destiny." It's pretty much a night and day comparison between her feelings for the two boyfriends, no?

    Even when he held her it seemed to him there was a place in her heart he couldn't get to. At times he worked himself up to discussing this, gradually revealing to her how it hurt him to feel there was a part of her love she withheld. Hatsue denied that this was so and explained to him that her emotional reserve was something she couldn't help. She had been carefully trained by her upbringing, she said, to avoid effusive displays of feeling, but this did not mean her heart was shallow. (12.5)

    Now we're back to Ishmael's memories of Hatsue and his attempts to figure out her feelings for him (rather than vice versa). Of course, she later comes to the conclusion that she doesn't love him at all, but here it appears she still demonstrates ambivalence.

    And she thought she understood what she had long sought to understand, that she concealed her love for Ishmael Chambers not because she was Japanese in her heart but because she could not in truth profess to the world that what she felt for him was love at all. (14.68)

    In this moment, Hatsue is starting to admit that perhaps her feelings for her sweetheart are not quite the same thing as love, but it takes her a bit longer to translate that realization into action.

    "I'm eighteen," replied Hatsue. "I'm old enough. Stop thinking of me as a little girl. You have to understand—I've grown up." (15.64-65)

    When her mother finds out about her relationship with Ishmael, Hatsue finally forces herself to come to terms with her feelings (or lack thereof) for Ishmael. She assures her mother that she can experience and know about love—she's an adult now, after all—but she admits that she doesn't love Ishmael. And that's all Fujiko wants to hear.

    "I don't love you, Ishmael. I can think of no more honest way to say it. From the very beginning, when we were little children, it seemed to me something was wrong. Whenever we were together I knew it. I felt it inside of me. I loved you and I didn't love you at the very same moment, and I felt troubled and confused." (24.70)

    In her letter to Ishmael from Manzanar, Hatsue breaks the bad news that she not only doesn't love him now, but also that she may never have loved him (yikes). Naturally, Ishmael is devastated by the revelation.

    What was it Nels Gudmundsson had said in closing? "The counsel for the state has proceeded on the assumption that you will be open, ladies and gentlemen, to an argument based on prejudice [...] He is counting on you to act on passions best left to a war ten years ago." But ten years was not really such a long time at all, and how was he to leave his passion behind when it went on living its own independent life, as tangible as the phantom limb he'd refused for so long to have denervated? (30.6)

    In an interesting mirror of his fellow islanders' inability to let the past go, Ishmael claims he hasn't had enough time to "leave his passion" for Hatsue behind. For both Ishmael and the islanders, the inability to move on is harmful and even dangerous. Because of their prejudices, Kabuo's jury is unable to view evidence in the trial fairly (which means Kabuo could easily get executed for a crime he didn't commit). Meanwhile, Ishmael is totally stunted and paralyzed by his inability to let go of his love for Hatsue. The fact that Ishmael turns Gudmundsson's closing statements—with their desperate plea for Kabuo's life—into yet another opportunity to mope about his love life is strikingly sad (and, to less sympathetic eyes, pretty pathetic and self-involved).

    He read her letter another time and understood that she had once admired him, there was something in him she was grateful for even if she could not love him. That was a part of himself he'd lost over the years, that was the part that was gone. (31.20)

    This is the moment in which Ishmael finally comes to terms with the fact that Hatsue is gone from his life (in a romantic sense) forever. Since he follows up these reflections by bringing the evidence exonerating Kabuo to Hatsue, perhaps Ishmael is going to stop living in the past and start working on getting that missing part of himself back.

    Ishmael gave himself to the writing of it, and as he did so, he understood this, too: that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart. (32.82)

    In Ishmael's view, everything is pretty much chance or accident except love, which exerts its own will (as Ishmael knows only too well).

  • Fate and Free Will

    Hatsue stood with her long-handled hoe and said that she had learned from Mrs. Shigemura that character was always destiny. He would have to do what he must do, and she would have to do the same. (11.41)

    Hatsue offers these thoughts when she hears Kabuo is going to war. He feels obligated to fight for the U.S. to prove his loyalty (and because that's just the kind of guy he is), which makes Hatsue think of Mrs. S.'s "character is destiny" wisdom.

