No Longer Human Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Osamu Dazai

First published: Ningen shikkaku, 1948 (English translation, 1958)

Genre: Novel

Locale: An unnamed village in northern Japan, and Tokyo

Plot: Autobiographical

Time: The 1910's to 1930

Yozo, the narrator and the only developed character in this semiautobiographical novel, the morbidly insecure son of a cold landowner and Diet member from northern Japan. Although he is a “brain” who did well in school with little effort, he felt isolated, uncomprehending of others' behavior and convinced that he was “not qualified as a human being” (this phrase is a literal translation of the novel's title). He had been sexually abused by servants; out of fear, he acted the clown as a schoolboy. Sent to college in Tokyo, he neglects his studies, attending art classes and meeting a painter/roué, Horiki Masao, who introduces him to tobacco, drink, and prostitutes. Yozo becomes involved with an unhappy bar hostess whose husband is in prison, and he attempts suicide with her. The incident estranges him from his family. After staying briefly with one of his father's subalterns, he runs away, living as a “kept man” with Shizuko, a widow who works for a publisher and finds him commissions drawing cartoons. As his drinking worsens, he decides that she and her daughter were better off without him. After a year with a bar madam, he meets and marries Yoshiko, a trusting tobacco shop girl. They enjoy quiet happiness until Horiki reappears and leads him back to dissolute ways. One evening, Horiki discovers that Yoshiko is being raped but cruelly brings Yozo to see rather than helping her. Thereafter, Yozo's decline is swift, involving alcohol, another suicide attempt, tuberculosis, morphine addiction, and commitment to a mental institution. The story ends with him confined in a dilapidated rural house and being tended to by an ugly old woman. In the last years of the narrative, he repeatedly gives his age as twenty-seven, evidence of insanity. Although Yozo's morbid fear of “human beings” seems wildly exaggerated at the story's outset, it is justified by the end.

Flatfish, an old functionary of Yozo's father with whom Yozo is forced to live after attempting double suicide. Flatfish is unwilling to reveal the family's offer to support Yozo's return to college until the latter renounces his wayward life; this reticence contributes to Yozo's ruin, for he flees ignorant of the offer.

Horiki Masao, a former art student from a poor family who introduces Yozo to dissipation and pawnshops. Six years Yozo's senior and a dark presence in the novel, he is always ready to undermine Yozo's self-confidence. He commits one of the most inhuman acts in the story, beckoning Yozo to see Yoshiko being sexually assaulted rather than rescuing her.

Shizuko, a twenty-eight-year-old widow with a five-year-old daughter named Shigeko. Yozo moves in with her not long after his failed suicide attempt. She manages his life and finds cartooning commissions for him. He eventually leaves, thinking that he will spoil their lives.

Takeichi, the puniest boy in his high school class, scrofulous and inept, both physically and academically. He fills Yozo with fear that his clowning façade will be breached by Takeichi's guessing that one of his pratfalls was intentional. Yozo befriends him to keep him silent. It is Takeichi who encourages Yozo in art.

Tetsu, the ugly, sixtyish woman hired by Yozo's brother to look after Yozo following his period of institutionalization. Yozo attests that she violated him several times “in a curious manner.”

Tsuneko, a bar hostess from Hiroshima, working in the Ginza, whose husband is in prison. She is alone and desolate, and the misery that surrounds her frees Yozo from fear and uneasiness, giving him his only night of “liberation and happiness.” When he rejects her offer to support him, she suggests double suicide: She dies; he is saved.

Yoshiko, Yozo's junior by a decade. Yoshiko begins as an innocent seventeen-year-old with “a genius for trust” who repeatedly urges Yozo not to drink. Her faith induces him to wed her. Rape and ensuing shame and tension destroy their happiness and send Yozo into his final decline and institutionalization, to which she acquiesces.

The old pharmacist, a widow of sixty who has been halfway paralyzed since childhood. She cared for her palsied, bedridden father-in-law and her only son, a medical student, who was suffering from tuberculosis. When Yozo comes to her for medication, she gives him morphine, ostensibly so that he can stop drinking. His addiction and penury reduce him to a sordid relationship with her.

The bar madam, who keeps Yozo after he leaves Shizuko. Although he stays with her for a year, she chivalrously helps him and Yoshiko to rent an apartment near the Sumida River when they wed. At the end of the novel, she blames his fate on his father and drink, terming him “a good boy, an angel.”

Categories: Characters