No No Boy Summary and Study Guide

John Okada

No No Boy

  • 34-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 11 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with a Master's degree in English
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No No Boy Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 34-page guide for “No No Boy” by John Okada includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 11 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Prejudice in Pluralistic America and Intergenerational Divides.

Plot Summary

The novel dramatizes thestruggles of twenty-five-year-old Ichiro Yamada as he returns home after two years spent in prison. Ichiro is a no-no boy, meaning that in response to the 1943 questionnaire entitled “Statement of U.S. Citizenship of Japanese American Ancestry,” he answered no to questions 27 and 28. These questions asked respondents first, if they would serve in the U.S. military whenever ordered and second, if they would forswear allegiance to the Emperor of Japan or any other foreign power. Throughout the novel, Ichiro continually examines his own motives for answering no to these questions. Was he angry about internment? Was he a pawn of his mother who refuses to assimilate in any way whatsoever? Was he a coward or a fool? Ichiro wonders what the future now holds for him in America; the book maps his journey to figure that out. Ichiro attempts to reconnect with family, friends, and old acquaintances, desperate to resolve whether he is Japanese or American. Is America a place of promise that welcomes people of all backgrounds, or a place of prejudice where minorities are excluded? These are the questions Ichiro desperately seeks to answer.

His journey includes reuniting with childhood friends, trying to connect with his parents and younger brother, and visiting Japanese neighbors who have been galvanized by the war. He travels to old college haunts to see if he might pick up the pieces of his old life. He drowns his sorrows in alcohol at Club Oriental, in revelry at the pool hall and in intimate moments in bed with a woman, Emi, who shares his quandaries. Ichiro turns down opportunities from different well-meaning Caucasians who use Ichiro to alleviate their own guilt for the Japanese Internment. Ichiro witnesses addiction—in his father who drinks to forget his pain and his friend Freddie who escapes from shame and anger in gambling and womanizing. Ichiro experiences great loss—of his mother who commits suicide rather than see her sons become Americanized, of his friend Freddie who finally succumbs to his own fatalism, and of his friend Kenji who dies of war wounds.

The book offers no easy answers. Ichiro does not save his mother. He does not patch things up with his brother. His father does not recover from his addiction. Ichiro does not get the perfect job or have an idealized romance. The book is unflinching is its exploration of racism, assimilation, and the quest for a place in American society. It ends with Ichiro still chasing “that faint and elusive insinuation of promise as it continued to take shape in mind and heart.”

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Chapters 1-3