No-No Boy

No-No Boy Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kenji drops Ichiro at home. Mrs. Yamada wonders where Ichiro has been, and he explains that he was with Kenji. Mrs. Yamada says Kenji is not truly Japanese, as he “fought against us,” bringing shame to his family and to himself. Ichiro becomes angry but tries not to lash out. Mrs. Yamada urges him not to see Kenji again. Ichiro tells her he’s seeing him tomorrow.
Mrs. Yamada’s rigid commitment to Japan makes her inflexible and cruel. Because Kenji fought for America she believes he is not Japanese, and because he is not Japanese she believes he deserved his battlefield injury.
Themes
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Ichiro feels his anger fade, and instead he feels pity for Mrs. Yamada, whose dedication to Japan has made her sick. He wonders if it was really so crazy of her to refuse to accept a country that refused to accept her or her sons, or even men like Kenji, who fought for it but remained second-class citizens.
Although Ichiro feels that his mother is crazy, he begins to understand her. It is logical that she would commit more fiercely to her love of Japan when America, her adopted home, made it clear it did not respect her or her children.
Themes
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Ichiro wishes he could talk to Mrs. Yamada, who is also a stranger. He wonders what it was like to be Japanese, what it was like to come to America. He thinks if he knew more about her perhaps he could understand her. But he doesn’t ask her anything. Instead he remains silent as she rifles through a stack of letters, finds one from Japan, and gives it to Ichiro to give to Mr. Yamada.
Ichiro again feels the divide between his mother and himself. He knows this is because they have had different experiences, and because, despite her best efforts, he was raised as both American and Japanese, and therefore she will never be fully able to understand (or control) him.
Themes
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Mr. Yamada lewdly asks Ichiro what he was up to. Ichiro jokes that he had fun, but “not enough to make up for two years.” He suddenly imagines how hard life must have been for his father, working on the railroad, spending his money on gambling, drinking, or prostitutes once a month when they were allowed to go to town. Ichiro understands how it must have felt pointless to be in America without saving money, but at the same time it was so difficult to save.
Ichiro is having a series of insights into his parents’ inner lives. He had never before considered the ways his father must have suffered in order to have a comfortable life in America, and how his comfortable life in America was always merely meant to be a temporary stopover before returning, rich, to Japan.
Themes
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
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Ichiro delivers the newest letter to Mr. Yamada. It’s from Mrs. Yamada’s sister. Mr. Yamada calls his wife into the room and insists she read it. When she refuses, he reads it to her. The sister calls Mrs. Yamada by her nickname, “Kin-chan.” She writes how hard it is in Japan now, and how much she would appreciate some meat, or powdered milk, or candy for her children. She apologizes for writing shamelessly, but she needs help. Mrs. Yamada tries to get her husband to stop reading, but Mr. Yamada will not. He skips to an anecdote from her childhood, that only Mrs. Yamada’s sister could possibly know.
The Yamadas have been receiving letters from Japan for weeks. These letters explain the devastation in Japan and ask for assistance, but because Mrs. Yamada refuses to believe Japan lost the war, she also chooses to believe the letters are fake. Ignoring these pleas makes it easier for Mrs. Yamada to live the lie that one day she will return to the Japan of her youth.
Themes
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
After finishing the letter, Mr. Yamada goes to chop cabbage in the kitchen. Mrs. Yamada sits, the truth and the untruth fighting in her mind. Finally, she concludes that her sister must have been tortured to reveal the truth. She takes the letter to the bedroom. Ichiro and Mr. Yamada wonder if Mrs. Yamada is beginning to see reality.
Mrs. Yamada is so committed to her fantasy of an undefeated Japan that she will complete any necessary mental gymnastics in order to keep her life intact. However, the fact that this letter is from her sister and contains intimate details about her makes it more difficult for her to maintain her conspiracy.
Themes
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro decides that he has to get away from his parents. He believes that they messed up their own lives and his life, and he can never move on and forget the past as long as he is around them.
Ichiro believes that his connection to his parents has only held him back—forcing him to reject the draft, and now to live in a strange state of delusion in which Japan has supposedly won the war.
Themes
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
At lunch, Mrs. Yamada refuses to get up and eat. Distressed, Mr. Yamada begins to backslide, agreeing that the letter “could be nothing,” and maybe it isn’t her sister after all. This frustrates Ichiro, but his father explains that he’s afraid for his wife.
Mrs. Yamada has previously been unable to deal with the reality of the U.S. winning WWII, and now, when faced with the truth, she is unable to continue living a normal life.
Themes
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
As they talk, Ichiro realizes that Mr. Yamada thinks Ichiro did the right thing by going to prison. This shocks Ichiro. He believes he made a huge mistake and ruined his life for his mother, father, and Japan. He tries to explain this to his father, who doesn’t understand. He tells Mr. Yamada this—“you’re a Jap. How can you understand?” He continues, saying that his father will never understand his wife, Ichiro, or Taro. For a second Mr. Yamada seems poised to fight back, but then he deflates. Ichiro leaves the table to help a customer in the store.
Even though Ichiro gets along with his father better than he gets along with his mother, in this moment he realizes that even he and his father are on opposite sides of an enormous generational and cultural divide. By calling Mr. Yamada a “Jap,” a derogatory term, Ichiro further “others” his father, indicating that he considers his father to be Japanese (and therefore something undesirable), while Ichiro himself remains something else entirely—not accepted as American, but certainly not Japanese.
Themes
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Family and Generational Divides Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon