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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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In 1942, Ishmael trained as a marine rifleman in South Carolina. He was hospitalized with fever and dysentery for 11 days. Alone and sick, this was the suffering he had yearned for since receiving Hatsue’s letter. He trained a second time, as a radioman. He was sent to the North Island of New Zealand, where he trained and drank with his fellow soldiers. But, he always felt detached from them. The more he drank, the colder he felt to others.

He was deployed to Betio Island, which was strongly defended by the Japanese. On his last night aboard the Heywood, he composed a letter to Hatsue and told her that his job was to kill people that looked like her and he was looking forward to it. He told her he was numb. He explained to her his hatred and that she was responsible for it. He hated her. He then threw the letter into the sea.

On top deck, Ishmael prepared his gear and listened to a second lieutenant describe their mission. But, when the description was over, he still wondered in what direction his own feet should move when he landed. As he crawled down the cargo net, a shell landed 75 feet to the stern of the boat. Shells continued to whistle around them as they traveled to the island. Ishmael’s platoon had been told they were doing a mop up operation and that the Navy had been pounding the island for days.

After waiting for 3 hours, the formation headed for the beach. The navy was firing heavily, but there was a lot of machine- gun fire. The landing craft ground up on a reef 500 yards from the beach. Their squad leader was the first to die. Ishmael maneuvered his 85-pound pack over the side and then submerged himself as gunfire whizzed over the water. As he made his way to shore, he watched helplessly as men he knew and those he didn’t know died.

With his equipment sunk in the lagoon, Ishmael crouched unarmed against the seawall. A sergeant stood on the seawall and berated their cowardness until he was killed by a shell. Later, he received a gun, ammo, and machete. As he was cleaning the gun, he watched a new wave of men being attacked as they came up to the beach. He lowered his head and continued clearing.

A colonel came down the beach and told them that in 20 minutes they were all going over the seawall. When a lieutenant asked Ishmael why he was alone, Ishmael explained that everyone around him had been killed or wounded and he didn’t know where the rest of his squad was. He was then told to form a squad and report to the command post. As he was doing this, he ran into a member of his squad and they exchanged a list of those they’d seen die. Soon he and 300 men went over the seawall and were met with mortar and machine- gun fire. He was hit squarely in the middle of his bicep. He managed to take a roll of bandages and sulfa pills from a dead man’s medical kit and used the weight of his body to stop the blood. Nine hours later two medical corpsmen told him the beach was secure and he’d be taken shipboard. His arm was amputated by a pharmacist’s mate who had done only 4 previous amputations all within the past few hours. Ishmael, not full anesthetized, awoke to see his arm “dropped in a corner on top of a pile of blood-soaked dressings.” Ten years later, he would still dream of it. As the morphine took affect all he could think to say was “that fucking goddamn Jap bitch.”


In this chapter, Guterson shows the reality and cruelty of war. It is during his service in the war that Ishmael begins to develop coldness toward others and distances himself. Suffering from the loss of Hatsue, Ishmael directs his hate for the war toward Hatsue and all Japanese. The loss of his arm may symbolically represent the loss of Hatsue, the loss of Ishmael’s ability to relate to others, and the loss of racial and ethnic tolerance his father had instilled in him.

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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Summary


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