Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 5 | Summary



Horace Whaley is a World War II veteran and a family physician who also works as coroner. Horace flashes back to his examination of Carl Heine's body: Horace looked for signs of drowning. He summoned Art Moran to observe a wound over Carl's left ear, which he described as similar to war wounds he saw that were caused by Japanese soldiers' kendo strikes, using the butt end of their rifles. He teased Art about playing Sherlock Holmes, but admitted he could not be totally sure whether Carl drowned or died from the head wound. Horace told Art to look for a right-handed Japanese man "with a bloody gun butt."


Horace Whaley, like Carl Heine, survived the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa was extremely bloody, and Horace saw horrible things. David Guterson is careful to contrast Horace's blasé reaction with Art Moran's discomfort. Art's deputy, Abel Martinson, is deeply bothered by Carl's partially cut-open corpse. Both Art and his deputy had never seen war.

Horace is both a doctor and the local coroner. A coroner is a person who is legally responsible for declaring a person dead. Not all coroners are doctors, but Horace is, so he can also conduct the autopsy, a postmortem (after death) examination to determine the cause of death. In this case, Horace cuts into Carl's head to demonstrate that the wound went through the skull and affected Carl's brain. The presence of foam also proves that Carl was breathing when he went in the water.

Horace describes the wound to Art as similar to a kendo strike. Kendo is a style of Japanese sword fighting related to the traditions of samurai warriors; it requires mental toughness and constant, rigorous practice. Many Japanese soldiers trained in kendo to be prepared for hand-to-hand combat. Horace's reference to kendo demonstrates how he is haunted by his war experiences; it also suggests the injury's characteristics. Kendo strikes are done with absolute precision, and the narrator describes the wound as small, easy to overlook, but had penetrated deeply into Carl's brain.
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