No-No Boy

No-No Boy Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kenji returns home. He lives with his father in a two-story house at the top of a hill. Mr. Kanno is sitting on the porch and warmly greets his son. Kenji has brought a gift: two fifths of whisky. His father jokes that he’ll drink it in two days, and the pair laugh together, “the father because he loved his son and the son because he both loved and respected his father, who was a moderate and good man.”
Kenji’s family is presented in stark contrast to Ichiro’s family. Kenji and his father talk often and openly, whereas Ichiro’s family has difficulty communicating at all. Further, Mr. Kanno drinks moderately, whereas Mr. Yamada has become an alcoholic in his attempts to escape reality.
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Kenji and Mr. Kanno sit down at the kitchen table. Mr. Kanno is grateful for his children, and is proud of the lives they lead. His daughters are both happily married, and his sons have good jobs. He only has to work a few days a week to support himself.
Again in stark contrast to Ichiro’s family, Mr. Kanno is proud of his children for the lives they lead independently of him. In Ichiro’s family, his mother is only proud of him for following closely in her footsteps.
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Mr. Kanno notices that Kenji winces in pain when he moves his leg. Mr. Kanno almost starts to cry with worry, but then distracts himself by getting a glass of the new whisky for both of them. As they drink, Kenji’s father tells him about how he came to America, “greedy and ambitious and proud,” just hoping to make money. He feels like his son has paid the price for his foolishness. Kenji disagrees.
While Mr. Kanno regrets coming to America because he sees his choice as the reason his son is in pain, Kenji does not blame his father. In contrast, Ichiro’s parents are still ambitious and money-oriented, and feel proud of their son’s behavior, while he, in turn, regrets it and blames them.
Themes
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Kenji tells Mr. Kanno that he is going to the hospital tomorrow. His father offers to come, but Kenji shuts him down. Kenji’s father does not argue. He knows that he will never fully be able to understand how his son was able to fight for America. He thinks of how he abandoned the idea of returning to Japan when he saw how America had become a part of his children. He also understood how incredible it was that he was able to raise six children alone, without resorting to begging or borrowing.
Mr. Kanno has grown to love America in a way Ichiro’s family has not. Mr. Kanno sees that America has become a part of his children, and because he loves his children, he loves America. Furthermore, he understands that some opportunities were only available to him because he was in America, and he will forever be thankful for this.
Themes
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Mr. Kanno reveals that Kenji had enlisted in the army on his own, instead of waiting for the draft. This was both a desire to prove his commitment to America, and to express his genuine love for his country. Kenji went to war to “prove that he deserved to enjoy those rights which should rightfully have been his.”
Kenji did love America enough to enlist, but he also saw his enlistment as a way to prove that he was truly American. By volunteering as opposed to waiting to be asked, even after internment and mistreatment, he meant to send a message about what a true American looks like. (And it’s important to remember, of course, that the average white American man would feel no such pressure to risk his life just to prove his American-ness.)
Themes
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Mr. Kanno remembers how, when he was in the internment camp, a week after Kenji had gone into the army, a neighbor’s son in the military had returned to see his family. This soldier was bitter—in the army he was only allowed to clean the toilets and handle garbage, and when the president came to visit he was hidden away, guarded by his fellow soldiers. Kenji’s father had wondered, then, if he had done the right thing allowing his son to fight, even when he might be fighting other Japanese people.
Mr. Kanno let Kenji go into the army because Mr. Kanno (unlike the Yamada family) respects his son and trusts his decisions. However, seeing the mistreatment of another soldier of Japanese descent by the American military gave him second thoughts. Although this young man was serving his country, he still was not treated equally as a citizen because he was Japanese.
Themes
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Kenji goes to take a nap and Mr. Kanno goes to the grocery store. As he walks, he remembers a young sociologist who had held meetings at the internment camp. This young man tried to explain to the assembled Issei that they did not know their own children. Their children, Nisei, were often the sons and daughters of America, not Japan, and not their parents. The sociologist argued that this was a failure on the part of the Issei, and that they had been unable to realize that they had to raise a child differently in America than in Japan.
The young sociologist makes the point that the Issei and Nisei are inherently different. One group was born in Japan, and many in that group intend to return. As a result, they’ve never seen America as a home. In contrast, their children were born and raised in America, and have difficulty connecting with the country of their parents, which they’ve never seen and maybe never will.
Themes
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After Mr. Kanno returns home he cooks the chicken. His daughter Hanako arrives and helps make a salad, and her brother Tom comes soon after with store-bought lemon meringue pie. Tom is in a good mood, until his father explains that they’re all having dinner because Kenji has to return to the hospital. The family is hungry, but waits to wake Kenji. When he eventually comes downstairs he apologizes, but they do not mind. They eat together, briefly discussing the surgery. Kenji lies and says he thinks it is only an issue with his brace being too tight.
