Introspection and Alienation in “No-No Boy”

Do you remember the feeling of returning to your hometown after just a semester of college? The sense of both everything and nothing being different was eerie to me. In No No Boy, John Okada conveys this feeling of detachment from the world and coming back to find everything transformed in subtle ways. The first couple chapters consist of Ichiro wandering around his hometown, feeling neither Japanese nor American, but 100% an outsider to his hometown, family, and country. The narrative style is mostly introspective, as much more is said through Ichiro’s thoughts than his actions. Okada writes Ichiro’s thoughts from a dejected and heartbroken perspective. These emotions are especially prominent when Ichiro visits his former professor.

The professor greets Ichiro saying “You’re Su…Suzu…no…Tsuji…,” immediately indicating to Ichiro that he is not as important to the professor as the professor is to him, and that he homogenizes all of his Japanese students (Okada 51). Following an impersonal and generic conversation where the professor urges him to go back to school because Ichiro hasn’t changed as much as he believes, Ichiro muses that “It was all wrong… It was seeing without meeting, talking without hearing, smiling without feeling” (Okada 52).

This quote articulates Ichiro’s emotions toward all of his interactions in the first couple chapters of No-No Boy; they permeate with feelings of not only loneliness, but also complete emptiness. When the professor greets Ichiro with a list of Japanese names while lying about remembering him, another connection from a former life completely fades away, revealing his insignificance. While it is never stated in the text, depression and alienation radiate from all of his thoughts.

Following the conversation, Ichiro agonizes over whose fault the failed conversation was, saying that he “reduces conversations to the inconsequential because Brown is of that life which [he has] forfeited and, forfeiting it, [has] lost the right to see and hear and become excited over things which are of that wonderful past” (Okada 52). Ichiro’s thoughts reflect a deep guilt and self- deprecation, shattering the model minority myth following World War II. Japanese men did not only feel alienated from American society, but also had real depression and mental health issues due to the trauma inflicted upon them simply due to their race. Okada’s point of view honors this perspective and brings it to life, creating an unflinchingly realistic point of view.

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Works Cited

Okada, John. No-No Boy. University of Washington Press, 2014.

2 thoughts on “Introspection and Alienation in “No-No Boy”

  1. I think Lily makes a very important and illuminating claim by connecting “depression with alienation.” When thinking of this connection the scene between Ichiro and Kenji driving immediately comes to my mind. Kenji is a fellow Japanese American. However, unlike Ichiro, Kenji fought in the war and lost his right leg as a result. During a discussion about his missing leg, Kenji reveals, “sometimes I think about killing myself” (Okada 56). He elaborates that his missing leg is not what bothers him, but rather the anticipation of losing “the eleven inches” left of his leg, and thus losing his life, is the real source of his depression. Due to an infection after amputation, it is only a matter of time before eleven inches becomes eight inches and finally becomes zero. Kenji has to learn to come to terms with his own body rejecting him on top of America rejecting him for his race. Yet, despite Kenji’s grief, Ichiro cannot help by think, “He would have given both legs to change places with Kenji” (Okada 55). Ichiro did not need to fight in the war to develop mental health problems, simply being Japanese, particularly one who answered “no,” is enough to inflict these illnesses. As Lily puts it, “Japanese men did not only feel alienated from American society, but also had real depression and mental health issues due to the trauma inflicted upon them simply due to their race.” Ichiro must grapple with the implications of being a “no-no boy” in a society that already hates the Japanese race. While one on hand, Ichiro was “strong and perfect” compared to Kenji, embodying the ideals of the model minority myth; but on the other hand, Ichiro was “only an empty shell” because he has chosen to reject American which is now in turn fully rejecting him (Okada 55). This is an idea Lily touches upon considering Ichiro has “feelings of not only loneliness, but also complete emptiness.” No matter the source of their trauma, both Ichiro and Kenji have “big problems, bigger than most people,” (Okada 59). This is no longer creates a friendly game of “how would you rather die” but rather a question of who has the greater will to live.

  2. Good post and analysis. These few paragraphs cover quite a wide section from our readings and are good deconstructions of the not-stated parts of Ichigo’s character.

    In your third paragraph, you stated that Ichigo seems to suffer from depression, despite this never being directly referenced in the text. And while the parts of Ichigo’s life that readers are given might lead them to believe this is true, I believe it’s more of a matter of an incomplete perspective.
    Meaning: We never get to see what Ichigo’s life was like BEFORE he was sent away. He often talks about how things are different during the introductory segment you spoke about in your first paragraph, which suggests that he liked things more before his internment period than how things are now. For all we know, Ichiro could have been a totally different person before the internment period, but the readers are never shown enough to know for sure.

    In short: Ichigo might BE depressed, but it’s not clear as to whether or not he HAS depression. We don’t get to see enough of his life to make that kind of judgment.

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