Summary: Chapter 5

Doc Hata recalls an incident when Sunny provoked Sally Como’s anger. Sally had parked her patrol car outside of Sunny Medical Supply, and Sunny sat on the hood, waiting for her to come out of the deli where she was buying lunch. Sally returned and ordered Sunny to get off. She reprimanded Sunny for her bad attitude and consistently irresponsible behavior. Sally also accused her of staying out at night “with all kinds of sleazy men,” including a local delinquent named Jimmy Gizzi who’d been known to sell cocaine to local high schoolers.

Doc Hata looked on as Sally publicly scolded his daughter, not knowing what to do. As tensions rose, Sally baited Sunny. She said that Jimmy, who she’d recently arrested, told her how “generous” Sunny had been with all the guys at his house. Sunny cursed Sally, and Doc Hata stepped in to break up the argument.

After Sally left, Sunny confessed to Doc Hata that she had been spending her weekends at Jimmy’s house and not going to the city with her friends as she’d told him. Doc Hata asked her if she’d been sexually active. She said yes, but then she rejected his concerns, accusing him of only caring about whether she’d hurt his reputation. Doc Hata responded that there was nothing wrong with being respected and admired, but Sunny insisted that the people of Bedley Run only heeded his words because he constantly performed gestures that made everyone feel like they owed him something.

With his authority rejected, Doc Hata told Sunny she could no longer stay in his house.

Summary: Chapter 6

Doc Hata didn’t see Sunny for three weeks, at which point he decided to visit Jimmy Gizzi’s house on the edge of town. The house looked decrepit, and as he approached, he could tell that there were many people inside. He encountered two young men on the front lawn, sitting on a sofa and smoking marijuana. Doc Hata asked if they knew Sunny, and the men indicated that she was in the house with everyone else.

Doc Hata entered the house and noticed that many of the people dancing inside were black and Puerto Rican, and though heartened by the display of diversity, he also wondered whether Sunny was only living with people of color.

Doc Hata didn’t see Sunny anywhere. He wandered through the house and looked into rooms. In one room he saw two people having sex in a bed, and he thought he saw Sunny. He approached the bed, and only once he got close and interrupted the couple did he realize it wasn’t Sunny. Relieved, he retreated from the room and stepped out of the house.

Outside, he suddenly remembered when he was young man stationed in Singapore, awaiting orders for deployment. He recalled a night when he and two friends, Lieutenants Enchi and Fujimori, approached a house of prostitution. Doc Hata had voiced his objections, saying he was not fond of women who were prostitutes, though he’d previously made secret visits to a prostitute named Madame Itsuda.

As they approached the house, they found a group of soldiers crowded around a young woman who had thrown herself out the window and broken her neck. This was the first dead person Doc Hata had ever seen, and he and his fellow medics took her inside the house and prepared her body. Later that night, he ran into another young prostitute who was trying to escape the house. Doc Hata grabbed her, and though she pleaded with him to let her go, he held tight until a towel-clad officer came and took her back to his room.

Doc Hata thought about this girl as he walked around to the front of Jimmy Gizzi’s house. The two young men were still on the sofa, and one indicated that Sunny was in the loft above the garage. Doc Hata climbed the stairs and found Sunny there with two men: Jimmy and a black man named Lincoln Evans. Doc Hata didn’t announce himself but watched in the shadow as Sunny danced without music. Lincoln began to kiss Sunny’s body as Jimmy took cocaine and began to fondle himself. Doc Hata left.

Analysis: Chapters 5–6

Sunny’s accusation that Doc Hata lives a life composed of gestures offers a clue to the meaning of the novel’s title, A Gesture Life. Sunny understood from a young age that her adoptive father treasures his good reputation, which he has built through acts of goodwill. As an adoptee, she herself benefited from his goodwill, but she also felt that his gestures of kindness came with a burden of expectation that she couldn’t live up to. Thus, when she accused Doc Hata of living a life of gestures, she implied that, though his reputation may appear to derive from kindness, it is actually a product of coercion. The reader can see the legitimacy of Sunny’s evaluation with regard to the way Doc Hata interacted with Sally Como when she confronted Sunny in the street. When he finally interrupted the argument between Sally and Sunny, Doc Hata convinced Sally to drop it by leveraging their friendship, which was established when he helped her get a job on the police force. Just as Sunny said, Doc Hata’s gestures of kindness come with a burden of expectation and hence give him power over others—power that he used here to get Sally to back down.

Doc Hata’s reaction to the black and Puerto Rican partygoers at Jimmy Gizzi’s house reveals a subtle racism. As he explained in Chapter 1, in its early days, Bedley Run boasted a diverse array of citizens. Yet as the town grew into an affluent suburb, the township has increasingly displaced people of color, who now seem to live largely in the poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. Doc Hata’s surprised reaction initially seems celebratory, indicating a sense of gladness that Bedley Run has managed to hold on to some of its previous diversity. But immediately following his affirmative comment on the diversity of the crowd, he wondered whether Sunny, who had been staying there for the past three weeks, was living with only with people of color like those present. Although he doesn’t verbally expand on this thought, his sudden flash to the possibility that Sunny might not be surrounded by wealthy white Americans does incite a new sense of urgency in his search for his daughter, implying an underlying racism that Doc Hata likely absorbed from the rest of the Bedley Run community.

The comments about prostitution that Doc Hata made to his friends when stationed in Singapore reveal a hypocritical aspect of his personality. Doc Hata told Enchi and Fujimori that he was “not fond of women who are prostitutes.” His careful choice of words implies that Doc Hata’s objection to prostitution related to the way the profession tainted the honor of the women who belonged to it. Although the profession is technically distinct from the woman, the woman who chooses to perform the job nonetheless corrupts herself. Thus, Doc Hata doesn’t dislike prostitution per se, but he does dislike “women who are prostitutes.” Doc Hata’s wording intentionally misled Enchi and Fujimori into believing that he didn’t consort with prostitutes, even though he confesses to the reader that he had visited a woman named Madam Itsuda on multiple occasions. Doc Hata recognized the contradiction between his social reputation and his sexual desire. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve his reputation and avoid charges of hypocrisy, he lied about his sexual desires and history.

The encounters Doc Hata had with two prostitutes on his night out with Enchi and Fujimori foreshadow many of the experiences he will have with women throughout the rest of his life. Most obviously, these encounters foreshadow the story he will tell about K, a Korean comfort woman he met while stationed in Burma. Just as the young Korean prostitute begged Doc Hata to help her get away, K (also Korean) will repeatedly implore Doc Hata to help her commit suicide. And just as Doc Hata stopped the girl and returned her to her client’s custody, so too will he refuse to help K, which will lead to her tragic death. In this regard, the prostitute who jumped to her death also strongly foreshadows Doc Hata’s experience with K. Yet this dead woman also ominously foretells the fates of a number of other women whom Doc Hata will see die during his lifetime, including Mary Burns, Anne Hickey, and even Sunny’s aborted child, which Sunny imagines as a girl.