Trauma and Silence in No-No Boy: An Interdisciplinary Reading
2019, Vol. 11 No. 10 | pg. 1/1
IN THIS ARTICLE
Depicting the rugged reintegration of Ichiro Yamada, a no-no boy imprisoned during WWII, Japanese American author John Okada presents a traumatized and conflicted Japanese American community during the mid-1940s in his novel No-No Boy (1957). Applying Dan McAdams’ psychological theory to their literary study of the novel, Floyd Cheung and Bill Peterson demonstrate that an interdisciplinary approach can “provide inspiration for different disciplines in the academy to view Asian American experience in new and exciting ways” (213). Using an interdisciplinary approach as Cheung and Peterson did, I will draw on recent clinical studies on Japanese American psychology to examine how characters in Okada’s novel experience and cope with the trauma of WWII and incarceration. Deeply affected by trauma, they exhibit eccentric behaviors, experience depressions, and express negative emotions. While silence helps them temporarily evade from trauma, it also leads to negative consequences. Under this interdisciplinary lens, No-No Boy is not simply a forceful piece of Asian American literature, but also a realistic account of how war and social injustices affect the psychology of Japanese Americans across generations.
The decade between 1945 and 1955 is a “crisis period” for Japanese Americans who struggled to resettle in their families, communities, and mainstream American society after returning from internment camps and battlefields (Kashima 108). Set in the autumn of 1946, Okada’s novel opens with a brief introduction of its protagonist Ichiro Yamada, a twenty-five-year-old Japanese American returning to Seattle after “two [years] in camp and two in prison” (3). Although the opening does not seem impressive or elaborate, much social and historical information is condensed within the two plain words, “camp” and “prison.”Ichiro’s “two [years] in camp” refers to the mass incarceration of Japanese American, including first-generation Japanese immigrants (Issei), second-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei), and their third-generation children (Sansei) (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 36-37). Triggered by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, authorizing the removal of “all persons of Japanese ancestry” from the west of the US and their relocation to ten different internment camps (Nagata and Takeshita 587). Suspected for disloyalty to the US government and allegiance to Japan, 110,000 Japanese Americans lived behind barbed-wires for an average of two to four years (Nagata and Takeshita 587). The incarceration was deemed a “grave injustice” by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1981 (Kim, Nagata, and Akiyama 345). As implied by Okada in No-No Boy, Ichiro spent the two years between 1942 to 1944 in an internment camp before his relocation to a “prison,” while his father, mother, and younger brother possibly stayed there till 1945 or 1946.
After his years of internment, Ichiro was transferred to a “prison” either for being a “no-no boy” or a draft resister. As Frank Abe points out, the exact reason behind Ichiro’s imprisonment is unclear because Okada essentially conflates the category of “no-no boys” with that of the “draft resisters” (6). Yet, no matter which category Ichiro belongs to, his imprisonment is a result of his noncompliant response to the questionnaire administered by the US government in 1943 to Japanese American internees of 17 years old and above. Later referred to as the “loyalty questionnaire,” it asked the internee if he was willing to serve in the military (Question 27) and if he would swear allegiance to the US and forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor (Question 28) (Abe 5-6). Out of anger and suspicion towards the government’s motive as well as the reluctance to choose between Japan and America, 12,000 Japanese American men answered “no-no” to the two questions; subsequently, they were relocated to Tule Lake Segregation Center (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 39). Identified as a “no-no boy” by other characters and himself, Ichiro could have spent his last two years being segregated at Tule Lake, though Okada never specifies this information or explicitly indicates that Ichiro answers “no-no” to the questionnaire (Abe 6-7). Rather, as Abe argues, Ichiro’s experience resembles that of a draft resister (6). In protest of incarceration, 315 draft resisters, who answered either “yes-yes” or “yes-no” to the questionnaire, resisted their military duty in 1944 (Abe 6). Despite their attempt to bring test cases to the federal court and challenge the “constitutionality of the eviction and their continued confinement,” they were sentenced to an average of two years in federal prison (Abe 6). This group of draft resisters included Hajime Jim Akutsu, Okada’s friend and inspiration for Ichiro. Therefore, federal jail could have been where Ichiro spent his two years from 1944 to 1946 for being a draft resister.
