Yozo, the narrator and the only developed character in this semiautobiographical novel, the morbidly insecure son of a cold landowner and Diet member from northern Japan. Although he is a “brain” who did well in school with little effort, he felt isolated, uncomprehending of others’ behavior and convinced that he was “not qualified as a human being” (this phrase is a literal translation of the novel’s title). He had been sexually abused by servants; out of fear, he acted the clown as a schoolboy. Sent to college in Tokyo, he neglects his studies, attending art classes and meeting a painter/roué, Horiki Masao, who introduces him to tobacco, drink, and prostitutes. Yozo becomes involved with an unhappy bar hostess whose husband is in prison, and he attempts suicide with her. The incident estranges him from his family. After staying briefly with one of his father’s subalterns, he runs away, living as a “kept man” with Shizuko, a widow who works for a publisher and finds him commissions drawing cartoons. As his drinking worsens, he decides that she and her daughter were better off without him. After a year with a bar madam, he meets and marries Yoshiko, a trusting tobacco shop girl. They enjoy quiet happiness until Horiki reappears and leads him back to dissolute ways. One evening, Horiki discovers that Yoshiko is being raped but cruelly brings Yozo to see rather than helping her. Thereafter, Yozo’s decline is swift, involving alcohol, another suicide attempt, tuberculosis, morphine addiction, and commitment to a mental institution. The story ends with him confined in a dilapidated rural house and being tended to by an ugly old woman. In the last years of the narrative, he repeatedly gives his age as twenty-seven, evidence of insanity. Although Yozo’s morbid fear of “human beings” seems wildly exaggerated at the story’s outset, it is justified by the end.
Flatfish, an old functionary of...
(The entire section is 808 words.)