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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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CHAPTER 4

Summary

After returning from the war with an amputated arm, Ishmael attended school in Seattle. He studied history, then American literature. Though he occupied himself with his studies, he could never forget about the pinned up sleeve that held his amputated arm.

His father, Arthur, at one time a logger, started the island’s newspaper, the San Piedro Review in his early 20s. After returning from the army, Arthur returned home, married, and became the epitome of a small-town newspaperman. Ishmael remembers his father as a respected citizen with “unflagging loyalty to his profession and its principles.” A “morally meticulous man” that Ishmael tried to emulate, but Ishmael’s missing arm prevented this. The chip Ishmael carried on his shoulder and his veteran’s cynicism caused him to view people as enormously foolish. Even after he had grown older and learned to be cordial to people, his cynicism deepened. Now he had the cynicism of a war veteran and a reporter.

The Sheriff was attempting to find out who had seen Carl that night, when, and where. Carl was seen early in the night by the fishermen but not later. The Islander, Kabuo’s boat was seen in the vicinity of Carl’s boat.

Sheriff Moran dismisses the fisherman with an order to tell other fishermen that spoke to Carl that night to come and talk to him. Then, Moran purposely walks away with Ishmael to tell him not to report this is an investigation but rather an accident. Off the record, Sheriff Moran admits there is an investigation spurred by the “tricky, funny little facts floating around.” But, at the moment, he knows nothing. Ishmael agrees to report this as an accident as long as Moran keeps him posted on the investigation.


Notes

In this chapter, Guterson provides Background Information on Ishmael Chambers. We learn that Ishmael has never learned to live with his amputated arm. His war experience has left him viewing “most human activity [as] utter folly, his own included, and that his existence in the world made others nervous.” His cynicism as a war veteran and reporter has left Ishmael unable to find a way to like anyone, though he wants to like everyone.

Guterson also gives a deeper glimpse into the community. First, we learn how the citizens viewed the gill-netting profession as Sheriff Moran talks to the fishermen gathered at the docks. The solitary gill-netters of the island were the collective image of the good man. Though shouting matches at sea could erupt, for the most part, gill-netting was a solitary existence. An existence that San Piedro Island prided itself on; these men had the courage to fish alone. Though the silent fisherman paid a price: on occasion, they wished they could speak but couldn’t. Carl Heine was among the fisherman that had trouble speaking.

Guterson also shows us how the community views the Japanese in one simple line: “Suckers all look alike. Never could tell them guys apart,” says fisherman Dale Middleton. This one line shows two things about the community’s perception of the Japanese islanders. First, the Japanese are viewed as suckers. Second, the community has never invested any time in getting to know them as individuals.

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