Either as a draft resister or a no-no boy, Ichiro is perceived to be a traitor by many Nisei “yes-yes boys” and war veterans upon his return. In real life, this unwelcoming and resentful sentiment was present in the Japanese American community during the initial years of resettlement. As Jim Akutsu told Okada, he was once “being warned about Nisei veterans on the job who were out to kill him” (Abe 66). In such a tension-filled context, Okada accurately captures the air of guilt and shame, anger and confusion, conflict and pain surrounding both older and younger Japanese Americans, portraying a complex psychological landscape of the community.
Trauma in Various Forms
The incarceration, loyalty questionnaire, and military draft have deeply traumatized Japanese Americans. In a recently published research, psychologists Donna Nagata, Jacqueline Kim, and Kaidi Wu present the trauma experienced by Japanese Americans in four major forms and claim that “individual and racial-based trauma occurred at the time of incarceration, while the historical and cultural traumas emerged after the war ended at an intergenerational level” (37). Juxtaposing three generations of Japanese Americans in No-No Boy, Okada portrays multiple forms of trauma and their varying influence on Japanese Americans across generations.
Individual trauma is included as a form in Nagata’s study. Under individual trauma theory, trauma is defined as “an event that shatters one’s assumptive world, sense of self, and well-being” (Nagata, Kim, and Nguyen 357). In the novel, individual trauma is exhibited through the inverted gender roles, confused sense of self, and mental illness of Ichiro’s Issei parents. Deemed mad by Ichiro and sick by her husband, Ichiro’s mother firmly believes in Japan’s victory in the war, citing an anonymous letter from Sao Paulo. She asserts that “the victorious Japanese government is presently making preparations to send ships [for us]” (Okada 14-15). From Ichiro’s perspective, his stubborn and maniac Ma is a distorted person: she is “neither woman nor mother” (Okada 39). While Ma does not have a chance to exhibit her interiority in this narrative told predominantly from Ichiro’s point of view, her traumatized inner world can be accessed through the real-life experience of Nao Akutsu, mother of Jim Akutsu, on whom Ma’s characterization is based.
As a Japanese immigrant, Mrs. Akutsu’s had been deeply traumatized by her American experience. For her, the United States was a country that “stripped her family of their home, livelihood, and real estate and repeatedly imprisoned her, her husband, and her sons in a succession of detention centers, internment camps, incarceration camps, and penitentiaries” (Abe 68). Like Ma, Mrs. Akutsu rejected the idea of Japan’s surrender and cited a Brazil-based radio station as her evidence; like many other women, she became an adherent of a South-America-based cult named Shindo Renmei (League of the Way of Emperor’s Subjects) and upheld the idea of Kaichigumi (victory faction) (Abe 67). When the United States took away her social establishment and then defeated her home country, it essentially shattered her “assumptive world” and “sense of self,” thereby inflicting trauma upon her on an individual level. In the same way, the pain resulted from a broken world and a lost sense of belonging torments Ma. It eventually leads to her mental illness and distorted sense of reality. Ultimately, both women committed suicide under the burden of their psychological trauma. Whereas Ma’s stubborn and eccentric belief may seem incomprehensible and even sickening at times, her behavior is, in fact, a result from her traumatizing American experience and a clear manifestation of its long-lasting effect.
Like Ma, Ichiro’s father also exhibits a confused sense of selfhood: Ichiro describes him as “neither husband nor father nor Japanese nor American but a diluted mixture of all” (Okada 105). Ichiro also sees him as a coward who is too weak to convince his wife of Japan’s surrender as he says, “[Pa’s] weakness is as bad as Ma’s strength” (Okada 102). Considering Pa’s traumatic experience during his incarceration, his cowardice and weakness may not be inherent in his personality, but are results of past trauma that has shattered his sense of self. Identified as a psychosocial stressor, disruption of traditional gender roles in internment camps could have traumatized Pa, leading to his loss of selfhood and the masculinity originally attached to it (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 39). Like many other Japanese men, Pa lost his “breadwinner role” in the internment camp where men and women worked the same low-paid jobs (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 39). Even after internment, he does not reclaim his role as the head of his household, but stays in the domestic sphere. He takes up cooking and other chores as Ichiro observes, “[he is] chopping up a head of cabbage for pickling. Around his waist was a bright plastic apron and his wide, stubby, stockinged feet were crammed into a pair of shapeless reed slippers” (Okada 96). Dressed in garments associated with traditionally female gender roles, Pa is likely to suffer from a loss of pride and the confusion over his new position in the family structure. Disoriented and traumatized by the disruption of gender roles, Pa loses his selfhood and masculinity, which is previously attached to his identification as the head and provider. In the end, Pa’s weakness and femininity are manifestations of individual trauma, same as Ma’s stubborn strength. When Ichiro says, “[Pa] should have been Ma and Ma should have been Pa,” he in effect suggests how his Issei parents have lost their selfhood and became confused about their positions as a result of trauma (Okada 102). Accurately represented by Okada, individual trauma is an important factor that shapes the psychology of Issei Japanese Americans during their resettlement period.
