Nels is done questioning Susan Marie, and deems the darkness “well timed.” Hooks agrees, as he declines his chance to question Susan Marie again. Fielding dismisses the court for their lunch recess, noting that they’ll contact the power company about the outage.
The power outage caused by the snowstorm again highlights how fate or chance results in consequences beyond humans’ control.
Fielding, Hooks, and Gudmundsson retreat to the Judge’s chambers. The courtroom is empty, save for Ishmael Chambers, who is lost in thought. Ed Soames thinks that Ishmael is “a strange bird.” Ed and Arthur Chambers had been pals, “but the boy was not someone you could speak to.”
Ed Soames’s observation that Ishmael is “a strange bird” and “not someone you could speak to” highlights how different Ishmael is from his father, or at least how he has failed to live up to his father’s image.
Ishmael walks outside. The wind is blowing, and all the town’s power is out. Ishmael goes to the newspaper office to call his mother, who lives alone, outside of town. He discovers that the office’s phone is dead, though. Without power, the office grows cold, and Ishmael’s amputated arm throbs. He thinks about how a doctor had suggested that he undergo “sympathetic denervation of the limb,” thus ridding it of feeling. But Ishmael had declined—he needed to feel the pain, for some reason.
The cold of the storm (a force of nature beyond his control) draws Ishmael’s attention to his throbbing, amputated arm (an aspect of life he also cannot control). Ishmael’s choice to reject the doctor’s suggestion of a “sympathetic denervation of the limb” shows how strongly he clings to his cynicism. It seems that Ishmael needs his missing arm to validate or excuse how little he’s done with his life since the war.
Ishmael thinks of the things he has to do: visit his mother; figure out how to print the paper elsewhere (as he has no power in the office); talk to Gudmundsson and Hooks; investigate the extent of the power outage around town; and go down to the coast guard station to “get a full storm report.”
Ishmael’s decision to find out more about the storm could be interpreted as a symbolic gesture that signifies taking fate into his own hands.
Ishmael walks around town taking pictures of the snow’s impact on the town and townspeople. He captures a car accident. The heavy snowfall, in combination with his amputated arm, makes it difficult for him to take photos. Ishmael feels the need to document such a big storm, though he thinks that the storm shouldn’t “overshadow” Kabuo’s trial.
Ishmael’s instinct to direct the townspeople’s attention away from the storm and towards Kabuo’s trial shows that he has some of his father’s impulse to discern which facts are more important than others.
Ishmael wanders down to Tom Torgerson’s filling station. He asks him to put chains on his car so he can go about completing his tasks. Tom tells him that the whole island’s power is down, but that he’ll send two high school kids up to put on chains as soon as he can. Ishmael wanders around town for a while longer, picking up kerosene for his mother’s heater and sandwiches for his lunch.
Ishmael and the rest of San Piedro must accept the snowstorm and work around its inconveniences. Symbolically, this speaks to the larger thematic idea of chance vs. choice: Guterson repeatedly puts characters in situations where they must exercise free will (choice) in the face of uncontrollable circumstances (chance).
Ishmael returns to the courthouse. Judge Fielding announces that the trial will continue tomorrow morning, when the power will hopefully be back on. Unfortunately, the jury will have to spend another night in their severely lacking, uncomfortable accommodations at the Amity Harbor Hotel, though Judge Fielding hopes their lackluster accommodations won’t “divert the jurors from the crucial and difficult matters at hand.”
The treacherous weather conditions and undesirable lodgings are out of the jurors’ control, but they must not let these uncontrollable circumstances impact their ability to assess “the crucial and difficult matters at hand.” Judge Fielding posits that the jurors might not be able to control the weather, but they can (and should) control their attitudes toward the trial.
Ishmael leaves town in his car—the high school kids had gotten around to putting chains on the tires. Cars are scattered along the sides of the road. Ishmael’s car, a DeSoto, is “a dubious snow car,” but Ishmael keeps it because it had been his father’s.
Despite the safety risks it poses, Ishmael continues to drive his father’s “dubious” old car. This speaks to Ishmael’s desire to honor and live up to his father’s image.
