No-No Boy Analysis

  • No-No Boy tells the story of a first-generation Japanese American man named Ichiro who is imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. The historical basis of the novel allows Ichiro's experience to stand in for those of the other "No-No Boys" who refused to swear allegiance to the United States. This in turn gives the novel added social and historical significance.
  • No-No Boy is generally considered to be the first Asian American novel ever published. Since its original publication in 1957, it has gone on to become a classic of Asian American literature and is regularly taught in schools. It was re-released in 2014 with a foreword by Ruth Ozeki, bestselling author of A Tale for the Time Being.
  • John Okada wrote No-No Boy in the third person. The omniscient narrator primarily focuses on Ichiro, but readers are also granted access to the inner thoughts and feelings of the other characters, including Ichiro's parents. This point of view allows Okada to explore situations from many different angles.

Analysis

Society and Individual Identity

Okada uses Ichiro's personal journey to accept his "Americanness" as an allegory for the overall integration of Japanese Americans (and perhaps all immigrants) into American society. Ichiro and his contemporaries, like Okada and his, were forced to embark on this journey. In order to achieve personal identity, they had to accept themselves as both Japanese and American. Ichiro's struggle to do this and the identity crisis he suffers underscores the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of the task. Okada uses the death of several key characters to allude to the "death" of Japanese culture. He uses the notion of self-sacrifice to parallel the self-sacrifice that Japanese internees had to experience in order to feel accepted in American society. Through these themes, Okada reveals his opinion that reconciling the two cultures could never have occurred during this time in history, because in order to integrate into American society, these Japanese people had to renounce their Japanese heritage. The hatred that Okada's characters experience, both toward themselves and others, alludes to the overall atmosphere of hatred that existed during the war. The Japanese were the enemy, and any Japanese living in America had difficulty shaking that image.

Point of View

Though the novel is written in third person, from the perspective of Ichiro, readers gain clear insight into the thoughts and feelings of many other characters in the book, all of whom reveal their own perspectives of the wartime situation. Ichiro represents the Japanese Americans who chose not to fight for America and went to jail for their decision. Mike and Bull represent the Japanese-Americans who fought in the war and came to despise those who chose otherwise. Kenji represents the Japanese Americans who fought in the war but held no hostility against those who...

(The entire section is 773 words.)