Being alone is the last thing I would wish for now, which is probably strange, given how I’ve conducted most all the days of my life. . . . I’ve known myself best as a solitary person, and although I’ve always been able to enjoy the company of others, I’ve seen myself most clearly when I’m off on my own.
In Chapter 4, while he’s recovering in the hospital from smoke inhalation, Doc Hata’s wandering mind offers fragmentary insight into several formative periods in his life and how they have affected his personal character. At this point in the chapter, he has just been thinking about Veronica Como, a candy striper whose daily visits cheer him up. Doc Hata has known Veronica since she was a child, when her father was killed in a shootout. Veronica clearly had a difficult childhood, and yet she still grew up to be a delightful and self-possessed young adult. Doc Hata wonders whether she turned out so well because her mother raised her right or because Veronica herself possessed certain intrinsic characteristics. These thoughts lead Doc Hata to contemplate his own personal characteristics and how they came to be. The characteristic he focuses on in this quotation relates to his self-identification as a solitary person.
For Doc Hata, his solitary nature has two competing sides that he’s tried to balance. On the one side, his individualism affords him a sense of clarity and freedom. Doc Hata tends to feel most himself when he’s alone, and that clarity enables him to move through his days according to his own whims. On the other hand, Doc Hata’s individualism contributes to a sense of loneliness. As he informs the reader immediately after this quotation, his one-time romantic interest Mary Burns derived her sense of identity from her social associations with others. This personality difference contributed to the dissolution of their relationship, leaving Doc Hata to return to the comfortable bachelorhood that he has never left since. But now that Doc Hata is retired and in his seventies, his life as a loner has grown wearisome. He wonders what all of his material and social achievements have been for if he can’t share them with anyone, and he recognizes a growing desire to find a kind of intimacy with others that he’s avoided for so long.