No-No Boy


John Okada

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No-No boy Term Analysis

A man who was drafted by the United States Army and answered “no” to two questions regarding his loyalty to the U.S. in a document known as the “loyalty questionnaire.” These questions were Question 27, which asked, “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?” and Question 28, “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?” Men who answered “no” and “no” were imprisoned, and only released upon the conclusion of WWII.

No-No boy Quotes in No-No Boy

The No-No Boy quotes below are all either spoken by No-No boy or refer to No-No boy. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Washington Press edition of No-No Boy published in 1976.
Chapter 1  Quotes

Walking down the street that autumn morning with a small, black suitcase, he felt like an intruder in a world to which he had no claim. It was just enough that he should feel this way, for, of his own free will, he had stood before the judge and said that he would not go in the army. At the time there was no other choice for him. That was when he was twenty-three, a man of twenty-three. Now, two years older, he was even more of a man.

Christ, he thought to himself, just a goddamn kid is all I was. Didn’t know enough to wipe my own nose. What the hell have I done? What am I doing back here? Best thing I can do would be to kill some son of a bitch and head back to prison.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The round face wasn’t smiling any more. It was thoughtful. The eyes confronted Ichiro with indecision which changed slowly to enlightenment and then to suspicion. He remembered. He knew.

The friendliness was gone as he said: “No-no boy, huh?”

Ichiro wanted to say yes. He wanted to return the look of despising hatred and say simply yes, but it was too much to say. The walls had closed in and were crushing all the unspoken words back down into his stomach. He shook his head once, not wanting to evade the yes but finding it impossible to meet them…

“Rotten bastard. Shit on you.” Eto coughed up a mouthful of sputum and rolled his words around it: “Rotten, no-good bastard.”

Surprisingly, Ichiro felt relieved. Eto’s anger seemed to serve as a release to his own naked tensions. As he stooped to lift the suitcase a wet wad splattered over his hand and dripped onto the black leather. The legs of his accuser were in front of him. God in a pair of green fatigues, U.S. Army style. They were the legs of the jury that had passed sentence on him. Beseech me, they seemed to say, throw your arms about me and bury your head between my knees and seek pardon for your great sin.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Eto Minato (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

“I am proud that you are back,” she said. “I am proud to call you my son.”

It was her way of saying that she had made him what he was and that the thing in him which made him say no to the judge and go to prison for two years was the growth of a seed planted by the mother tree and that she was the mother who had put this thing in her son and that everything that had been done and said was exactly as it should have been and that that was what made him her son because no other would have made her feel the pride that was in her breast.

He looked at his mother and swallowed with difficulty the bitterness that threatened to destroy the last fragment of understanding for the woman who was his mother and still a stranger because, in truth, he could not know what it was to be a Japanese who breathed the air of America and yet had never lifted a foot from the land that was Japan.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Mrs. Yamada (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

…he was thinking about the Kumasakas and his mother and kids like Bob who died brave deaths fighting for something which was bigger than Japan or America or the selfish bond that strapped a son to his mother. Bob, and a lot of others with no more to lose or gain then he, had not found it necessary to think about whether or not to go into the army. When the time came, they knew what was right for them and they went.

What happened to him and the others who faced the judge and said: You can’t make me go in the army because I’m not an American or you wouldn’t have plucked me and mine from a life that was good and real and meaningful and fenced me in the desert like they do the Jews in Germany…

And some said: You, Mr. Judge, who supposedly represent justice, was it a just thing to ruin a hundred thousand lives and homes and farms and businesses and dreams and hopes because the hundred thousand were a hundred thousand Japanese and you couldn’t have loyal Japanese when Japan is the country you’re fighting and, if so, how about the Germans and Italians that must be just as questionable as the Japanese or we wouldn’t be fighting Germany and Italy? Round them up. Take away their homes and cars and beer and spaghetti and throw them in a camp and what do you think they’ll say when you try to draft them into your army out of the country that is for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? …

And then another one got up and faced the judge and said meekly: I can’t go because my brother is in the Japanese army and if I go in your army and have to shoot at them because they’re shooting at me, how do I know that maybe I won’t kill my own brother? I’m a good American and I like it here but you can see that it wouldn’t do for me to be shooting at my own brother; even if he want back to Japan when I was two years old and I couldn’t know him if I saw him, it’s the feeling that counts, and what can a fellow do? Besides, my mom and dad said I shouldn’t and they ought to know.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Mrs. Yamada, Bob Kumasaka
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Time would ease the rupture which now separated him from the young Japanese who were Americans because they had fought for America and believed in it. And time would destroy the old Japanese who, living in America and being denied a place as citizens, nevertheless had become inextricably a part of the country which by its vastness and goodness and fairness and plentitude drew them into its fold, or else they would not have understood why it was that their sons, who looked as Japanese as they themselves, were not Japanese at all but Americans of the country America. In time, he thought, in time there will be a place for me. I will buy a home and love my family and I will walk down the street holding my son’s hand and people will stop and talk with us about the weather and the ball games and the elections. I will take my family to visit the family of Freddie, whom I have just left as I did because time has not yet done its work, and our families together will visit still another family whose father was two years in the army of America instead of two years in prison and it will not matter about the past, for time will have erased it from our memories and there will be only joy and sorrow and sickness, which is the way things should be.

