One other man, Alexander Van Ness, also affects Kabuo’s fate. Van Ness is a typical San Piedro islander: a local boat builder who works with his hands, not a lawyer or newspaper editor who works with words. Yet the stubborn Van Ness refuses to condemn Kabuo without proof. Van Ness demonstrates that the mainstream white community of San Piedro does have a conscience after all and that one individual’s morality can prevent the community from committing yet another injustice.
The new evidence Ishmael presents sends a shockwave through the community, forcing the islanders to accept that Kabuo does not in fact fulfill their worst stereotypes of the Japanese, and that their ideal citizen, Carl Heine, merely died in an accident. This revelation leaves the islanders unable to justify or rationalize Carl’s death. There is no discernable reason for Carl’s death—it is the result of pure chance, just like the storm that rages over San Piedro during the trial. In the final lines of the novel, Guterson writes that chance rules the universe and suggests that acceptance of this fact is what allows individuals and communities to survive and prosper. Guterson implies that individuals have a choice over their actions. Just as Van Ness stands up for his beliefs, Ishmael puts his selfishness behind him and acts responsibly, and Kabuo and Carl resolve their differences. A community, an island, even an entire world, though buffeted by the storms of chance, can still perform individual acts of love and justice. Though storms that cloak silent cedars in snow are inevitable, the storms of envy, hatred, prejudice, and war are not.