This sample John Okada Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Japanese American author John Okada published only one novel, No-No Boy (1957), which came to be recognized as a significant contribution to American literature. The book was not popular when first published, and many in the Asian American community were upset that Okada was raising issues about cultural division and internment camps that many preferred to forget. Though the author died an unknown, No-No Boy began making an impact in the late 1970s when a group called Combined Asian-American Resources Project in Seattle revived the book. The novel has come to inspire other Asian American writers, as well as writers who address the issue of ethnic discrimination in the United States.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A War-Torn Childhood
John Okada was born on September 23, 1923, in Seattle, Washington. He was the son of immigrants from Japan. His father, Freddy Okada, owned several hotels in the city. Okada, his two brothers, and his sister were raised in Seattle, where he attended Bailey Gatzert Elementary School and Broadway High School.
World War II broke out while Okada was still a high school student. World War II began in Europe when Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland in September 1939 and overran the country. England and France declared war on Germany, but Germany soon controlled much of the European continent. The United States entered the war in December 1941, after Japan bombed an American naval base in Hawaii. The war was fought in a number of theaters in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific, involving sixty-one countries and leaving fifty-five million people dead.
Japan and the United States fought each other primarily in the Pacific Theater. Because the countries were enemies, even on American soil, natives of Japan and Japanese Americans were regarded with suspicion. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which ordered 110,000 Japanese Americans to be removed from their homes—it was believed these people posed such a threat to U.S. security that they could not be trusted to live freely in society. Most of those affected by the order lived on the West Coast, and they were sent to internment camps in remote areas without being charged or tried of any crime. At the time of the Japanese internment, Okada was a college student at the University of Washington. Because they were of Japanese descent, he and his family were sent to live at a detention center in Minidoka, Idaho.
While living in these camps, many Japanese Americans lost all the property they left behind. Inside the camps, education was limited, there were few employment opportunities, and detainees fragmented into sometimes hostile factions. A few Japanese Americans were sent to prison for alleged or perceived disloyalty. After the war, the interned people were allowed to return to what remained of their homes and lives. While questions about their loyalty lingered for years, many preferred to forget the experience.
A Nisei Fights
When the United States first became involved in World War II, many young Japanese American men who had been born in the United States—known as Nisei—had registered for the draft. However, they were classified as 4-C, aliens who were ineligible for service. As the American military changed, so, too, did the status of the 4-Cs. In early 1943, the secretary of war restored the Nisei’s right to volunteer for service and changed their draft status to 1-A. As a result, the War Department soon began recruiting young Nisei men in internment camps to serve in an all-Japanese American army unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This unit ultimately became the most decorated fighting unit of the whole of World War II.
Okada was a Nisei who chose to join the army. He served in army intelligence in the Pacific, flying over Japanese-held islands broadcasting radio messages asking Japanese soldiers to surrender. Okada reached the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1946. These experiences—both being forced to live in an internment camp and serving in the American military—would affect him so profoundly that he would be moved to write about them later in life.
After the war, Okada continued his education at the University of Washington, where he earned a BA in English and library science. He later earned a master’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1949. Okada then returned to Seattle, where he worked in the business reference department of the Seattle Public Library. He later moved to Detroit to work for the Detroit Public Library. By this time, Okada was working on what would become his only published novel.
A First—and Only—Novel
Because his job at the Detroit Public Library was unrewarding and required long hours, Okada did not have time to work on his novel. Seeking a better position, he became a technical writer for Chrysler Missile Operations. He still could not find enough time to write, and the community in Michigan did not embrace his family. In 1956 Okada moved his family to Los Angeles, where he again found a job as a technical writer and was able to complete his novel.
Okada published his only novel in 1957. No-No Boy was deeply inspired by his experiences during World War II. The story is a realistic treatment of the effects of racism and generational tension in the Japanese American community in Seattle after World War II. In the novel, Ichiro, the young American-born protagonist, returns to his parents’ home after they have all been interned in relocation camps. Ichiro has just served a prison term for resisting the draft. His mother, still fiercely loyal to her native land, cannot understand how torn her son is between his ancestry and his citizenship. Others in the community also reject him as he struggles with his own rehabilitation into society.
Unfinished Second Novel
No-No Boy was a failure. The Japanese American community was still emotionally raw from the events of World War II and so rejected the book. The greater reading public reacted similarly to Okada’s work. The fifteen hundred copies of the first edition of the book never sold out. Okada continued to write, however, but published no other novels during his lifetime.
Okada was working on a second novel about Japanese immigrants when he died of a heart attack on February 20, 1971, in Los Angeles. His widow, Dorothy, destroyed the manuscript and his other writings after the University of California, Los Angeles, refused his papers for their manuscript collection.
Works in Literary Context
Okada published only one novel, but No-No Boy is considered a classic, pioneering Asian American novel. Set in Seattle after the end of World War II, it tells the story of
Ichiro Yamada, a young Japanese American who refuses to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the war and is consequently imprisoned for two years. Following his release, Ichiro regrets his decision, must deal with the reactions and rejections of his family and community, and fears he has no future in the United States. Over the course of the novel, he gradually learns to put aside his self-hatred and rediscover a sense of hope and belonging.
