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What does the title mean? What is “a gesture life”?
At two points in the novel, other characters criticize Doc Hata for living “a life of gestures,” and in both cases, the characters use the phrase to underscore Doc Hata’s inability to take direct action. The first example occurs near the end of Chapter 5, when Sunny accuses her adoptive father of “mak[ing] a whole life out of gestures and politeness.” Sunny understood from a young age that Doc Hata treasures his local reputation, which he has built through acts of goodwill. As an adoptee, she herself benefited from his goodwill, but as a young adult, she felt that his gestures of kindness also came with a burden of expectation that she could not live up to. Sunny’s accusation implies that, though Doc Hata’s reputation may appear to derive from kindness, it is actually a product of coercion. In this sense, then, the phrase “a gesture life” refers to a life constructed inauthentically.
The phrase “gesture life” returns in Chapter 12, when Captain Ono chastises Doc Hata for lacking a strong sense of self-possession. Ono knew that Doc Hata wanted to become a surgeon, but whereas a surgeon must have the confidence and skill to choose a course of action and pursue it unfalteringly, Ono sensed a great deal of hesitation in Doc Hata’s behaviors. Not only would such hesitation make Doc Hata a bad surgeon, but it also corrupted Doc Hata’s performance of masculinity and thereby undermined the superiority of Japanese language and culture. In this sense, Doc Hata’s inability to take direct and decisive action represented not just a personal shortcoming but also a point of weakness in the Japanese military effort. Though Ono’s words offended Doc Hata, he also understood that his superior officer had spoken justly. Later, conversing with K, he recognized that he had failed in his wish to make real contributions to public life and to “pass through with something more than a life of gestures.”
Why does Doc Hata insist that Renny and Liv get married as soon as possible?
Doc Hata insists that Renny and Liv waste no time in getting married because he regrets all of the times when he failed to act decisively in his closest relationships. By the point in the novel when Renny and Liv announce their engagement, the reader clearly understands that Doc Hata has a poor record when it comes to acting spontaneously out of love for other people. In his youth, he thought he loved the Korean comfort woman named K, but on multiple occasions, he refused to give the help she begged for, preferring instead to fantasize about what their life together might be like after the war. His inaction and self-focus resulted in her tragic rape and murder. Later, Doc Hata’s inability to communicate effectively and directly with Mary led to the dissolution of their relationship without him fully understanding why. Doc Hata also never found a way to communicate effectively with Sunny and repeatedly allowed her to run away from home without really fighting for her to stay.
All of these major failures to act decisively inspire Doc Hata to encourage Renny and Liv not to hesitate and to marry at once. When Liv responds to his enthusiasm by characterizing him as “a carpe diem sort of guy,” Doc Hata feels the painful irony her of pronouncement. Despite the various instances when he has attempted to focus on the present and treasure the here and now, Doc Hata knows that he has never been someone who truly “seizes the day.” He does not explain any of this to Renny and Liv. Instead, he packages his hard-earned knowledge in an impersonal way. He tells them: “There are those who would gladly give up all they have gained in the world to have relented just once when it mattered.” Of course, the reader knows that Doc Hata is really speaking from his own experience and that his advice to marry hastily stems from his deep well of personal regret.
What caused Doc Hata and Mary Burns to drift apart?
The relationship between Doc Hata and Mary Burns was uneven from the beginning. From the very first time they met, Mary made all the advances and took all the risks associated with beginning a new relationship. Although Doc Hata found Mary’s advances thrilling, he also had certain hang-ups that resulted in awkwardness and hesitation. For example, when Mary first came up to Doc Hata while he was working in his garden, he felt that her sudden approach violated norms of social distance to which members of the Bedley Run community implicitly agreed. He worked through his sense of surprise and felt charmed by this initial encounter. However, he remained awkward, leaving Mary to ask him to ask her on a date. Doc Hata showed similar hesitation on the day he helped Mary plant shrubs at her husband’s tomb. When she tried to initiate intimacy, his hang-ups got in the way, and he awkwardly avoided her advances.
Doc Hata’s hesitations served as early signs that their relationship wouldn’t work out, but the main reason they drifted apart relates to their divergent understandings of the parent–child relationship. They quarreled about Doc Hata’s approach to raising Sunny. Mary had taken it upon herself to spend time with Sunny and provide her with a female role model, but their relationship never blossomed. Although Mary felt hurt by this, the way Doc Hata let Sunny do whatever she wished was of greater concern. Another disagreement arises in Chapter 16, when Doc Hata describes a time when Mary felt upset that her daughter had asked how much Mary planned to leave her when she died. Whereas Mary felt aghast that her daughter could reduce their relationship to a matter of money, Doc Hata thought it a pragmatic question and could not relate to Mary’s emotional response. Mary found Doc Hata’s pragmatic view troubling for what it implied about his relationship with Sunny. Without explaining her disappointment, she simply left and let their relationship dissipate.