Once again, Kenji’s family is shown in stark contrast to Ichiro’s. The family cooks together, and talks openly and easily. They love each other, and care about each other’s wellbeing. They privilege Kenji’s happiness over theirs, and are happy to wait for him although they are hungry. Kenji, too, cares about his family’s wellbeing, lying for their sake so they don’t worry about him.
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After dinner two more of Kenji’s siblings, Hisa and Toyo, arrive with their husbands and children. They talk and laugh as a baseball game plays in the background. During a lull in the conversation, Kenji decides to leave. He understands that his family has come to send him off, but he doesn’t want to have a formal goodbye.
Kenji loves his family, but knows that a formal goodbye will be too painful for everyone. He decides to protect all of their emotions by sneaking away.
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Mr. Kanno follows Kenji outside and stops him on the porch. His father can tell something is worse about Kenji’s leg this time, which Kenji confirms. Kenji says he’s scared. Kenji’s father asks him to call every day. Kenji agrees, and pulls out of the driveway. His father stands on the porch, waving goodbye.
Mr. Kanno and Kenji have a close relationship, and Mr. Kanno cannot let his son go without a goodbye. Kenji is honest with his father in a way he has not been honest with his siblings, revealing that he is worried he is going to die.
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Kenji drives to the Club Oriental. He feels comfortable there, known and liked. He feels this is what it must be like to be white in America everywhere—comfortable no matter where you go. Just as he is thinking this there is a scuffle at the entrance. A Japanese boy has tried to bring two black men in with him, which is not permitted. Another Japanese man in the bar makes a comment about how if you let one black man in, soon the bar will be “black as night.” Upset, Kenji leaves the club. He wonders if there is “no answer to the bigotry and meanness and smallness and ugliness of people.”
Like Freddie and Ichiro, Kenji fears the future, but unlike those two men, he has made peace with his fate. Kenji understands that even as a veteran, he does not receive the same treatment as white men in America, even those who did not serve. However, even as he understands the privileges he does not have, he sees his own oppressed group of people discriminating against others, feeling no empathy for those with whom they actually have much in common with.
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Kenji considers a series of vignettes in which one group of people could be bigoted against another: a European immigrant upset when a black man sits next to her on the bus. A Chinese girl dating a white boy who feels that she has “risen in the world.” An Italian restaurant that will not serve to a Jewish and Japanese man. A young Japanese man who hates the “not-so-young Japanese” man who he sees as more Japanese than himself, and this middle-aged man in turn hates older Japanese men who are more Japanese still.
Kenji understands that just because a person has experienced prejudice doesn’t mean they will not then discriminate against another group. In these anecdotes he reveals how certain members of minority groups will still look down on others, even if their desire to be recognized as rightful Americans (or simply human beings with rights and value) is essentially the same.
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Kenji drives to Ichiro’s house. Through the glass of the store he sees Mrs. Yamada placing cans of evaporated milk on a shelf, then knocking them off. He watches so intently that he’s surprised when Ichiro comes out, dressed and ready to go. He asks Ichiro about his mother, but Ichiro just explains that she’s snapped, although she’d been “crazy a long time.”
After reading the letter from her sister, it seems, something inside of Mrs. Yamada snapped. Although she refuses to admit Japan did in fact lose the war, she is unable to continue living in her delusion. Instead, this ritual seems to be a way to restore and then destroy order, perhaps symbolizing the destruction of her post-war fantasy of Japanese victory.
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Ichiro and Kenji drive quickly out of Seattle. They stop for coffee and Ichiro takes over driving. He drives faster and faster, eventually attracting the attention of a police officer. Kenji convinces Ichiro to switch seats with him, so the police officer will give Kenji the ticket. The police officer makes Kenji drive back through town to the speed limit sign, asking if they can read it even though they’re Japanese. The cop tries to convince Kenji and Ichiro to bribe him, but they don’t. Instead, he writes them an expensive ticket, claiming they were drunk driving and attempting to bribe. Kenji throws the ticket out as soon as they’re out of the town.
Although Ichiro is technically breaking the law, the cop’s treatment of him and Kenji is rooted in racism as much as it is rooted in a desire to keep the streets safe. By forcing Kenji and Ichiro to read the sign—even though they are both American citizens born in America, and clearly speak English—the cop makes clear his belief that anyone who does not look white does not look American, and is therefore undeserving of respect and dignity.
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Two hours later Ichiro and Kenji arrive in Portland and have breakfast. Kenji tells Ichiro to drive his car back to Portland when he’s ready. Ichiro is happy to stay, and has even considered looking for a job in Portland, but Kenji reveals that he worries “this is it.”
Ichiro struggles when thinking about his future, because although his life might be long, he cannot imagine opportunities for it. Kenji, in contrast, can see that his life is short, and is forced to come to terms with his imminent death.
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Ichiro drops Kenji off at the hospital. Kenji shakes Ichiro’s hand and comments that the cop will have to come a long way to catch up with him. Ichiro tells his friend he’ll see him soon. Kenji cautions him not to wait too long.
Kenji jokes about his future and his death, but has ultimately accepted it. He has said goodbye to his father and to his family, and knows there is nothing left for him to do.
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