And, as his heart mercifully stacked the blocks of hope into the pattern of an America which would someday hold an unquestioned place for him, his mind said no, it is not to be, and the castle tumbled and was swallowed up by the darkness of his soul, for time might cloud the memories of others but the trouble was inside of him and time would not soften that.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Freddie Akimoto
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

…As he thought about Mr. Carrick and their conversation time and time again, its meaning for him evolved into a singularly comforting thought. There was someone who cared. Surely there were others too who understood the suffering of the small and the weak and, yes, even the seemingly treasonous, and offered a way back into the great compassionate stream of life that is America. Under the hard, tough cloak of the struggle for existence in which money and enormous white refrigerators and shining, massive, brutally-fast cars and fine, expensive clothing had ostensibly overwhelmed the qualities of men that were good and gentle and just, there still beat a heart of kindness and patience and forgiveness.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Kenji Kanno, Mr. Carrick
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Where is the place that they talk of and paint nice pictures of and describe in all the homey magazines? Where is that place with the clean, white cottages surrounding the new, red-brick church with the clean, white steeple, where the families all have two children, one boy and one girl, and a shiny new car in the garage and a dog and a cat and life is like living in the land of the happily-ever-after? Surely it must be around here someplace, someplace in America. Or is it just that it’s not for me? Maybe I dealt myself out, but what about that young kid on Burnside who was in the army and found it wasn’t enough so that he has to keep proving to everyone who comes in for a cup of coffee that he was fighting for his country like the button on his shirt says he did because the army didn’t do anything about his face to make him look more American? … Even Mr. Carrick. Why isn’t he in? Why is he on the outside squandering his goodness on outcasts like me? Maybe the answer is that there is no in. Maybe the whole damned country is pushing and shoving and screaming to get into someplace that doesn’t exist, because they don’t know that the outside could be the inside if only they would stop all this pushing and shoving and screaming, and they haven’t got enough sense to realize that.

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Mr. Carrick
Related Symbols: Discharge Pin
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

“It was good, the years I rotted in prison. I got the lead out of my ass and the talk out of my system. I died in prison. And when I came back to life, all that really mattered for me was to make a painting. I came home and said hello to the family and tried to talk to them, but there was nothing to talk about. I didn’t stay. I found a room next to the sky, a big, drafty attic atop a dilapidated mansion full of boarders who mind their own business. Old friends are now strangers. I’ve no one to talk to and no desire to talk, for I have nothing to say except what comes out of my paint tubes and brushes. During the day, I paint for my keep. At night, I paint for myself. The picture I want is inside of me. I’m groping for it and it gives me peace and satisfaction. For me, the cup is overflowing.”

He turned and the peace he spoke of was clearly written on his face: “What was unfortunate for you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Related Characters: Ichiro Yamada (speaker), Gary (speaker), Freddie Akimoto
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
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No-No boy Term Timeline in No-No Boy

The timeline below shows where the term No-No boy appears in No-No Boy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...the army, his demeanor shifts and he becomes angry. He remembers that Ichiro was a no-no boy . He spits on him, and threatens to pee on him the next time they... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
Ichiro decides to leave. Freddie invites him to play poker with him and other no-no boy s. Ichiro explains that he needs a little time to “straighten out.” Freddie counters that... (full context)
Chapter 3
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Ichiro walks down Jackson Street, away from Freddie. He wonders if he and the other no-no boy s have “renounced their American-ness” irrevocably. He asks himself, “was there no hope of redemption?”... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...he didn’t, but is relieved that he is not forced to admit he is a no-no boy . (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon with his friend. This confession surprises the veteran. Ichiro explains that he was a no-no boy . Kenji did not know this, but does not judge him for it. Ichiro believes... (full context)
Chapter 4
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...with him, but rescinds the invitation when he sees Ichiro, who he recognizes as a no-no boy . Kenji refuses to engage with Bull, who insults Ichiro, but Ichiro feels shame and... (full context)
Chapter 7
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...tells Ichiro to stick it out. He explains that even when people who were not no-no boy s returned, they faced discrimination of their own, including name-calling and vandalism. Kenji says that... (full context)
Chapter 9
Healing in the Aftermath of War Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...down. They talk about working. Freddie recommends Ichiro try visiting Christian Reclamation Center, where other no-no boy s have been able to get jobs. He has a friend, Gary, who works at... (full context)
Chapter 10
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...when the Japanese veterans and white workers in the shop found out he was a no-no boy , they began to ignore and exclude him. Gary didn’t mind this, but Birdie would... (full context)
Japanese vs. American Identity Theme Icon
Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism Theme Icon
...Now, these Japanese veterans are doing their best to prove they are real Americans, and no-no boy s like Gary and Ichiro seem to be undermining their claim. (full context)