Student Question

Which characters in "No-No Boy" represent the five stages of grief?

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The five stages of grief were originally created to chart the emotions of terminally ill patients, but can also be applied to any situation which is emotionally charged and focused on loss. The first stage is that of denial. The subject cannot deal with reality and so denies that anything bad will happen. The second stage involves anger, including frustration and the levying of blame. The third stage sees the subject attempting to bargain with the situation in an attempt to restore hope. The fourth stage finds the subject mired in depression, an "I don't care attitude" and a recognition that nothing can be done to change things. Finally, the subject comes to accept the situation and the inevitability of the future.

In John Okada's novel No-No Boy the protagonist, Ichiro, goes through several of these stages, yet it is possible to assign individual characters within the novel as being stuck in certain stages. The most obvious might be Ichiro's mother, Mrs. Yamada, who is heavily in denial over the outcome of the war. She carries with her a letter from South America indicating that Japanese ships will soon come to America to take home those who stayed loyal to Japan during the war. She ignores letters with pleas for help from her family who are suffering in the deplorable conditions in post-war Japan. She even looks to show off her son as one who stayed loyal to the cause to other deniers. Eventually, she is unable to come to terms with reality and commits suicide.

Ichiro's friend Freddie, another no-no boy, is representative of sheer anger over his plight. He has come home from prison before Ichiro but is stuck in a meaningless life where he speaks of "just livin'" but is never able to move past his rage at the system which has rendered him a pariah in his community. His anger comes to a brutal ending in the novel's climax as he is beaten by Bull, a Nisei like Freddie and Ichiro, who did serve his country in the war and prejudicially looks down on those who wouldn't agree to the oath of loyalty to America. 

Ichiro's father, Mr. Yamada, is in the stage of bargaining. While he understands that Japan has lost the war he goes along with his wife and tries to make the most of things by tending to the store and imploring his son to go out, have a good time and not worry about what will happen. Unfortunately, he has become a terrible alcoholic and is in a fit of drunkenness when his wife commits suicide.

Ichiro himself best represents the stage of depression. For most of the novel he feels he is helpless in his regret over his actions. He is powerless to move past the weight he feels he is carrying. He is immediately reminded of his decision by Eto, who spits on him, upon returning to Seattle. Even his brother Taro sets him up to be beaten by those who despise the no-no boys. It is only through characters such as Kenji, Emi and Mr. Carrick that Ichiro sees that there may be acceptance in his future. 

Finally, Kenji, who is slowly dying from the effects of a war wound, has accepted his fate. He methodically prepares for his death by setting up Ichiro with Emi, a girl he certainly is in love with and does not want to leave lonely. He spends one of his last nights at home with his family and leaves before anyone can become emotional over his situation. He does his best to console his father in preparing for the inevitable. When Ichiro is pulled over in a small town on the way to Portland for speeding, Kenji assumes responsibility, and in a bit of defiance, tears up the resulting speeding ticket because he knows he is dying. He also arranges for his own burial rather than being a burden to his father and family.

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