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With the beautiful Susan Marie Heine on the stand, attorney Gudmundsson cannot help but reflect on his lost youth and failing manhood. His prostrate is enlarged and will have to be removed. He can no longer achieve an erection. This makes Nels fell worthless to women. He consoles himself by eating, playing chess, and reading newspapers and magazines obsessively.
Susan admits she did not hear the conversation between Carl and Kabuo. She only knows what her husband told her. She admits Carl was unwilling to talk about his conversation with Kabuo. She agrees Kabuo left with the possibility that Carl might sell him the 7 acres. She admits Kabuo does not give her dirty looks.
Gudmundsson reminds the judge that Susan’s testimony has been a lot of hearsay admitted as evidence. The judge points out that Gudmundsson cannot object because she is entitled to discuss the nature and content of her conversation with her deceased husband. Just as Nels ends his cross-examination, the power goes out. A tree has fallen in the raging snowstorm and has knocked the power lines out.
Throughout the novel, Guterson has made a point of detailing Nels physical ailments and the emotional toll they take on Nels. In doing so, Guterson provides a contrast between the suffering caused by the natural process of aging with that caused by war experiences. Nels ailments make his presence less effective in the courtroom than that he displayed in his youth. Those in attendance cannot help but notice his limp, the way his hands tremble, and the blindness in his left eye. But, his mind is still as sharp and he is an effective attorney. At the same time, he also feels that his relationship with women has changed. A widow himself, he feels that the effects on his manhood caused by his ailments makes him worthless to the women in the community.
In contrast, we’ve learned how the war has affected other men in the community. Kabuo’s war experiences have also affected his relationship with the woman in his life, Hatsue. He returns from the war no longer himself, which is what Hatsue had feared when he joined the army. Carl can no longer talk since the war, and his inability to communicate creates a barrier in his relationship with Susan Marie. Horace Whaley thinks of himself as ineffective because he could not save the men in his care when he was at war. Finally, the loss of Ishmael’s arm is an obstacle that he cannot seem to overcome to form new relationships or mend his relationship with Hatsue. Nels and all of the men that served in war suffer physically and emotionally. The causes are drastically different, but the results are similar in many ways.