Because of its subject matter, the novel opens a window on the Japanese American experience in the immediate period after World War II. It particularly illuminates the generational conflict between the Issei (the first generation of Japanese immigrants, who were born in Japan) and the Nisei (the second generation, born in the United States) and the struggles of the Nisei to come to terms with their dual heritage.
Questions of Loyalty
In No-No Boy, Okada also explores the idea of loyalty, specifically the fragmentation many Japanese Americans felt within themselves and in their community as a result of their experiences during the war. Indeed, much of the novel focuses on questions about loyalty and disloyalty. For example, the main character, Ichiro Yamada, is recruited by the U.S. War Department and required—as were all Japanese American men recruited into the army—to fill out a form that asked questions about willingness to serve in the U.S. armed forces as well as swearing full allegiance to the United States while forswearing allegiance to the Japanese emperor or any other foreign government. Yamada answers no to such questions and is jailed for two years for being disloyal. He is met with taunts and jeers from war veterans and even from his own brother, Taro. Over the course of No-No Boy, Ichiro comes to feel shame over his choice, demonstrated by his wish to trade places with a dying veteran Kenji, whose missing leg and mortal injuries are slowly draining him of life. Ichiro still loves the country of his birth, and though he feels he belongs to neither side, he comes to see himself as an American again, albeit one who must construct his identity while confronting such issues as assimilation.
When Ichiro returns to Seattle after serving his term in prison, he finds both the Japanese American community and the people that are part of it fragmented because of the experiences they have suffered. Sons, like Ichiro, have defied parents, while husbands have left wives, and wives have committed adultery. Parents, such as Ichiro’s father, have turned to alcohol to cope, while Ichiro’s mother, like others, is on the verge of insanity. Ichiro’s mother refuses to believe that Japan lost the war, and her pride and resistance becomes a destructive force that furthers the fragmentation she and others experience. Dying veteran Kenji is physically fragmented, having lost a leg and suffering other injuries that will eventually take his life. None of the characters in the novel is whole— each one is fractured in some way by the war. The community shows its fragmentation by its rejection of Ichiro, who had been cut off from them. Yet, Okada concludes that it is the hope of America and its ideals that make Ichiro whole again and give optimism to other members of the greater Japanese American community.
Works in Critical Context
Okada’s only novel, No-No Boy, received poor reviews or was just ignored by critics when published in 1957. The novel was disregarded not only by the mainstream American literary community but by the Japanese community as well. It was published only twelve years after the end of the war, a time when many Japanese Americans preferred to remain quiet about their painful wartime experiences. The book was essentially forgotten until the late 1970s when it was revived by the Combined Asian-American Resources Project in Seattle. Because of renewed interest in No-No Boy in the years after Okada’s death, the novel has come to be seen as a significant piece of Asian American literature by critics.
Though initial critical responses to No-No Boy were generally negative, later critics and scholars saw the novel as a powerful statement about the Japanese American community in the post-World War II period. Stan Yogi, writing in MELUS, saw the novel as exploring ”Ichiro’s attempt to claim an identity as an American.” He concluded ”Through Ichiro’s journey to reestablish himself as an American, Okada explores the gray area between the oppositions that develop around polarized definitions of ‘Japanese’ and ‘American,’ individuality and community, assimilation and cultural maintenance.” In Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature, Lawson Fusao Inada concluded that the book is ”a testament to the strength of a people, not a tribute to oppression. . . . In spite of the camps and prison, the death and destruction he experiences, Ichiro emerges as a positive person who says yes to life.” Kliatt reviewer Janet Julian called Okada’s No-No Boy ”a haunting, beautifully written book that stays in the heart.”
- Inada, Lawson Fusao. Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian-American Literature for Teachers of American Literature, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1982, pp.254-266.
- Sato, Gayle K. Fujita. ”Momoaro’s Exile: John Okada’s No-No Boy.” In Reading the Literature of Asian America, edited by Shirley Geok-Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992, pp. 239-258.
- Amoko, Apollo O. ”Resilient ImagiNations: No-No Boy, Obasan, and the Limits of Minority Disclosure.” Mosaic (September 2000): 35.
- Gribben, Bryn. ”The Mother That Won’t Reflect Back: Situating Psychoanalysis and the Japanese Mother in No-No Boy.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (Summer 2003): 31^6.
- Julian, Janet. A review of No-No Boy. Kliatt (Fall 1978): 13.
- Ling, Jinqi. ”Race, Power and Cultural Politics in John Okada’s No-No Boy.” American Literature (June 1995): 359-381.
- Usui, Masami. ”An Issei Woman’s Suffering, Silence, and Suicide in John Okada’s No-No Boy.” Chu-Shikoku Studies in American Literature (June 1997): 43-61.
- Yeh, William. ”To Belong or Not to Belong: The Liminiality of John Okada’s No-No Boy.” Amerasia Journal 19, no. 1 (1993): 121-133.
- Yogi, Stan. ”’You had to be one or the other’ Oppositions and Reconciliation in John Okada’s No-No Boy.” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (Summer 1996): 63-77.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.