Summary: Chapter 14

Doc Hata says that he sometimes forgets who he is and why he does the things he does. Sometimes he gets up in the middle of the night, dresses, and walks to town, hoping to determine what his ordinary actions mean. When he returns home, he thinks he sees a vision of K, wrapped in a black flag. He wants to think it’s her ghost haunting him, but he believes that the apparition is “unquestionably real.”

On one of these nights, they conversed, and she asked him if they would leave soon to travel to the places he told her about. Doc Hata wondered aloud why everyone but him wants to leave his house. He imagined that the house was some kind of metaphysical trap that would prevent K’s soul from passing on.

In the morning, K was gone. Doc Hata drew a bath, and as he sat in the scalding water, he felt like his flesh was dissolving. He wanted to remain in the hot water and pretend he existed outside of time and space. He explains that he didn’t long for innocence so much as “an erasure reaching back, a pre-beginning.” Yet he knows that such an erasure still sounds like innocence and that a person should consider both the positive and negative experiences that have shaped them. Even so, Doc Hata imagines himself leaping off a precipice.

He recalls that when he awoke in the infirmary after his fight with Captain Ono, K was watching over him. She said that she had seen the whole incident, and that Ono had asked her if he should shoot Doc Hata. She told him not to, and Ono made her promise that she would give her life for Doc Hata’s. Doc Hata said he’d protect her, but both he and K knew that he couldn’t in his current state.

Doc Hata asked her about her pregnancy, and she said Ono had lied about that. He asked to examine her to be sure. She undressed, he began to kiss her, and they had sex. Doc Hata couldn’t control himself, and K neither embraced him nor pushed him away. Afterward, they sat in silence. Looking back, Doc Hata reflects that for K he must have been nothing more than a symbol of the violence of the war itself, just presented with a “boy-face.”

Captain Ono arrived in a bright mood and embraced K. K looked at Doc Hata and gestured with her eyes toward a cabinet of surgical tools. He saw a scalpel in the drawer and realized K meant for him to take it and kill Ono. He took the scalpel and turned to find Ono facing him. But before Ono could attack Doc Hata, K stabbed Ono in the neck with another scalpel.

Doc Hata tried to comfort K by saying he would take her with him after the war, but she refused him. She said if he loved her, he should take Ono’s pistol and shoot her since she felt too afraid to do it herself. Doc Hata picked up the pistol, but he couldn’t kill K. Instead, he put the gun to the wound on Ono’s neck and fired. A lieutenant rushed in, and Doc Hata said Ono shot himself. The lieutenant indicated that Doc Hata would be the new head doctor and that he should go attend to Colonel Ishii, who had just called for his physician.

Doc Hata went out to the storeroom to fetch Ishii’s medication, and as he passed the door to the infirmary, he saw the lieutenant molesting K. She cut his face with the scalpel, and he punched her in the mouth. A sentry told Doc Hata to move along and not worry about the incident, and he carried on to Ishii’s hut to administer the colonel’s medication.

When Doc Hata returned, the infirmary was empty. He went to the comfort house and asked Mrs. Matsui if she had seen K, and she said the lieutenant had taken her to the clearing. Doc Hata ran toward the clearing, and on the way encountered a group of nearly thirty men in various states of undress, flecked with dirt and blood. He saw the lieutenant wipe blood from his saber.

Almost completely senseless, Doc Hata went into the clearing to find K’s body.

Analysis: Chapter 14

The apparition of K that Doc Hata describes as periodically appearing in his house at night symbolizes a deeply held grief that reaches from his past into his present. Doc Hata insists that K’s apparition is not a ghost and that she has an “unquestionably real” presence. Even so, her reappearance in his life several decades after their last meeting clearly suggests that she haunts him like a ghost. In many cultures, ghosts are occult figures who remain trapped between realms, barred from a peaceful afterlife due to unfinished business. Doc Hata implicitly acknowledges this traditional wisdom when he worries that his house is a kind of trap that prevents K’s spirit from moving on. What seems more likely in this case, however, is that Doc Hata himself continues to feel regret and guilt about what happened with K and that he has conjured her image because he has unfinished business. Thus, if K’s presence feels more real than ghostlike, it may be because the painful memories surging into the present from the past belong to Doc Hata rather than to K.

The painful memories about K that have flooded into Doc Hata’s present awareness cause yet another instance where he longs to forget the past altogether. Following the departure of K’s apparition, Doc Hata draws himself a bath. While he sits in the very hot water he fantasizes that all time and space disappear and that his own flesh dissolves into the void. The scalding water symbolizes for him a kind of metaphysical sanitizer that could reach into the past and eradicate all impurities. These thoughts resemble earlier moments in the novel when Doc Hata wanted to stop time. Yet Doc Hata’s current thoughts also amplify his previous feelings considerably since now he not only wants time to stop, but he also longs for his body to dissolve into a “pre-beginning,” as if he had never existed at all. The pain of the past feels so intense that Doc Hata imagines leaping from a precipice rather than facing his own demons. But even as he fantasizes about dissolving into the nothingness of innocence, the past resurfaces and brings Doc Hata face to face with the most traumatic experience of his life.

As he recalls his final interactions with K, Doc Hata confronts how his own youthful naïveté contributed to her suffering. The key scene here occurred after he woke up from a concussion and had sex with K for a second time. Whereas after their first sexual encounter Doc Hata ignored K’s sobbing and focused on his own feelings of elation, after their second encounter, he felt wracked with guilt. He realized that all of his expressions of hope and love “amounted to a complete and utter fraudulence.” What he’d really felt when he thought he loved K was nothing more than sexual desire. For a long time, he’d convinced himself that such desire was below him, hence his frequent claim not to have a particular interest in prostitutes and pornography. Yet at this moment, he faced the truth that his beliefs about love were naïve. He also faced the truth that what he experienced as joyful and liberating, K experienced as an extension of the misery of war and the abuse she had already endured.

Despite a newfound desire to take more direct action in his life, when K asked Doc Hata to help her commit suicide, he refused and indirectly caused her to die a gruesome and terrifying death. After Ono’s criticism that he persistently failed to take direct action, Doc Hata imagined himself striving to live “more than a life of gestures.” He felt even more strongly about this following his realization that his sexual advances caused K pain and were not received as the comforting gestures he imagined them to be. Yet when K asked Doc Hata for the third time if he would help end her misery, he once again balked at her request due to his own fear. Doc Hata’s failure to help K die a painless death indirectly led to a far more horrific end, when a gang of soldiers raped her repeatedly before murdering her. In spite of Doc Hata’s personal commitment to act decisively and take full responsibility for his behavior, at the time, he still failed to see how he played a crucial role in the events that led to K’s death and indirectly fed “the all-consuming engine of war.”