No-No Boy

Tearing Down and Building Up: The Dismantlement and Reconstruction of Identity in John Okada's No-No Boy

Frank Chin’s gripping afterword to the novel No-No Boy emphasizes the crucial influence of John Okada’s literary pursuits in his own life as an Asian-American writer. In a world where words had formerly danced across the pages of books to the sole tune of white authors, Okada helped create an identity for Chin and other “yellow writers.” Unlike Chin, who defines his own career in terms of another’s, the main character of the novel denounces the part of himself vestigial of his mother and instead seeks an identity that embodies the direct antithesis of all she represents. Prior to the war and his fateful decision to refuse the American draft, Ichiro Yamada proves to be a malleable young man, falling victim to the biting impact of his zealous mother. In his hatred and despair following a two-year prison sentence, Ichiro expels the parts of himself tainted by his mother’s harsh conditioning. With the goal of reconstructing his broken identity, he models his new self against the opaque and pessimistic perspective implanted in him by his mother. Ichiro’s subsequent optimism and self-completion can thus only arise out of the death of his mother.

Ichiro’s time spent in prison continues to haunt him after his release, as the relentless...

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