In John Okada's No-No Boy, what is behind Ichiro's decision?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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John Okada is a World War II veteran. His novel No-No Boy begins after World War II has ended and relates the struggles of Ichiro, a Japanese American substantially affected by the war and his decision not to pledge his allegiance to the United States which would have required him to forsake his Japanese roots. He was not prepared to reject his heritage, conflicted and confused by his loyalty to family and country which influenced his decision. This means that, during the war, after internment camp, he is forced to spend two years in prison and face the contempt of many, changing his outlook and his life forever. 

The term "no-no boy" was coined during WWII and relates to the identification of those men loyal to the United States and those who, by replying "no" to questions 27 and 28 on a questionnaire presented to them, apparently proved themselves to be disloyal to the United States, for which they were imprisoned. The novel reveals the effect that the decision had on so many Japanese Americans who made the same decision as Ichiro and replied "no" and those who answered "yes," and chose to fight, like Kenji, Ichiro's friend, who lost a leg and, ironically, would willingly swap places with Ichiro.

Ichiro now has to try to reintegrate into a society which has little or no respect for him and which let him down. Ichiro faces hostility and mistrust from those Japanese Americans who did serve in the war and feels that his domineering mother is to blame for what he now considers to have been the wrong decision, although any decision he may have made would not have resolved his inner conflict. Despite living in America for thirty-five years and having been born there, his parents, and especially his mother, are staunchly Japanese, speak very little English and this largely influenced his original decision. Ichiro feels that he was weak in making his decision, especially after learning about other men who lost their lives in fighting for the United States. Ichiro must learn to accept his decision and forgive himself and others including his country if he is ever to move forward.

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