Summary and Analysis Chapters 9-10


Chapters 9 and 10 are predominantly the testimony of Etta Heine, Carl's mother, but Guterson reveals more to the reader than to the jurors. In both the present and in flashback, telling information about deals and attitudes is revealed. Etta took the witness stand, providing the information that potentially explained the motive Kabuo may have had for killing Carl. Etta testifies that while Carl junior was away at war, his father died, and Etta sold the farm to Ole Jurgensen.

Etta remembers, during a trial recess, how Zenhichi Miyamoto, Kabuo's father, approached Carl Sr. with an offer to purchase seven acres of land. Etta was opposed from the onset, stating firmly, "'We ain't going to sell.'" Readers soon come to find that although Etta claims to be against the sale because the land will be worth more later, in actuality she didn't like or trust the Japanese man.

On the stand, Etta speaks as more than the deceased's mother: She is the embodiment of the majority of San Piedro. She's speaking for them, the majority who are suspicious of those who are different and feel superior to the Japanese (and the Indians). The differences are both cultural and socioeconomical. The migrants are the working class who are viewed as a group and not as individuals. On San Piedro, these groups were worthy to work the land, not to own it.

Disregarding his wife's opinion, Carl Sr. did agree to an eight-year, lease-to-own contract. Laws at that time prevented aliens from owning land and other laws prevented Japanese from becoming naturalized citizens, so in essence it was impossible for Zenhichi to own land. Carl couldn't legally sell it to him even though he wanted to do so. Another law prevented Carl from holding the land for Zenhichi. With Carl agreeing to hold the lease, the arrangement they devised didn't break the law, although it did bend it a good bit. After the last payment was made, Carl would deed the land to Zenhichi's oldest son, Kabuo. Etta testifies "'The law let 'em own land if they were citizens. Them Miyamoto kids were born here so they're citizens, I guess.'" Ironically, even though Bavarian-born Etta is a citizen only through her marriage to Carl, she is reluctant to concede citizenship to those born in the United States.

Carl didn't share the same racist views as his wife, telling Etta "'it don't make one bit of difference which way it is their eyes slant. . . . People is people, comes down to it. And these are clean-living people. Nothing wrong with them.'" When Carl read about the internment of the Japanese, he knew that islanders would take advantage of their neighbors. Etta's first thought when she heard about the upcoming internment was about the lack of pickers this year and the need to get some Chinamen to do the work. Carl and Etta's contrasting views illustrate the fact that not all of the islanders were racist; however, for the most part, those who weren't didn't speak up. Carl's intention was to help Zenhichi, which he told him. Etta only remembers the conversation; she doesn't testify about it. In Etta's mind, as in the mind of many racists, ambiguity is nonexistent: She was convinced Carl's intention wasn't legal, and when Carl died, his good intentions were buried with him.

Etta testifies that the Miyamotos missed the last two payments on the agreement. In Etta's eyes, two missed payments, along with the fact that Japanese couldn't own land anyway, were reason enough to sell the land to someone else. As she testifies, Judge Fielding attempts to maintain order and have Etta comment only on the facts of the case; however, she's determined to speak her mind, and although remarks may be stricken from the record, the jury still heard her say, "They've been botherin' us over those seven acres for near ten years now. My son was killed over it."

Etta is convinced that Carl's former high school friend killed her son, but because she never considered Kabuo a suitable friend for Carl Jr., she doesn't even remember his name. Etta does remember making her son return the bamboo fishing rod he was given as the Miyamotos prepared to leave for Manzanar. She needed her son to make this gesture because she needed her son's opinion to be more like hers than like his father's. As she sends him back with the rod, she thinks, "The boy was not all Carl's. Her son, too, she felt that."

The sale of the land occurs while Carl, Jr. is away at war. Although the war puts a strain on Carl and Kabuo's friendship, the reader never gets the impression that the men hate each other. However, Etta uses her influence on her son to make him suspicious of Kabuo and his motives. She testifies that her son "'said he'd have to keep an eye out for Kabuo.'"

Under cross-examination, Etta concedes that the difference between the price the Miyamoto family would have paid and the price Ole Jurgensen did pay was a $2,500 increase. For Etta this situation was win/win: The Japs didn't own her land, and she increased her profit.

Etta's flashbacks enable readers to know more fully the facts of the situation — at least the facts from Etta's point of view. With this knowledge, readers can compare the entirety of the story with the court testimony, deciding how what isn't mentioned in court — but is actually pertinent information — affects the fairness of the way that the judicial system works. This extra information also enables readers to determine the reliability of Etta's testimony. It also betrays the grave prejudices Etta feels toward those not like her. She's glad to see the Japanese sent to internment camps as she tells her husband. "'They're Japs . . . We're in a war with them. We can't have spies around.'"

Ole's testimony is that of a person who doesn't want to get involved. Although he testifies that he wasn't aware of any claim by Miyamoto to seven acres of land, in the next breath he admits, "I bring it up with Etta, you see. . . . I know seven acres has been sold to them." Ole accepts Etta's explanation, questioning her no further. Not only did Ole know that the Miyamotos were living on the land (he purchased their house, too, when he bought the land), but he also knew that they were living in an internment camp but "'maybe they won' come b-back.'" Curiously, Ole's conscience is eased when Etta tells him that she intends to return the Miyamoto's money.

After Kabuo returned from the war, he questioned Ole about the seven acres of land; Ole sent him to speak to Etta. Answering Etta's explanation of the events that transpired, Kabuo responded, "You haven't done anything illegal. Wrong is a different matter." Kabuo's statement is one of the major themes of Snow Falling on Cedars: the relationship between legality and morality in determining right and wrong.

Kabuo speaks of a higher authority than a law — he's speaking of a moral law or code of conduct. Codes of conduct affect cultures, regions, and professions. These unwritten rules govern the actions of those who follow them. The problem with moral codes is the ambiguity that exists in many situations, as well as the potential for conflict between cultures, and thus a conflict in codes of conduct.

Later on in his testimony, in another seemingly throwaway line, Ole Jurgensen remembers seeing Kabuo swinging a wooden sword in the field, echoing Art Moran's earlier testimony that he suspected someone trained in kendo to have been involved with Carl's death. Mentioning this detail foreshadows revelations yet to come.

The final part of Ole Jurgensen's testimony is about agreeing to sell the land back to Carl Jr. and Kabuo's reaction to this news. Kabuo's reaction was understandable. He missed out on an opportunity to reclaim what he considered his family's land, and worse, the man who agreed to purchase the land is an immediate relative of the woman who cheated Kabuo's family. Ole's wife phoned Carl and told him that Kabuo had been by. When Carl goes to the farm to take down the For Sale sign, Ole tells him about the meeting in great detail. He then testifies that "Carl Heine nodded again and again and then came down from the ladder with the sign. 'Thanks for telling me,' he'd said." The reader is left to guess at what this big, quiet man was thinking as he listened to Ole's narrative. Nine days after Jurgensen accepts Carl Jr.'s earnest money, Carl is found dead.


sciatica pain in the lower back.

anteroom an outer room that leads to another usually more important room and is often used as a waiting area.

chuck an inlet.

sea-run cutthroat a desirable species of trout.

trolling fishing by pulling a line through the water.

ferrules rings put around a slender shaft to strengthen it and prevent it from splitting.

Back to Top