In addition to individual trauma, the “powerful race-based trauma” influences Okada’s Nisei characters, including Ichiro, Kenji, and Emi (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 37). Well-aware of the racial nature of incarceration, Emi, a young Nisei woman, comments that “‘It’s all right to be German and American or Italian and American or Russian and American but, as things turned out, it wasn’t all right to be Japanese and American’” (Okada 84). In her comment, she implies that Japanese Americans were targeted purely based on racial discrimination, which accurately represents the history (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 37). Disillusioned by the racist government and traumatized by his incarceration, Mike, Emi’s brother-in-law and a WWI veteran, “burst into a fury of anger and bitterness and swore that if they treated him like a Japanese, he would act like one”; he resists the military draft and applies to go to Japan (Okada 90). Although Mike seems to be irrational at the time and causes conflicts in his family later, his action can be understood as a result of the trauma and humiliation from the racist incarceration. Because of Mike, his younger brother Ralph feels ashamed, joins the military to wash off his shame, and decides to never come back to his family (Okada 91). Thus, the divisive outcome of Mike’s action shows the destructive effect of racial trauma on an individual and a family.
Likewise, Ichiro experiences racial trauma. When the government forces him to declare allegiance to either America or Japan in the questionnaire, he is exposed to a family stressor and a psychological stressor as identified by Nakata and Takeshita, both of which are contributing factors to his trauma (590-593). Demanded to pick a side, Ichiro is torn by the impossible choice between his family and country and between the two essential parts of his identity. When Ichiro decides to comply with his mother and say “no-no” to the questionnaire, his selfhood becomes shattered and incomplete. Exclaiming that “I am not Japanese and I am not American […] I wish with all my heart that I were Japanese or that I were American. I am neither,” Ichiro demonstrates his discomfort and conflict with his ethnic and national identity, which reflects individual and racial trauma at the same time (Okada 17).
Trauma leads to Ichiro’s self-blame and depression. As S. Frank Miyamoto points out, many Nisei Japanese Americans “tended toward self-blame in face of racial trauma”: they blamed themselves for not being American enough, rather than blaming structural forces (qtd. in Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40). Although Ichiro initially blames his mother for his misery, he soon turns to blame himself, “I did not go [to the military] because I was weak and could not do what I should have done” (Okada 32). With three consecutive “I”s, Ichiro directs all the blame to himself and torments himself with guilt. Sharing Ichiro’s experience, many young Nisei men blamed themselves for their suffering even though they also felt betrayed by their country. Their feeling of shame and humiliation is severe to the extent that it “parallel[ed] the feelings reported by rape victims” (Hansen and Mitson qtd. in Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40). Under heavy psychological burdens, Ichiro exhibits depressive behavior. For example, he “only focus[es] on negative details” and constantly sees the city as “dirty” (Storhoff 5; Okada 3). Given his traumatic experience, Ichiro’s depressive worldview, obsession with self-pity, and his many bitter soliloquies are understandable as a consequence of individual and racial trauma while his psychological condition demonstrates their lasting negative effects. Through Ichiro, Okada gives a realistic portrayal of the shattered world and traumatized psychology of Nisei no-no boys.
Beyond individual and racial trauma, the additional trauma of war and combat inflicts Japanese Americans who fought in WWII. In No-No Boy, Okada characterizes Kenji as a veteran suffering from combat-related PTSD and the physical trauma of a lost leg. Like many WWII veterans who “report vivid memories and dreams related to their combat experiences,” Kenji is mentally tormented by the memory of war, especially his killing of a German soldier: “‘He was up on the roof of the barn and I shot him, killed him. He wasn’t the only German I killed, but I remember him. I see him rolling down the roof. I see him all the time” (Langer 51; Okada 148). As an example of “intrusive recollection,” Kenji’s vivid memory of his combat experience points at a clear diagnosis of PTSD (Langer 51). Besides his psychological trauma, Kenji’s also suffers from physical pains from his lost leg. Continuing to fester and eventually taking Kenji’s life, the wound is a metaphor for the long-lasting influence of trauma and its lethal consequence (Okada 58). Although Kenji is respected as a war hero in the post-war American society, he nevertheless suffers from both psychological and physical trauma during the Japanese American resettlement period like the no-no boys, the draft resisters, and other veterans in the community. Including this physically and mentally wounded veteran in his novel, Okada presents a full range of traumatic experiences and further complicates the psychological landscape of Japanese Americans in the post-war and post-incarceration era.
