Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In the Japanese style of autobiographical fiction, readers expect to see a portrait of the author, and Osamu Dazai provided in Yozo an artfully contrived view of himself, his problems, and his outlook on life. Yozo is highly sensitive to beauty and pleasure, and one of the circumstances of life which gives him most pain is the dull, prosaic aspect of things in the world. As a child, he was fascinated by the beauty and poetry of bridges and subway trains until he discovered that they were constructed for strictly utilitarian purposes.

What causes Yozo the most pain is the greed, insincerity, and hypocrisy of humans. He has a dread of other people and adopts a mask of camaraderie and extroversion, although he is constantly afraid that someone will discover his real self. He comes to a gradual realization that the rules and regulations of society have a cold and cruel logic. He sees that society actually consists of each individual, and survival means being victorious in a series of conflicts between individuals. Virtue and vice were invented by humans for a morality also invented by humans. He further becomes aware that he is attracted to the disorganized and somewhat silly Communist meetings because of the irrationality of the students involved. For Yozo, this irrationality and the possibility of going to jail are preferable to the dread “realities of life” found in society at large.

Yozo has a vague awareness that drink, tobacco, and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Keene, Donald. “Dazai Osamu and the Burai-ha,” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era, 1984.

Lyons, Phyllis. The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations, 1985.

O’Brien, James A. Dazai Osamu, 1975.

Rimer, J. Thomas. “Dazai Osamu: The Death of the Past,” in Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions, 1978.

Ueda, Makoto. “Dazai Osamu,” in Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, 1976.