Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 31 | Summary



The electric power is back on in town, but Ishmael Chambers again stays at his mother's house. He remembers how his father was satisfied with simple island life, how Arthur Chambers always tried to encourage the islanders to be their best selves. He rereads Hatsue Miyamoto's internment letter again. For the first time, he pays attention to the last paragraph where she tells him how she admires his gentleness and kindness. He understands now that she appreciated and respected him, even if she could not love him. Ishmael revisits their special cedar tree, once the sight of their teenage romantic liaisons, and makes his decision. He finds Hatsue at her parents' house and tells her and her parents all about the evidence he found.


Throughout the book, Ishmael Chambers is constantly reminded he is his father's son. Many islanders speak of his father, Arthur Chambers, with deep respect; his mother says they are alike, but Ishmael doesn't really hear this message until this pivotal moment in his life. He understands the differences between his life and his father's but recognizes they came to similar understandings of the "limits and the grayness of the world," how few things are truly black or white. Ishmael sits in his father's study, surrounded by his father's books. Arthur Chambers read heavily from philosophers and thinkers, especially homegrown American ones. Several of the authors mentioned—Jefferson, Thoreau, Paine, Emerson—had strong opinions about an individual's obligation to do what was morally right, even when this course of action contradicted social norms.

Ishmael finally lets go of Hatsue Miyamoto. He can now see she appreciated and admired him. Maybe this can finally be enough. Before he goes to see her, he mentally gives away their cedar tree: "Some much younger people should find this tree, hold to it tightly ... as he and Hatsue had." Ishmael finally understands he has lost much more than Hatsue—he lost his youth and his innocence. While everyone experiences this in one way or another, the war and the internment made Ishmael's growth more painful than most. Now, 10 years after the war, he can finally begin to move on.

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