Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 9 | Summary



Carl Heine's mother, Etta Heine, testifies in court. Etta was born in Germany and came to San Piedro with her husband, Carl Heine Sr. They ran a strawberry farm together, though Etta did not like it. When Carl Sr. died, she sold the farm.

Etta reveals her husband made a deal with Zenhichi Miyamoto, Kabuo Miyamoto's father, many years earlier. The Miyamotos would buy seven acres of property. The law forbids Japanese immigrants from owning property, but Carl Sr. and Zenhichi arrange it so that Kabuo will own the farm when the payments are made and he is grown. Etta does not approve, but Carl Sr. agrees. He tells Etta that he doesn't care "which way it is their eyes slant ... People is people, comes down to it." When the Japanese are interned, Zenhichi tries to arrange things so they don't lose the farm. Carl Sr. is understanding, but Etta is not. When Carl Sr. dies, Etta sells the farm in spite of the Miyamotos' claim to the land. Etta claims she needs the money, but this is debatable.


Etta Heine is self-centered and racist; she doesn't trust those who look different from her. Her relationships seem to be very transactional; she does her duty to her husband, but shows no interest in his thoughts and feelings. The narrator notes she is from Bavaria, a region of Germany, and still has a German accent. As a recent immigrant, she might be expected to relate to the sufferings of Japanese residents who are interned, but she only cares about the financial transactions.

In contrast, Carl Heine Sr. genuinely respects Kabuo Miyamoto's father. Their deal for the land was technically illegal but totally ethical. Etta's decision to sell, while legal, is unethical, and her treatment of the Miyamotos is heartless. Carl Sr. worries about what is happening to their interned Japanese neighbors, but Etta's sole concern is finding new workers to pick their berries. Carl Sr. tells her, "We ain't right together ... You and me, we just ain't right." But Etta doesn't seem very hurt by her husband's disapproval. Carl Sr.'s and Etta's different perspectives on Japanese Americans reflect American attitudes toward them during the war. Some, like Ishmael Chambers and Carl Sr., regarded all people as equally deserving of rights and property, while others, like Etta, maintained prejudices that sought to exclude those who were not considered fully American. Prejudice such as Etta's led to the creation of Japanese internment camps and continued to impact Japanese Americans after the war, as this story shows.

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