In their study, Nagata, Kim, and Wu also indicate that incarceration and the loyalty questionnaire have an intergenerational effect on newer generations of Japanese Americans, which constitutes historical and cultural trauma (41). While Okada does not portray Sansei or other younger generations of Japanese Americans in detail, he mentions Kenji’s young nephews and nieces during their family dinner. He briefly profiles them as “a year-old granddaughter on [Kenji’s father’s] knee,” “two young grandsons fought to conquer the other knee,” and “the remaining three grandchildren were all girls, older, more well-behaved, and they huddled on the floor to watch the baseball game” (Okada 157). Recognizing the presence of a new generation, Okada also hints at possible ways that trauma would affect future generations. For example, the three young girls watching baseball game seem to imply the young generations’ Americanization, which is actually a realistic reflection of some Nisei parents’ efforts to have their children “blend into the mainstream” (Nagata, Kim, and Nguyen 363). But since Okada was not able to fully imagine the psychological landscape of new generations in the 1950s, he acknowledges their emerging significance in the community while appropriately leaving their future open and unwritten.
Silence as a Coping Strategy
In the face of trauma, Japanese Americans, Issei and younger generations alike, used silence as a coping strategy. For decades, they refrained from discussing their incarceration experience with each other (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40). According to a survey including over 400 Nisei, family conversation on their incarceration experience is very limited: “more than 12% [of the Nisei participants] never spoke with their Issei parents about the camps, 50% spoke less than four times, and 70% percent of those who had any discussions conversed less than 15 minutes” (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40). Reflecting such silence within families and in the community, silence pervades in No-No Boy. While silence allows characters to momentarily evade from painful memories, it does not imply healing of their trauma, reflecting the observation of Nagata et al., “silence frequently serves as a means for individuals or communities to cope with trauma, but it does not signify that trauma has been healed” (40). Instead, silence may even destroy relationships and lead to social amnesia towards injustices.
Silence is marked in the Yamada family where each member is tormented by a distinct trauma. When Ichiro first returns home from his imprisonment, he and his parents “all ate in silence, not even disturbed once by the tinkling of the bell” (Okada 13). Highlighting that silence cannot even be “disturbed once” by the bell, Okada emphasizes the impermeability and intentionality of their silence. The Yamadas choose to stay silent and not respond to any sound, even if they should have much to talk about after years of separation. While the silence protects them from bringing up old memories and creating new trauma, it cannot resolve their existing pain. Instead, Ichiro harbors resentment towards his mother in silence. After a brief conversation between his mother and him, Ichiro starts to blame his mother for his suffering quietly in his mind. For an entire page, Ichiro bitterly rants in silence: “There was a time when I was your son […] Now that I know the truth when it is too late and the half of me which was you is no longer there […] and I blame you” (Okada 16-17). Although silence seems to prevent Ichiro from verbally attacking and traumatizing his mother, it does not relieve his pain or dissolve his resentment. As a coping strategy, silence is indeed limited in its ability to resolve conflicts and heal trauma from the root.
Rather than healing trauma, silence hinders communication between Ichiro and his mother and leads to their complete unintelligibility to each other. In his attempt to understand and empathize with his mother, Ichiro formulates a list of questions in his mind: “Tell me, Mother, who are you? What is it to be a Japanese? There must have been a time when you were a little girl. You never told me about those things. Tell me now so that I can begin to understand [...]” (Okada 95).
However, because Ichiro questions his mother solely in his mind, the stubborn silence ultimately deprives both of them of the opportunity to communicate. Okada masterfully portrays the intense moment of silence as “while [Ichiro] wrestled with the words which cried to be spoken, the mother glanced up and looked surprised as if to say, Oh, I thought you had gone” (Okada 96). Casting Ichiro’s words as an active agent with a burning desire to be uttered, Okada’s personification implies that Ichiro has a subconscious yet eager will to speak and communicate with his mother. Ironically, Ichiro’s silent thoughts are interrupted and then discouraged by a harsher silence: his mother’s silent glance.
