The novel “A Gesture Life” by Lee Chang-rae demonstrates complex relations of main characters – Doc and Sunny – during the process of their maturation. In order to make the process more appealing and exciting the author introduces the elements of water and fire to represent symbolically the characters of Doc and Sunny and their relations. Water and fire are opposing elements, but the author shows they can exist side by side. Doc and Sunny are provided with aquatic and fiery qualities to show readers the possibility of peaceful coexistence between personalities with opposing minds, ideas and views on future.
Doc and Sunny: Water and Fire From the very first chapters of the novel the author provides links between Doc and water and between Sunny and fire. The author shows that Doc is associated with water partly due to the fact that he is fond of swimming. Therefore, he is naturally acclimatized to water: “So now I begin my swim the way I always do, taking a shallow dive from the far side and gliding underwater for much of the first length”.
(p. 22) We see that Doc feels comfortable in water and has certain experience in swimming pool.
However, sometimes he feels disoriented and that symbolizes his questionable nature. However, Doc is related with water element not simply due to his love for swimming. Doc is entailed with personal traits being attributed to water. For example, in Asian philosophy Doc would be associated with Yin as he is quiet, cold and passive. We see that these characteristics are inherent to Doc’s lifestyle and personality as he is stoic and he allows events to happen not bothering the reasons or consequences they may have on his life.
I can even say that in certain occasions he seems to be lazy.
For example, he has been provided with chance to save K from misery, but he prefers not to take measures. Further, water is cold and Doc is cold and emotionless as well. For example, in Bedley Run he doesn’t seem to be disappointed when his relationships with Mary Burns and Sunny have spoiled. Moreover, Doc is very quiet and he prefers not to draw people’s attention to his personality. When Sunny is harassed in front of Doc’s shop, he simply watches and says nothing to defend Sunny: “I felt I was witnessing a staged accident”. (p.
85) I think that the most important Doc’s characteristic associated with water is his ability to change in order to comfort anything. Water is provided with property to form around any shape. Water is an assenting force and the author shows that Doc is also assenting human being. Throughout the novel progression Doc tends to form his personality around other people. It means that he prefers to follow others loosing his personal traits, desires and ideas. For example, in Bedley Run Doc shows he is the same as others buying perfect house in ideal neighborhood.
Moreover, he changes his name not to make people ask about Asian roots. Mary Burns is the only character in the novel who dares to accuse Doc of being too flexible and congenial. Mary is upset as Doc treats Sunny badly, but later she is really infuriated seeing that Doc isn’t going to defend: “’For goodness sake, Franklin, you don’t always have to assent! ‘ she said, her voice suddenly rising”. (p. 60) Sunny is presented as fire due to her passionate nature. Despite the fact the author doesn’t provide her name with symbolic meaning, she definitely shows throughout the novel that Sunny’s name indicates her true personality.
Sunny’s character is opposing to Doc’s as she is passionate and sometimes unbalanced. However, the author doesn’t present Sunny to oppose Doc’s aquaphilia. When Doc is swimming, Sunny is sunbathing. Following Asian philosophy, Sunny represents the Yang being associated with the power of the Sun and fire. Sunny is characterized by activity, sound and heat. Whereas Doc is quiet and reserved, Sunny is active enjoying meetings with friends, going to parties and staying at Gizzi’s house.
Doc speaks soft and Sunny speaks loud and expressive. Sunny contrasts Doc’s water qualities as she is fiery and tries to fight obstacles rather then to avoid or to comfort them. She is provided with strong character as she even dares to provoke a verbal fight with Officer Como in front of Doc’s shop. Doc is consent, but Sunny doesn’t, as she tries to burn down her opposition. She manages to be promoted to managerial position in store and she enjoys living in the upper-class section of the city.
Generally, Sunny and Doc represent their elemental qualities in society as in such situation they have the opportunity to juxtapose their characters. It is hardly imaginable that Sunny and doc inhabit the same place as in society they always have disputes either verbal or silent. For example, sunny used to play piano being a child and Doc doesn’t want to sell it hoping Sunny will enjoy it again. However, sunny disagrees saying she never liked to play it and did simply because doc forced her. In this dispute the author shows that fire can’t be pushed around as it is hard to control.
In certain situations Doc acts as water – he tries to clams down Sunny’s fire, but his efforts simply sizzle it more: “Soon enough the fire is burning fiercely with the sheaves of papers, as too much goes in at once, the flames nearly dying out from the smothering; but then, in a combustive rush they begin leaping up and out”. (p. 25) When water tries to calm down fire, these two elements can coexist as when Sunny was young Doc took care of her feeling obliged. Conclusion Throughout the novel the author shows symbolically relations between Doc and water, and Sunny and fire.
The novel offers enough evidence to prove that heroes are provided with elements to reveal their personalities and views on life. Both Doc and sunny represent the elements described in Asian philosophy. Moreover, they are the only Asian characters in Bedley Run. Relations between characters show that they are water and fire or yin and yang. Doc and Sunny tend to balance each other chaotically and will continue to fight till both surrender and find peace.
Lee, Chang-rae. A Gesture Life. New York: Riverhead books, 1999.