Sometimes, with so much going on around me, I forget to breathe. It is not human nature to stepback and evaluate our surroundings. Rather, often we overthink and circle round and round in our heads to try to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Just as my own thoughts are sometimes messy and jumbled, reading John Okada’s No-No Boy is a chaotic experience. While some parts read like a conventional novel, much of the first three chapters is made up of rambling, interminable paragraphs that lack proper punctuation. These paragraphs, which read like a stream of consciousness, pop up each time Ichiro tries to grapple with his identity; as American, as Japanese, as both or perhaps as neither.
In one particular instance, after visiting with his friend Freddie, a “no-no boy” like himself, Ichiro embarks upon one of these long-winded inner dialogues. After wondering for ten lines how his decision not to serve in the United States military will affect his life, he comes to the conclusion that eventually people will forget that he is a “no-no boy”. “And time would destroy the old Japanese who, living in America and being denied a place as citizens, nevertheless had become inextricably a part of the country which by its vastness and goodness and fairness and plentitude drew them into its fold, or else they would not have understood why it was that their sons, who looked as Japanese as they themselves, were not Japanese at all but Americans of the country America” (Okada 48). Ichiro goes on to decide, in another ten-line mess, that someday there will indeed be a place for him in the United States, only to decide in the next paragraph that the whole matter is hopeless.
The entire debate flowing through Ichiro’s head lasts almost a full page and the paragraph does not break. It is full of run on sentences, and feels incredibly chaotic. This chaos, however, gives the reader the ability to feel Ichiro’s inner turmoil.The number of adjectives he gives to America, the number of times he chooses to say the words America and Japanese, and the lack of breaks within the dialogue, show how fast Ichiro’s brain is working to understand what is happening to him. At the same time, they express his deep-rooted anxiety in his identity or lack thereof.
Access to Ichiro’s thoughts does not just tell the reader what is going on, it also allows them to empathize and gives them a lens through which they can see the narrative of the “no-no boy”. B2.
Okada, John. No-No Boy. University of Washington Press, 2014.