No Longer Human Summary
No Longer Human is an I-novel by Osamu Dazai detailing Oba Yozo’s lifelong struggles with alienation, abuse, and self-acceptance.
- At college, Yozo meets Horiki, a sensualist who introduces him to worldly pleasures.
- Yozo spends the night with Tsuneko, and they form a suicide pact from which only Yozo survives.
- Expelled from college, Yozo relocates to a bar in Kyobashi and meets Yoshiko, a young girl who supports his sobriety.
- Shortly after their marriage, Yozo relapses and witnesses Yoshiko being sexually assaulted.
- Yozo’s addiction worsens, and after being discharged from a mental institution, he settles in the country.
Last Updated on August 23, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1215
No Longer Human is an I-novel centered on Oba Yozo, a depressive young man who feels negatively differentiated by his self-concept, social anxiety, and experiences with sexual abuse, poverty, addiction, and suicide. The story is bookended by an unnamed narrator who knows Yozo exclusively through photographs and notebooks. In the prologue, the narrator comments on the grotesquely empty expressions that Yozo wears in the photographs.
As a child, Yozo’s self-perception is that he is different from the people around him. He confesses to never having felt the sensation of hunger and being baffled by certain social behaviors. Feeling that he is unable to understand even basic human motivations, Yozo feels threatened by other people. He fabricates a comedic persona in order to mediate his interactions with other people.
One night before his father’s monthly stay in Tokyo, he and his siblings are gathered together in the parlor. Their father asks them what presents they would like, jotting down their answers in a notebook. Not wanting anything but also too afraid to disappoint his father, Yozo is unable to give an answer. His father suggests a lion dance mask, though eventually his patience and good humor both evaporate when Yozo meets him with silence. Yozo, fearing his father’s wrath, searches in the night for his father’s notebook to make a last-minute addition, reinstilling some cheer in his father.
Despite his comedic social exterior, Yozo explains that his real self is the very opposite of comic. He strongly implies that he is being sexually abused by the maids and manservants, but he does not believe that telling anybody would make any difference.
In high school, a student named Takeichi verbalizes that one of Yozo’s comedic pratfalls is a deliberate blunder. Fearing that Takeichi will out him as a fraud, Yozo tries to befriend him. One rainy day, Yozo successfully drags Takeichi to his house for shelter. Yozo cleans Takeichi’s ears, which have become infected from the rain. Takeichi awkwardly compliments Yozo, telling him that many women will fall for him.
Takeichi brings a reproduction of a self-portrait by van Gogh, calling it “the picture of a ghost.” Intrigued, Yozo shows Takeichi a book of Modigliani reproductions, which delights Takeichi. Yozo experiences an epiphany: through honesty, art can be used to paint the dark and damaged side of human beings. He begins producing a number of self-portraits, which he shows to nobody but Takeichi, who prophesies that Yozo will become a great painter in the future.
Though Yozo wants to go to art school, his father enters him into a college in Tokyo to train as a civil servant. Yozo, more often than not, chooses to cut classes to read, paint, or go to an art class in Hongo. In art class, he meets Horiki, a sensualist who initiates Yozo into the pleasures of alcohol, tobacco, and prostitutes. He also drags Yozo to a clandestine Communist meeting, which Yozo starts attending regularly out of affection for its atmosphere.
At the end of Yozo’s term in Tokyo, his father sells the house. Yozo is subsequently relocated to a lodging house, whereupon he discovers that he has no ability to independently manage his finances. He resorts to pawnshops and begging through letters, but still, the money quickly disappears. The school then notifies his father of Yozo’s truancy, and Yozo receives a letter from his elder brother, who warns him about his poor behavior.
At this point, he meets a hostess named Tsuneko at a cafe in Ginza. After treating Yozo to some liquor and bad sushi, she takes him to where she lives. Tsuneko’s palpable misery arouses Yozo’s sympathy, and they share a night that makes Yozo feel happy. Uncomfortable with the possibility of “great joys,” however, Yozo abandons Tsuneko.
A month later, he returns to the cafe with the drunken freeloader Horiki. Horiki initially plans to kiss Tsuneko but is repulsed by her poverty-stricken appearance upon a closer look. Yozo is moved by sympathy for Tsuneko, and he drinks until he falls unconscious. The next morning, he wakes up in Tsuneko’s room, where Tsuneko proposes a double suicide. Yozo easily assents. They throw themselves into the sea together, but Yozo survives.
Yozo’s suicide attempt enrages his family, but Yozo thinks only of Tsuneko. After being discharged from the hospital, he is interrogated by the police. He telephones a man nicknamed Flatfish, a subordinate of his father’s, to guarantee him. The police then take him to the district attorney to be examined, where he fakes coughing up blood. The district attorney sees through Yozo’s act, giving Yozo flashbacks of Takeichi. Yozo is wretched with embarrassment.
Yozo is expelled from college and moves into Flatfish’s home, where he is forbidden from leaving. When Flatfish asks Yozo what he wants to do, Yozo replies that he wants to be a painter. The next morning, Yozo runs away to Horiki’s home, where he is received unsympathetically. There he meets Shizuko— a widow who allows Yozo to live with her and her daughter, and gives him work as a cartoonist. His worsening depression eventually leads him to walk away from Shizuko and take up residence at a bar in Kyobashi.
At a cigarette shop, he meets the young and virginal Yoshiko, who convinces him to sober up. They marry and enjoy a brief domestic idyll. However, their happiness is shortly curtailed by visits from Horiki, who causes Yozo to relapse into alcoholism. One night, while playing a game of categorizing nouns as “comic” or “tragic,” Horiki and Yozo witness Yoshiko being sexually assaulted by an acquaintance. The incident reduces Yoshiko to a timid and anxious wreck. Eventually, Yozo ingests a box of sleeping pills and is hospitalized. After being discharged, his deteriorating physical condition prompts him to seek a pharmacy, where he acquires some medicine and morphine. He is assured that morphine is no worse than alcohol, but he quickly develops a terrible addiction to the drug. The dependence causes his debt to skyrocket, and he is reduced to begging to borrow more doses of morphine. Unable to endure it any further, he writes to his father for help with his addiction. He is visited by Flatfish and Horiki instead, who check him into a mental institution. After Yozo is discharged, he finds out his father has passed away. He moves to the country to convalesce under the watch of an older woman hired by his brother.
The epilogue is narrated by the same unnamed figure who described the photographs of Yozo in the prologue. The narrator explains that on a trip to visit an old friend, he ran into an old acquaintance—the madam of a bar in Kyobashi he had visited before the war. Although the narrator had never known Yozo, the madam gave him the notebooks and photographs Yozo had sent her. The next day, the narrator requested to borrow the notebooks, which he had stayed up all night reading. The madam agreed, and the narrator asked if reading Yozo’s notebooks had made her cry. She replied that they hadn’t and that she had simply thought humans were useless when they turned out like Yozo. Nevertheless, she believed Yozo was a good boy.