Critical Essays Plot of Snow Falling on Cedars


Two parallel story lines being told throughout Snow Falling on Cedars illustrate the importance of point of view. Many times facts end up being distorted, skewed, or conveniently forgotten. In order to have a satisfactory resolution, the two story lines — Kabuo's trial for murder and Ishmael's lost love affair — require insight previously unavailable. This newfound information dramatically changes perceptions and understanding.

In Kabuo's story line, when the truth finally comes to light, obviously the prosecution's entire case is based on an incorrect interpretation of the facts. Circumstantial evidence, mixed with hatred, anger, resentment, and lying, provides jurors with more than enough information to find Kabuo guilty. Ironically, Kabuo does consider himself guilty, but not of the crime with which he is charged. Kabuo's sense of justice goes beyond the courtroom of San Piedro. In fact, it goes beyond the life that Kabuo is currently living. However, his philosophical beliefs and wartime "crimes" have no bearing on the procedures on hand. By the time Hatsue and Kabuo tell the truth about what happened the night of Carl's death, very few are willing to believe him. It doesn't look good for him; however, that is the time Ishmael makes his life-defining decision: He reveals what he knows.

Ishmael makes the decision to do what is ethically and morally right when he finally has an epiphany about the truth regarding his own relationship with Hatsue. For years he has been harboring hate for how she treated him, wallowing in self-pity and unwilling to move on with his life. Ishmael believed for the longest time that he was treated unfairly and was one of the biggest losers because of World War II. This narrow-minded, self-centered approach left him alone in the world. Only re-reading Hatsue's letter from Manzanar and contemplating his life and her views, and his love for her, enabled Ishmael to let go — finally — of all his hurt and pain. Hatsue loved Ishmael enough to be honest with him, and that honesty hurt him. Ishmael happily led the dual life — strangers at school, sweethearts on the weekends — while foolishly thinking that Hatsue felt the same way. After all these years of holding on, Ishmael is finally able to let go. In doing so, he frees both Kabuo and himself.

Had Ishmael not come to an understanding about the nature of his relationship with Hatsue, and had he not revealed the truth about the lighthouse logs, an innocent man would have undoubtedly been found guilty, and an innocent woman would have been beholden to a man who only claimed to love her. The murder mystery and the love story both climax with the appearance of the truth. Only when the truth is known can love survive and justice be served.

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