The USA is believed to be a truly democratic country. What is a democratic country? It is a country where each citizen has both rights and responsibilities, and the most important fact is that all citizens in the democratic country are considered to be equal. It presupposes that every person has the right to choose religion, can freely speak his/her mind, and have the opportunity to take part in different events be it cultural, political or economic. No matter what color of the skin the person has or what his beliefs are, all people are supposed to have the same opportunities. The novel of Japanese American writer John Okada No-No Boy is an example of how wrong people are when they think that America is a democratic country.
John Okada’s No-No Boy is a tale of disillusionment about American democracy. The main idea of the book is that minority groups do not have the same rights as Americans have. American actions towards Japanese people during the Second World War were truly undemocratic.
The main hero of the book is Ichiro Yamada. He is a 25- year-old boy born in America, but his parents are Japanese people. The book describes events in the life of this boy, his family, and other Japanese families after Ichiro’s release from prison. The boy was imprisoned, because he refused to join the armed forces of America to fight against Japanese soldiers in the war.
Everything began with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. More than 2000 people (both civilians and American soldiers) were killed and more than 1000 people received wounds. After this event, American people became hostile towards Japanese people who at that time lived in the United States of America. Internment camps became very popular, many Japanese people were sent there. Americans from Columbia sent letters to newspapers “urging internment of all ethnic Japanese, irrespective of citizenship” (Robinson, 65). “People who have indicated their desire to follow the Japanese way of life” (Ngai, 185) were considered to be disloyal to America. There were also Japanese Americans, who wanted to help America and offered their support to American government, but this offer was rejected. In 1942 it was said, “A Jap is a Jap” (Ngai, 175), this is a clearly racial segregation. Even Italian and German nationals who were arrested after the attack on Pearl Harbor were released later. It was already known before the attack who of Japanese people would be taken into custody (Ngai, 2004).
Ichiro returns home after two years in prison. His friend Eto and his younger brother became hostile towards him, because he is a “no-no boy”, maybe things would have been different if he were a “yes-yes boy”. These two boys are angry with Ichiro, because Eto served in the U.S. army and Taro (the younger brother) is going to. Ichiro thinks that maybe he made a wrong choice, and while walking the street he does not feel that he is at home.
The other character of the book is Ichiro’s mother, who is depicted as a very strong personality due to her influence on her son. Ichiro did not go to the army because of her. He says about his mother, “Ma is the rock that’s always hammering, pounding, pounding, pounding in her unobtrusive, determined, fanatical way until there’s nothing left to call one’s self” (Okada 12). Ichiro’s mother is devoted to her country. She was born in Japan, and her only choice will always be Japan, because it is her homeland. She does not think that those parents who let their sons fight in the U.S. army can be considered to be Japanese people. To her opinion such people are dead.
She fanatically believes that Japan won the war and soon they will be taken home, and because of it Ichiro thinks that she is crazy, but because of her craziness, she is a very strong woman. She is not in search of identity, because she knows who she is and where she belongs. Consequently, when she discovers the truth that Japan actually did not win the war, she kills herself.
Ichiro’s father is not such a strong character; he understands the reality and wants to escape from it by drinking. He does not have such influence on Ichiro as his wife does. He tries to show that he is a very strong and tough man, and that is why he begins to drink even more in order to prove that he will be able to deal with the situation, but he cannot.
Ichiro tries to find his place in the country of his birth, he thinks that maybe with time he will find this place and will have a family and a job, will have a life that common people have and will be happy living a simple life. Ichiro wants to get a job in the engineering firm, and the owner, Mr. Carrick, sympathizes Ichiro and Japanese Americans, because he understands the situation and knows what challenges they face.
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He offers Ichiro the position in his firm, but after some thinking Ichiro rejects the offer. He thinks that he is not worthy of it, because he did not serve in the U.S. army. The attitude of the people towards Ichiro is different, some despise him, others treat him as equal, and there are also those people who feel indifferent towards the problem whether Ichiro served in the U.S. army or not.
Ichiro remembers one boy, Tommy, who used to go to church, and he wanted Ichiro to go with him. When they were in Idaho, they wanted to visit a church, but it was made known that Japanese people are not welcome there. Tommy spoke his mind that it was unfair, and I cannot agree more. If all people are equal and have the same rights, why Japanese people were not welcome at the American church?
After Ichiro’s comeback home, his family is falling apart. The novel ends with the tragedy – Ichiro’s mother killed herself. Ichiro’s best friend, Kenji, lost his leg while fighting in the war. He thinks that if he had the possibility to turn back in time, he would have said “no” instead of “yes” to those two questions. Both Kenji and Ichiro regret their decisions. Over time Kenji dies because of his infected leg. Ichiro lost his best friend and his mother due to the war. At last Ichiro got the job at the Christian Rehabilitation Center.
At the end of the novel, Ichiro realizes the truth. He says that he must have been crazy, because he has ruined his life, “It’s because we’re American and because we’re Japanese and sometimes the two don’t mix” (Okada, 91). He understands that Japanese people are under severe racial discrimination, Russian, German or Italian people can be Americans, but not Japanese people – “You had to be one or the other” (Okada, 91).
No-No Boy is a tale of disillusionment about American democracy. The USA is far from being a democratic country, while some people are treated with respect and others are treated according to circumstances. Japanese people were also the citizens of America, but they had to live in internment camps and had to fight against Japanese soldiers. A country cannot be considered a democratic one when the main principles of democracy are not observed.
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