On his way up to his mother’s, Ishmael sees a “Willys station wagon” that he recognizes as the Imadas’. The car has wiped out on the side of the road. Hisao Imada shovels snow out from beneath the car’s rear wheel. Ishmael knows that Hisao won’t accept his help, but he pulls over anyway, thinking he can convince them to accept a ride. As he walks toward the car, Ishmael sees that Hatsue is next to her father, helping him shovel snow. Ishmael helps Hatsue and Hisao, but the Imadas’ car’s tire has been punctured by a felled tree, and they eventually accept a ride from Ishmael.
It’s as if by fate that the snowstorm leaves Hatsue and her father stranded at the side of the road at the moment that Ishmael passes by. This chance encounter puts Ishmael in a position to choose how he responds to it. It’s symbolically important that a tree punctured the Imadas’ tire, as trees played such a central role in Ishmael and Hatsue’s teenage romance.
Hatsue is reluctant to speak to Ishmael. Most of the car ride’s conversation consists of Hisao explaining the details of how their accident occurred. Ishmael listens sympathetically. He acknowledges the inconvenience the storm has created for the Imadas, but asks, “don’t you think the snow is beautiful?” Hisao agrees, but Hatsue only looks straight ahead, a “cryptic look” on her face.
Ishmael thinks the snow is beautiful because it was the snow that led him to this chance encounter with Hatsue. Given that he was unsuccessful in his attempts to talk to her before Kabuo’s trial, he might consider this car ride to be fate giving him a second chance to approach her. Hatsue’s “cryptic look,” however, shows that she does not consider the chance encounter to be a fortuitous one.
If the two of them were alone, Ishmael thinks, he’d like to ask Hatsue what she means by her expressionless look. Ishmael thinks about all the times he’s seen Hatsue throughout the years. The two can’t avoid running into each other in such a confined, small place, but they avoid any real interactions or communication. Still, despite their avoidance, and despite the fact that Hatsue is married and has children, Ishmael can’t help but feel that he’s “waiting” for her.
Ishmael continues to live in the past, refusing to let go of a decade-old failed relationship. This parallels the cynicism that he developed as a result of the war.
Finally, in the back of Ishmael’s car, Hatsue addresses Ishmael: “Kabuo’s trial, is unfair […].” She urges Ishmael to write about the unfairness in the paper. In an attempt to continue their dialog, Ishmael asks Hatsue to explain what she means by fair. Hatsue tells Ishmael that the trial is fueled by the islanders’ prejudice against the Japanese.
Hatsue wants Ishmael to write about the unfairness of Kabuo’s trial to present the public with a different, unbiased set of facts. Her request mirrors Ishmael’s father’s decision to publish stories that defended San Piedro’s Japanese population during WWII.
Ishmael sympathizes with Hatsue, but he ultimately believes the jury can reach the right verdict. At any rate, he adds, “sometimes I wonder if unfairness isn’t…part of things.” Hatsue interjects that she isn’t “talking about the whole universe,” but a small, concentrated instance of prejudice that is directly imposing unfairness onto her husband’s trial—something that can be fixed, in theory.
Ishmael’s comment that unfairness might be “part of things” affirms the role of fate in the novel, suggesting that there are things in the world that humanity will never be able to control or explain. Hatsue refuses to accept this, arguing that the trial’s unfairness isn’t a matter of chance; rather, the unfairness is the direct result of most everyone involved choosing to act on their prejudices. In other words, Ishmael may be right that some unfairness is unavoidable, but Hatsue points out that in many specific cases, humans still do have the power to make things more fair.
As Hatsue and Hisao leave his car, Ishmael thinks that he’s gained “an emotional advantage” over Hatsue because she wants him to write about the unfairness of Kabuo’s trial in his newspaper. He reflects on fate’s hand in Hatsue’s current predicament: her husband “was going out of her life in the same way he himself once had,” by forces beyond their control. Kabuo’s possible, even likely, imprisonment, Ishmael speculates, might change things between Hatsue and himself.
Ishmael dismisses the notion of publishing a story about the trial’s unfairness, forgoing his moral obligation to report facts in favor of advancing his own self-interest. Ishmael’s bitterness toward the breakup causes him to handle the situation in the opposite manner his father would have. What’s more, when Ishmael frames Kabuo’s possible imprisonment and his own breakup with Hatsue as the product of forces beyond their control, he ignores the role prejudice and choice play in both matters. Ishmael’s stance that fate governs all of life is his way of both coping with his misfortunes and excusing his cynicism and inability to exercise moral judgment.