    He gave his whole soul to love; he allowed himself to believe that his feelings for Hatsue had been somehow preordained. He had been meant to meet her on the beach as a child and then to pass his life with her. There was no other way it could be. (12.4)

    Long before Hatsue meets Kabuo and believes that loving him is her destiny, Ishmael thought that he and Hatsue were destined for a happy ending. We see that here in one of Ishmael's flashbacks to the days when he was absolutely, 100 percent convinced that he and Hatsue were MTB.

    It seemed to her certain that she would suffer from the consequences of it, that no one could maintain such deceit for so long without paying for it somehow. (12.6)

    Despite Ishmael's youthful confidence that things would end up all sunshine and rainbows between him and Hatsue, Hatsue always seemed to have a feeling that their relationship was somehow wrong or doomed, in part because she had to lie to everyone about it.

    This storm might well be like others past that had caused them to suffer, had killed even—or perhaps it might dwindle beneath tonight's stars and give their children snowbound happiness. Who knew? Who could predict? If disaster, so be it, they said to themselves. There was nothing to be done except what could be done. The rest—like the salt water around them, which swallowed the snow without any effort, remaining what it was implacably—was out of their hands, beyond. (17.11)

    The narrator describes the islanders' attitude toward the snowstorm that hits the island during the trial. They seem to view themselves as at the mercy of the elements, their fate (or destiny) being completely out of their control. Hmm, how do you think that attitude informs (and is informed by) their behavior toward other areas of life?

    Here was the Jap he'd been led to inexorably by every islander he'd spoken with. (18.86)

    This free indirect discourse relays Art Moran's growing certainty that all paths in Carl Heine's death lead directly and "inexorably" to Kabuo Miyamoto. Although there are a lot of alternate explanations for Carl Heine's death (including the real one, which had nothing to do with murder), Art seems to believe that bringing Kabuo Miyamoto the only way things could go.

    And yet there were still accidents, despite everything. There seemed no way to prevent them. In a thick fog the light could not be seen and boats continued to come aground. The coast guard installed sounding boards along island beaches and anchored numbered buoys at intervals in the shipping channel, and these measures seemed sufficient to islanders until the next accident came along. A tug towing a diesel ferry from San Francisco broke up on the rocks a mile to the north; then a tug towing a barge full of peeler logs; then a salvage steamer working out of Victoria. News of such wrecks was received by islanders with a grim brand of determinism; it seemed to many that such things were ordained by God, or at any rate unavoidable. (23.2)

    As noted elsewhere, the capriciousness of the weather has diminished the islanders' sense of control over their own destiny. That's kind of understandable, given that—regardless of their efforts to try to prevent or minimize accidents—they somehow keep occurring.

    "I don't feel what God is," answered Ishmael. "I don't feel anything either way. No feeling about it comes to me—it's not something I have a choice about. Isn't a feeling like that supposed to happen? Isn't it just supposed to happen?" (24.20)

    With all of the novel's meditations on faith and destiny, it's no surprise that it gets into some discussion of faith and God. Ishmael seems to believe that you either have faith or not, and that it's kind of preordained whether you're going to have that sentiment.

    The tide drift had taken him down into the kelp, and he'd wasted four hours extracting himself so as not to rip his gill-net. Now, tonight, he would have to do better. He would need to have fortune on his side. (27.28)

    The narrator is taking us inside Kabuo's thoughts when he heads out fishing the night of Carl's death. Apparently Kabuo is fairly superstitious, believing that he is at the mercy of luck and fortune in his pursuit of a good fishing night.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," Nels pressed on, "perhaps there is such a thing as fate. Perhaps for inscrutable reasons God has looked down and allowed the accused man to come to this path, where his very life lies in your hands. An accident of some kind befell Carl Heine at a moment that could not be less propitious or less fortunate for the accused. And yet it happened." (29.11)

    Nels suggests that, whether it's pure chance or a God-led vendetta, Kabuo has had forces beyond his control working against him. Of course, in a nice point of comparison and contrast, Kabuo's fate now in the jury's hands—not chance's, or God's—and Nels is encouraging them to make good use of that power.

    The heart of any other, because it had a will, would remain forever mysterious. (32.81)

    Reflecting at the end of the novel, Ishmael asserts that the only thing that isn't accidental in this world is the will of the human heart. It's interesting to consider how that will is supposed to work for and against all the accidents that life involves. What do you think the novel is suggesting?