Without any utterance, his mother projects an unwillingness to communicate through her glance. Although she does not signify an explicit refusal to communication, her passivity overpowers and defeats Ichiro’s desire to speak: “If he had been about to say anything, the moment had gone” (Okada 96). After this failed attempt, Ichiro never tries to speak with his mother again. Dominating the relationship between Ichiro and his mother, silence leads to their total unintelligibility towards each other. In the end, the mother and son become strangers. Used as a strategy to refrain from articulating trauma, silence ends up having a destructive effect in their relationship.
The silence between Ichiro’s mother and father leads to an even darker consequence. Namely, it contributes to the mental illness and death of Ichiro’s mother. Although Pa and Ma still communicate with each other for daily errands, they rarely share their traumatic experiences or address their current reality. When Ichiro asks Pa why he has stopped telling Ma about Japan’s surrender, his father replies, “‘Your mama is sick […] I cannot do anything for her’” (Okada 35). Pathologizing his wife, Pa justifies his passivity and silence as the only way to cope with Ma’s sickness, which is essentially caused by her trauma. Merely a coping strategy, silence does not heal Ma’s sickness. Instead, it tolerates Ma’s continued denial of reality and nurtures her stubborn belief. Pa even confesses himself that his silence may have led to Ma’s delusion, “maybe it is I that is somehow responsible for her sickness in the first place’” (Okada 35). Having kept silent for too long, Pa fails in his final attempt to break the silence and speak the truth. After he forces Ma to listen to her sister’s desperate letter from Japan, Pa shocks Ma and drives her into a breakdown that preludes to her suicide. In the scenes leading up to Ma’s suicide, Okada compounds multiple layers of silence: silence in the house, Ma’s soundless movements, Pa’s negligence of his surroundings, and the ultimate silence of death, thereby correlating silence with death (Okada 155-156). When Ma finally drowns herself in a bathtub filled with water, a medium frequently associated with silence, the father is intoxicated by alcohol and becomes oblivious to his surrounding (Okada 167).
Initially used as a coping strategy, silence consumes both of Ichiro’s parents. The denouement of Ma’s life highlights the tragic outcome when Issei Japanese Americans use silence to forget about their past experiences and avoid new trauma. While Okada may have overdramatized the “awful silence” in the Yamada family, his depiction still reflects the deeply rooted trauma within Japanese American families that cannot be resolved or disguised by silence (155).
Outside of the Yamada family, silence is present in the interactions between Nisei friends as their strategy to refrain from discussing their incarceration and war experience. During their first re-encounter, Kenji asks Ichiro to “‘talk about something else’” other than his lost leg and festering wound (Okada 58). Prompting Ichiro to change the topic, Kenji suggests that he wants to refrain from discussing his trauma. Silencing the topic, Kenji is able to temporarily overlook his harsh reality. Immediately after Kenji’s proposal, the two become silent as “they didn’t talk, because there was nothing to say. For a brief moment Ichiro felt a strange exhilaration” (Okada 58). In the complete silence, both Kenji and Ichiro can evade from their respective problems. Silence, then, is used as a strategy to escape from reality as J. Vernon Jensen says, “if man talks to escape himself, certainly an equally strong case is evident that he occasionally reveals through silence an attempt to escape from himself, from reality around him” (253).
Momentarily neglecting their traumatic experience, Ichiro and Kenji also achieve “an appearance of normalcy” (Kashima 113). In fact, this normalcy of enjoying an aimless drive with a friend is what exhilarates Ichiro. During the ride, Ichiro’s friendship, aimlessness, and proximity to the steering wheel restore in him a sense of intimacy, freedom, and control that reminds him of his normal life before war and incarceration. Providing an empty space for the illusionary normalcy, silence is a functional strategy for young Nisei Japanese Americans to temporarily cope with their trauma and pain.
In the same way, silence offers a refuge of normalcy for Ichiro and Emi and shelters them from the chaotic reality. After the funeral of Ichiro’s mother, Emi comes to comfort Ichiro, but breaks down in the middle because of her divorce. Seeking solace, they go out to dance, during which they remain silent and only “smiled at each other, for there really was nothing to be said” (Okada 186). In the silence, Ichiro again feels a sense of normalcy and thinks to himself, “this is the way it ought to be” (Okada 186). Indulging in an imagined world of normalcy, both Ichiro and Emi enjoy the happiness of a moment that resembles a normal life. Neglecting their traumatic past and present, both of them can set aside their emotional burdens and re-experience the feeling of “relaxed, free and happy” at least for the time being (Okada 186). As a way to relieve pain, their resort to silence also explains why many Nisei Japanese Americans chose not to talk about their traumatic experience in real life (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40). Like Emi, Ichiro, and Kenji, they avoid re-experiencing trauma and hide in a safe space resembling normalcy through their use of silence.
