The portrait of San Piedro that emerges is complex and often ugly. Horace’s envy of Carl’s penis and the fishermen’s wariness toward Ishmael both suggest deep-rooted tension even within San Piedro’s white community, in addition to the tension between the whites and the Japanese. Horace, with his damaged nerves, and Ishmael, with his amputated arm, are acutely aware of their inferior status in the community relative to Carl. Horace and Ishmael are passive members of society, whereas Carl, a handsome war hero and hard worker, was an active one, fulfilling the San Piedro ideal. Horace and Ishmael feel marginalized because they are not ideal community members. Yet we learn that the Japanese have an even lower status in the community and are often treated as lesser citizens by its white residents.

Additionally, in this section we begin to see how firmly Ishmael is entrenched in the past. Though Ishmael’s look back on his past in Chapter 4 is completely understandable, since it is brought about by his reflection on growing up with Carl Heine, he dwells on his youth more than we might expect. Guterson hints that Ishmael felt compelled to follow in his father’s journalistic footsteps and now worries about living up to his father’s reputation for integrity and accuracy. Ishmael also dwells on his amputated arm—a defect that, as we begin to see, is a physical counterpart to the emotional void that exists in his life.