Why is “No Longer Human” so captivating? | Teen Ink

Why is “No Longer Human” so captivating?

February 28, 2023
By Yuseflateef06 GOLD, Valley Stream, New York
Yuseflateef06 GOLD, Valley Stream, New York
17 articles 0 photos 0 comments

(spoiler-free review)

           No Longer Human is a book under the “Semi-autobiographical” genre, where the characters we observe aren’t real, but are based on real people in the author’s (Osamu Dazai) life. In the book, the narrator (based on Dazai himself) is named Ōba Yōzō, and we get to observe how he navigates his life in three different stages; a child, a young adult, and a time when he has “gray hair.” Throughout his life, Yōzō struggles with his own humanity and finding his place in society. Although Yōzō had wealthy parents, they were emotionally absent, and his father would be working in Tokyo for extended periods of time without much contact. It’s also important to note that this story took place in the 30s, and this piece of context will come into play later on. Yōzō describes himself as a “clown” multiple times throughout the book, and he believes his sole purpose is to entertain others. Throughout his life, we see how this notion impacts his own mental health, as well as his relationships with other people. If you are interested in media that depicts a morally gray protagonist going through tough struggles, this is the read for you.

(Spoiler Version):

            As the book progresses through Yōzō’s life, you slowly start to realize what a disgusting person he truly is. The first instance I noticed was with Yōzō’s statement that “I have often felt that I would find it more complicated, troublesome and unpleasant to ascertain the feelings by which a woman lives than to plumb the innermost thoughts of an earthworm” (Page 29). Although you can attempt to defend this statement with the commonly held attitudes in 1930s Japan, it only gets worse from here. Yōzō begins a downward spiral after he meets someone named Horiki in an art class he took. Horiki introduces him to the “wonders” of Tokyo, including drugs, alcohol, prostitution, (etc.). Yōzō begins to drink his issues (primarily concerning his father’s expectations) away, and this sends his mind into a darker place than it already was. He begins to find solace in sleeping with prostitutes, and he even states that “Some nights I saw these imbecile, lunatic prostitutes with the halo of Mary” (Page 36). Eventually, he becomes disgusted with these women and instead decides to juggle relationships with multiple other women. One of these women is named Tsuneko, whose name Yōzō can only slightly remember, as he states that “I am the sort of person who can forget even the name of the woman with whom he attempted suicide.” He convinces Tsuneko to commit suicide with him after she voices her unease with her life, and the two walk down to a beach; only one of them survives. Yōzō is initially distraught at the fact that Tsuneko is dead, though this discomfort is forgotten once a detective catches him faking a cough, and he becomes more distraught over that scenario instead (he believes that it was one of his “great disasters in a lifetime of acting” (Page 54)). After some time taking one step forward, and two backward, Yōzō meets Shizuko, and her daughter Shigeko. He eventually marries Shizuko and even has Shigeko call him her father. However, Yōzō falls into drinking again and begins to pawn his wife’s items in order to pay for his addiction. In perhaps the only beneficial thing Yōzō has done in the entire book, he decides to leave the two alone after causing enough harm, stating that “They were happy, the two of them. I’d been a fool to come between them. I might destroy them both if I were not careful” (page 72). Yōzō eventually meets a much younger girl (around 17 or so) named Yoshiko, and it seems as though he truly cared for her. While Yōzō admits he pitied Tsuneko more so than actually loved her, he truly seems to love Yoshiko. This all changes when the audience learns he mostly cared about Yoshiko’s “innocence,” and after one of his clients assaults Yoshiko, Yōzō watches, failing to intervene or help his wife. Though the event does sadden him, he seems to care less about Yoshiko, and more about how the ordeal has impacted him/his view of humanity. Yōzō turns to Morphine to numb his pain while ignoring Yoshiko’s feelings, and after his addiction becomes noticeable, he is checked into some sort of a psych ward by Horiki. The story ends by leaving Yōzō’s fate undetermined, as the reader is uncertain whether he has ended his life or not at this point. However, doing some research online would show that Dazai, unfortunately, killed himself, and it can be inferred by the reader that Yōzō killed himself as well. 

Final review: 4.5/5

            This book was an amazing read for me, and it kept me hooked throughout each of the pages. I am somewhat biased however, as this book was recommended to me with a positive review, and I commonly consume media that follows a troubled protagonist (such as the popular show Bojack Horseman). The only criticism I have is that the book's beginning is a little slow, and I had to fight to keep reading because I knew the book would be good, which is why it loses .5 points. Otherwise a great read and would highly suggest it for those interested in the genre

The author's comments:

Yusef Lateef is a 16 year old student in high school in New York. He is planning on applying to college with biomedical science as his major, and is excited for many future endeavors to come

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