Although silence enables Nisei to cope with trauma, Kashima cautions that “the unwillingness to articulate deep feelings and emotions indicates an amnesic reaction to the traumatic events” (113). The novel already suggests a tendency towards social amnesia, which is defined as “a group phenomenon in which attempts are made to suppress feelings and memories of particular moments or extended time periods” (Kashima 113). Before their farewell, Kenji suggests that Ichiro should “marry a white girl or a Negro or an Italian or even a Chinese. Anything but a Japanese. After a few generations of that, you’ve got the thing beat’” (Okada 147). Advising Ichiro to leave the community and dissociate with other Japanese Americans, Kenji is a representative of many other Japanese Americans who “avoided associating with fellow Japanese Americans to blend in” as a strategy to turn away from trauma (Nagata, Kim, and Wu 40).
Essentially, they try to use silence to suppress memories and passively wait for an eventual dissolution of trauma. Whereas this strategy might be effective for certain individuals, it can lead to a mass erasure of history and delay justice to the entire community. Fortunately, silence did not remain in the Japanese American community forever. With the passage of time and the rise of new generations, Japanese Americans have started to speak out their experience, break the silence, and seek justice from the government, leading to the governmental redress in 1981. Although Okada passed away in 1971, his novel lived to witness the emerging voices from the Japanese American community.
Conclusion: Breaking the Silence
Rather than falling into social amnesia, the Japanese American community started to directly face their trauma in the 1960s and 1970s, during which both Issei and Nisei Japanese Americans became more willing to discuss their experience (Kashima 114). Having conducted studies on Japanese American psychology for nearly two decades, Donna Nagata and other researchers find that Sansei Japanese Americans are able to recollect historical memory and bring social awareness to the injustices as a “carrier group” of the history (Nagata, Kim, and Nguyen 364). Through their activism, there has been an increasing number of museum exhibitions on the incarceration period, books recording the history, and other forms of memorial (Ishizuka). Their efforts have brought awareness to the history and given voice to the community.
Presenting the trauma of Japanese Americans and their coping process, No-No Boy is itself an effort to break the silence and counter social amnesia. Despite its effort, it was not well-received when it was published in 1957. Accurately portraying of a silent community, the novel actually foreshadowed its own lack of recognition. Mirroring Okada’s characters who shy away trauma and use silence as a coping strategy, Japanese American readers were not interested in reading Okada’s novel or similar narratives during the late-1950s and the 1960s (Robinson 237). However, when the Japanese American community began to directly address their experience, No-No Boy became widely recognized. Republished by Shawn Wong, Jeffrey Chan, Frank Chin, and Lawson Inada in 1976, the novel was embraced by the Japanese American community (Wong 297-98). With its growing readership, No-No Boy further contributes to breaking the silence. As such, the novel transitions from a reflection of, to a participant in, and ultimately to a witness of Japanese Americans’ journey towards readjustment in society, reconciliation of trauma, and reclaim of justice.
Benefitting from insights of Psychology, an interdisciplinary approach to Okada’s novel is rewarding first because it explains the actions and speech of characters who seem to be incomprehensible at times. As illuminated by psychological studies, when Issei and Nisei characters exhibit eccentric behavior and harbor negative emotions, they are in fact suffering from trauma on individual and racial levels. Using silence as a coping strategy, they try to evade from trauma and shield themselves within the appearance of normalcy, though silence leads to negative consequences. Yet, beyond providing explanations for Okada’s characterization, this interdisciplinary approach also illustrates how a piece of fiction can realistically capture the trauma of WWII and incarceration and break the silence of social injustices on behalf of a marginalized community.
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Storhoff, Gary. “‘A Prison of Forever’: Cognitive Distortions and Depression in John Okada’s No-No Boy.” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, vol. 6, no. 1, Fall 2004, pp. 1-20. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41207035.
Wong, Shawn. “Republishing and Teaching No-No Boy.” John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy, edited by Frank Abe et al., U of Washington P, 2018, pp. 295-301.
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