John Okada’s “No-No Boy” follows the story of Ichiro, a Japanese boy lost in a crisis of self-identity. The novel is set in Seattle, Washington, a time when a number of Japanese natives were being taken into camps for questioning about their loyalty to the USA. This was a crisis because it was extremely difficult for one to be loyal to a country that overtook their means of livelihood, and forced them to live in the internment camps. It was difficult for them to proclaim their loyalty to the country, leave alone serve in their military when so ordered. Ichiro was no different; he was stuck between seeing himself as either Japanese or American. In his quest to define the self, there was a crisis in identity between his native home and land in which he now settled. Reading the book, one notes that self-identity is not as easy to find when there are too many factors that control one’s societal interactions. This dissertation seeks to discern the manner with which the protagonist, Ichiro criticized the American dream and the vast racism that marred the society that surrounds him. It also seeks to uncover the manner with which he reconciles the American promise with his critique of the nation.
After the end of the World War II, numerous Japanese are returning home after serving their time in the battlefront and others sentences in jail for refusal to enlist in the draft. One such man, Ichiro is in search for acceptance in a community in which he was born. It was tough for him to comprehend why the country that called him its native treated him with such contempt and disapproval. He is thrilled when his mother has proof that their native country, Japan won the war, and they would soon go home. After years in the internment camps and federal prison, Ichiro has lost hope in the country that he has called home. He moves to the Japanese-American neighborhood, where he seeks to find his place in society. In the face of suffering ostracism from his community and his disdain towards his parents, it is difficult for the protagonist to stay true to himself.
After the end of the world war and release from prison, Ichiro worries that he will fall slave to his own decisions and be an outcast in the society that has provided for him in more ways than one. After self-loathing and discontent at the life he now leads, he learns to put aside his self-loathing and rediscover his sense of belonging in society. The postwar period was turmoil for the Japanese citizens because they were stuck between trying to declare their loyalty to the United States, and that of their country.
Ichiro vehemently critiques the ‘American Dream’ by stating that, in the quest to achieve it, it has taken his sense of self-worth, maturity, courage and self-knowledge. One of his critiques was that he could not answer the American’s questions without the feeling that he was abandoning his native heritage and belonging. He notes that the ease with which he could walk down the streets of Seattle has been replaced with anxiety and apprehension. He is rife with guilt guilt; his refusal to declare sole allegiance to America might show his disloyalty to the nation which he calls home. He criticizes the American dream stating that, instead of enjoying what the society has to offer, he is anxious and repentant of the wrong decisions he has made along the way.
Another critique of the American dream, he notes, is the diverse dissimilarity in the cultures of the two countries. America’s culture and heritage are quite different from that of his native country. The different American culture is opposed to the relativistic notion of diversity in culture hence all cultures are similar. Ichiro notes that there is no culture that is different from the other; hence different individuals have different senses of belonging. In Ichiro’s native country, different cultures are distinct in their own manner, and each has its own sense of belonging.
The manner with which some African American men taunt him, “Jap-boy, To-ki-yo; Jap-boy, To-ki-yo” makes him feel irreversibly foreign. This is the common attitude of the society towards the Japanese natives. He describes this taunt as ‘Persecution in the drawl of the persecuted’. The Japanese had no voice in society, a factor that led Ichiro’s criticism of the American dream. These ideologies, the ones that they could not represent were the same ideologies that held them down in the society. The Japanese inability to challenge the dominant ideologies to attain a status of social equity for their own racial group was a factor that led to Ichiro’s critique of a society that promised so much yet delivered so little to the Japanese natives. For the Americans to demand the loyalty of the Japanese yet alienate them from society was a paradox with which Ichiro could not come to terms.
The African Americans who criticized Ichiro used racism racist, a factor that he could not comprehend because they too were not natives of the land. As time passes and Ichiro discovers that his efforts to criticize the American dreams and society were futile, he resulted to conforming to the standards of the society. He walked along, searched, thought and probed as the society required of him, not as he so wished. He made a mental note that the American dream was elusive, and the insinuation of promise would take shape in more ways than one, only that this would take place in his heart and mind before the society provided him the American dream that he so desperately needs (256).
In the final paragraph of the novel, Ichiro reconciles hos critique of the American dream with the promise that was America. He does so by incorporating himself as part of the American society. He notes that it is futile to loathe a society in which he will participate and form a niche. It is his belief that if he thinks of himself as the slightest bit American, the American dream will appear, and he will have the chance to live, not as an outcast and a foreigner, but as a native of the nation.
This novel enlightens the reader and brings them into Ichiro’s world. In his desire to seek identity and form a bond with society, he ends up criticizing it for not offering the dreams and promises it had given to the Japanese foreigners. There was racism in the society in which he called home. This slowed down his quest of discovery and self-awareness. Ichiro desired to stay loyal to the American people, but he was guilt ridden by the idea that his loyalty meant that he was neglecting his original heritage. There are different factors that led to his survival in the American society and acceptance was one of them. Eventually, he came to see the American society as part of his life and began thinking of himself as some bit American. Despite the fact that his American dream was not realized, he eventually had some insight into his self-awareness quest. He was part of the American society and resisting it only results in futility.