No Longer Human

Reading time: 4 minutes

By Osamu Dazai

When I started reading No Longer Human, I assumed it would be a cut and dry memoir on how alone, sad and depressed the author Osamu Dazai was.
But as I kept reading, it came to me that it was more than a story about depression or mental health, the novel was a treatise on the shifting mores and cultural landscape of Japan during the its rapid westernization beginning from the Meiji era leading into American Occupation.

In the foreword, Donald Keene talks about Dazai’s upbringing in a western landscape under occupied Japan. I think this might be the first Japanese literature of its kind in which the disconnect in interpersonal relationships is caused by the dilution of language, values and ideas by a foreign entity and has been severely exacerbated in current day youth by the arrival of the internet. Through Yozo’s revelations we learn how people around him use language to obscure and obfuscate their intentions thus creating a deep distrust of human beings in general within Yozo’s already fraught psyche. This is not so much in malicious intent, but a mere byproduct of the language and cultural mores that Yozo no longer identifies with due to his upbringing.

One of the biggest criticisms that No Longer Human might have may be its overt misogyny through Yozo’s perspective, but we come to learn that in his quest to supersede his basest self by utter and debilitating passivity, he depicts all the women in his life through an empowered frame. In comparison to Murakami’s novels in which women are nothing more than shells, barely even tropes, Dazai’s women are gross, naive, loving, caring, oppressive, and the whole gamut. Their agency and ability to enmesh and disconnect from society at will, to have multi-faceted lives makes them far more human than Yozo, despite his initial scorn and disdain calling women ‘imbeciles’ or fearing them as some kind of alien race. Although Yozo’s inner voice is often abhorrent and disturbing at best, he manages to speak of his relationships with the women in his life from a surprisingly feminist lens. I find this incredibly impressive because Dazai’s contemporary, Yukio Mishima crafted his protagonist Kiyoaki in not too dissimilar a fashion to Yozo, especially in regards to his indifference and disdain towards women. However, while Mishima’s female protagonist is barely a full fledged character with desires and wants, all of Dazai’s women clamor and want. They are endlessly wanting with immeasurable desires. Even through love, lust and motherhood, Dazai’s women are greedy and greed makes them human.

When his wife is sexually assaulted, his toxic AF bestie Horiki, or rather his other foil encourages Yozo to not blame his wife in an attempt to humiliate both Yozo and his wife. But Yozo finds that there is nothing to forgive. His wife’s trustfulness is the trait that he loved her most for, and it was what got her assaulted and traumatized. His withdrawal from Yoshiko at this point is seen as an affirmation of Yozo’s emotionally stunted inner universe which fears and distrusts all people, including his little step daughter who expresses her desire to see her dead dad. Rather than understand her candid expression of her need, Yozo instead points the sword inwards, doubting little Shigeko’s needs as a way to criticize him by indirectly calling him her fake dad.

The buildup to Yoshiko was the most riveting part of Yozo’s story because she and Horiki merge together to become the most powerful foils for Yozo’s development arc. They exacerbate his existential horror from both ends of the spectrum, one through sheer love and trust, the other through capricious selfishness and narcissism. They both reflect aspects of Yozo and they both are his supposed end.

I thought it was fascinating that Yozo’s character spirals downwards instead of completing an arc even though he manages to make a breakthrough towards the last half of the novel. Though Yozo realizes how individuals exert their narcissistic tendencies through social rules and linguistic vagaries, instead of finding liberation from people’s expectations, this realization only propels him into self destruction further. It came to me at that time that I hoped for him to find a glimmer of light, for Yozo to I don’t know… find peace. But it never came and I think it made me reflect on my own humanity in that moment. The last chapter revealed to me as much about myself as it did about Yozo’s never ending misery and that’s why I loved this book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *