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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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Based on his passed experience, Ishmael felt that Judge Fielding would call a mistrial. But Hatsue, recalling a tipped coffee cup in Carl’s cabin, believes the case should be thrown out. The tipped coffee cup proves something had knocked it down. Fujiko, Hatsue’s mother, cautions her that spilled coffee will not prove very much.

Hatsue followed Ishmael out. She tells him she is grateful. He asks that when she is old to remember him just a little. “I will,” she says. Then, she gives him a soft kiss on the cheek and tells him to find someone to marry, have children, and live.

Hatsue arrived at Ishmael’s mother’s house at 6:50 am. She had been thinking all night and had recalled that Kabuo had testified that Carl had lashed a lantern to his mast. She asked Ishmael if that would prove that Carl’s battery had really been dead. Ishmael remembered nothing about the lantern in Art Moran’s report, but Art could have missed it. They decide to go down to the boat. If they found something they might be able to end it all before the jury reconvened at 8 am. She looked at Ishmael for a long time and realized he had known about the freighter for some time. Ishmael replied he had known about it for one day and that he didn’t know what he should do. It was inexcusable, he said. Hatsue said she understood.

Art Moran did not receive them cordially, but he agreed to read the coast guard notes. Art Moran, Abel Martinson, and Ishmael went down to Carl’s boat housed in a warehouse. There was no lantern on the mast of Carl’s boat or anywhere on the boat. However, when Ishmael shows is flashlight on the mast, twine is present. Abel climbs up the mast. There is rust that could be from a lantern handle. He can see where the lashing has been cut. He also finds what might be blood. Ishmael reminds them that Carl had cut his hand. After his boat was running, Carl climbed up to take the lantern down. Ishmael remembers that the coroner had found twine in one pocket and an empty knife sheath on his belt. Carl climbed up to take the lantern down, Abel says, and then the freighter came along and knocked him from the mast, taking the knife and lantern with him. He hit his head on something. Ten minutes later, just below the mast, they find a small fracture in the wood with 3 small hairs embedded in the crack. Art Moran carves the hairs free, and they take them to the coroner.

At 10 am, Judge Fielding sat down with the two lawyers. At 10:45, the jury was released from their duties because the charges against Kabuo had been dismissed based on new evidence. Kabuo was released. Outside the cell door, Ishmael snaps a picture of Kabuo and Hatsue’s lengthy kiss.

Ishmael returns to his office to write, but first, he can’t help but imagine the truth of what happened to Carl Heine. He imagines Carl hanging the lantern and hailing when he heard Kabuo’s boat. He imagines the exchange of the battery and the agreement between Carl and Kabuo. He imagines how happy Kabuo must have been fishing afterward and how Kabuo must have thought it fortunate to meet Carl that night.

He imagines Carl must have listened to the radio and was aware of the freighter coming toward him. Carl heard the steam whistle come closer and thought everything was secure enough to take the wake, except for the lantern lashed to the mast. Carl paid for his perfection. Carl figured in needed less than 30 seconds to retrieve the lantern. He climbed the mast and opened the wound he had on his hand. The freighter’s whistle blew again, must closer than Carl expected. He cut the lantern away and was about to put his knife away. In the fog, he never saw the wall of water the freighter threw at him. He fell, knocking his head against the boat, and settled dead into his net.

Ishmael concludes that the heart of any other person is unknowable and that accident rules “every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”


Based on the coast guard record and a subsequent investigation of the boat, Carl Heine’s death is solved, and Kabuo is freed. An accident not murder lead to Carl’s tragic death. It is this accident Ishmael refers to in the closing line. But, Ishmael realizes that it is has really been what is in the hearts of the people involved that have driven these events. What is in the hearts of people dictate their actions not accidents.

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