Though he is dead throughout most of Snow Falling on Cedars, Carl is a major character in the novel. He embodies both the best and worst aspects of the white community on San Piedro. A physically strong, hardworking, and stoic man, Carl is San Piedro’s ideal citizen. He toils for his family’s welfare, keeps to himself, and has largely put the trauma of his war experiences behind him. In these respects, Carl is superior to Ishmael, Horace Whaley, Kabuo, and the many other San Piedro residents who are only marginal members of the community.
Though Carl clearly represents many ideals, he also exemplifies the frustrating passivity and closed-mindedness typical of San Piedro’s white residents. As we see in his conversations with Kabuo and Susan Marie, Carl has an unthinking and reflexive dislike of people of Japanese origin, even though he and Kabuo used to be close friends as youngsters. Furthermore, Carl is so stoic and emotionally isolated that even his wife feels she does not know him well. Even the other fishermen, ostensibly Carl’s closest brethren, feel distant from him.
Carl’s importance to the narrative extends beyond his contradictions. When Carl agrees to sell the seven acres of land to Kabuo, he becomes the first of the novel’s major characters to find the strength to put the past behind him. It is ironic, therefore, that almost immediately after Carl affirms the power of individual morality, he is killed by the most impersonal of forces: chance.