Dazai’s ‘No Longer Human’: Timeless portrayal of mental health

Review by HannahCusick

HannahCusick ’23 takes a break during Theology after finishing her homework. She opens up “No Longer Human” in Mr. Kory Delkamiller’s class to read it for a second time. 
Photo by KyraMcFadden.

Osamu Dazai’s second and last novel “No Longer Human” is a remarkable, poignant and thought-provoking story that leaves readers pondering the complexities of humanity. From the introduction to the last word of the 176 page book, the main character Yozo’s life seems to have begun its decay the moment he was born as each page reveals the tragedies of his life. 

The 1948 Japanese classic is the second best selling book in Japan, and more importantly, holds the prestigious title as my favorite book. Although it may seem utterly daunting and dark, it’s worth the read as it is beautifully written and leaves an indelible impression. 

Set in the 1930s in Japan, the novel chronicles the sorrow, alienation and destruction of Oba Yozo through three notebooks, in a first person perspective that allows readers to enter the dark mind of Yozo. Since his childhood, Yozo has always felt an intense detachment from humans; he is unable to understand or connect with the rest of humanity and is incapable of expressing his emotions. 

Yozo hides his true self by masking himself as a clown and views humans as a completely different species that he cannot relate to. Living without a reason to exist and feeling like life is nothing more than just existing as everything passes, Yozo ultimately feels unqualified to identify as human. 

The story in the book is believed to be an autobiographical projection of the author Dazai’s life; the tragic events that occurred in Yozo’s life mirror some of the troubles that Dazai faced during his lifetime and Dazai doesn’t try to hide the similarities between himself and Yozo at all. 

 “No Longer Human” is Dazai’s most popular work published in 1948, followed by “The Setting Sun” as his second most popular novel published in 1947. Both are considered to be modern day classics in Japan. 

Dazai was ultimately consumed by depression and anxiety when he died by suicide in 1948 shortly after releasing “No Longer Human” Some conspiracists and fans of the author believe that the novel serves as a last reflection of his life and a final goodbye. 

“No Longer Human” is a quick read, but may not be easy for all; the story does include heavy topics like depression, suicide, physical and emotional abuse and alcohol and drug abuse. I think this book serves as one of the best representations of depression and anxiety as it shows the unfiltered nature and depth of the emotions one experiences. 

Dazai’s work gets readers to understand the importance of mental health and empathize for people like Yozo, but it is very transparent about the effects of untreated mental illnesses, so it might not be the best choice for those who have been affected by mental illnesses. 

I found Yozo’s character to be very easy to relate to even though you won’t want to at times; throughout the entirety of the book Yozo struggles with feelings of alienation, and no matter what century or city you live in, we’re all familiar with the feeling that Dazai depicts accurately. I liked the representation of the effects of mental illness through Yozo’s character as he endured a life of heavy struggle, but he lacked any self-pity.

If you are a reader who enjoys those kinds of 0 to 100 climax type of books, you will not encounter that here. I found the storyline similar to that of the novel “The Catcher in the Rye” as it simply follows Yozo’s life and is an accumulation of events and emotions. The structure that the three notebooks provided seems more effective. 

I really enjoyed this book for the style of writing, but more importantly because I think the purpose of “No Longer Human” is versatile and depends entirely on who is reading it. It’s the type of book that I’ll read multiple times throughout different chapters of my life and take away something different each time. What you learn from Yozo depends entirely on your view on life and perspective on humanity, which is why I loved reading it. 

I feel like it’s not one of those books where you say “I wish I could re-read this for the first time again,” and I’m excited to see what I take from it the next time I enter Yozo’s life. 

One of the main reasons I found this book so alluring is because of the first person perspective. I love those books that allow you to enter the minds of the main characters and view the world through a unique lens. 

Another book that dives deep into the mind of its main character like Dazai’s book does is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky; I also loved this book and if you like it then I highly recommend reading ‘‘No Longer Human.’’ 

Although the story takes place in Japan during the 1930s, Yozo’s life is a timeless representation of mental illness that is relevant today and will continue to be relevant for many years to come.

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