56 pages 1 hour read

Osamu Dazai

No Longer Human

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1948

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Summary and Study Guide


Content Warning: No Longer Human contains sensitive material, such as mental illness, death by suicide, alcoholism, addiction, and sexual assault.

No Longer Human (1973) is the most internationally renowned novel by Japanese author Osamu Dazai—pen name of Shuji Tsushima. No Longer Human—its original title in Japanese being “Disqualified From Being Human”—deals with themes of mental illness and addiction and is generally considered to be semi-autobiographical. The life of the novel’s protagonist, Yozo Oba, echoes many of the tragic episodes of Dazai’s life—including multiple attempts to die by suicide, failed relationships, tuberculosis, and alcohol and morphine addiction. Like his protagonist, Dazai was the disowned son of a prominent landowner and political figure whose prodigal life distanced himself from his family. Dazai’s novel The Setting Sun cemented his place as a prominent literary figure in post-war Japan; however, despite his relative literary success, his health and personal life continued to deteriorate. Dazai fathered several children in and out of wedlock, ultimately abandoning his wife for one of his mistresses, Tomie Yamazaki. Dazai and Yamazaki died by suicide together in June of 1948. No Longer Human exhibits many influences from Western literature and is held in critical esteem. Multiple film and anime (Japanese animation) adaptations of No Longer Human have been made to varied commercial success.

This guide is based on the New Directions Paperback edition, translated by Donald Keene.

Plot Summary

An unnamed narrator introduces the framework for No Longer Human. He is an author in post-war Japan who is given three notebooks, written by a “madman,” by the proprietress of a bar. Along with these, he is given three photographs of the “madman,” taken at various stages of his life. All the photographs depict the man as subtly off-putting; something about him is repulsive, not entirely human.

Yozo Oba (simply referred to as “Yozo” in the text) is the author of the three notebooks; they are his memoirs. The first notebook depicts Yozo’s childhood. From an early age, Yozo developed a deep and secret fear of other people, possibly due to sexual abuse by one of the female servants of his house. He is unable to say “no” to anybody out of abject terror at their potential disappointment. Unable to connect with others, Yozo crafts a clownish personality, using humor—most often at his own expense—to avoid close relationships. These feelings of terror, shame, and isolation plague him throughout his childhood and metastasize in his adult life. Despite his clowning, Yozo is a naturally intelligent child; his good grades and funny behavior endear him to nearly everyone around him and spare him from both punishment and friendship.

After a childhood of successful self-imposed isolation, the second notebook depicts Yozo’s late high school and early university years. He has grown from an impish child to a handsome young man, though he continues to maintain and perfect his clownish disguise. This façade is nearly destroyed by Takeichi, an unintelligent classmate, who suspects Yozo’s fall during physical education was purposeful. Fearing that Takeichi will expose him as a fraud and ruin him, Yozo attempts to cultivate a friendship with him. During this time, Yozo develops an interest in art, painting what Takeichi refers to as “ghosts.” Yozo paints several “ghost portraits” of himself, which he shows only to Takeichi. Takeichi predicts that many women will fall for Yozo, a prediction that horrifies Yozo and haunts him throughout the rest of his life.

In college, Yozo becomes acquainted with Horiki Masao, a young man whose prodigal ways introduce him to drinking and women. Through Horiki, Yozo meets Tsuneko, a hostess at a bar. They have a one-night stand and form a suicide pact. Tsuneko drowns, but Yozo is saved. His survival disgraces him; his family distances themselves from him and put him under the care of his father’s colleague, Flat Fish. He is expelled from university and lives in Flatfish’s house—until he meets Shizuko, a woman who works for a publication company, and moves in with her and her daughter, Shigeko.

Yozo lives with Shizuko for a while, becoming a semi-successful cartoonist and a father figure to Shigeko. However, his deep fear of humanity causes him to spiral into alcohol abuse. Eventually, he runs away and takes up with a madame of a bar in Tokyo. He meets Yoshiko, a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with him. They get married on the pretense that Yozo will quit drinking, but he relapses.

One evening, Horiki visits, and after a drunken argument, cruelly shows Yozo Yoshiko being raped by a local shopkeeper in their bedroom. This marks a major turning point in Yozo’s life: Unable to save Yoshiko, the scene produces such fear and anxiety in Yozo that his hair turns prematurely gray. He falls deeper into alcoholism, and, one night, decides once again to take his life, swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills with gin.

Yozo survives. He awakens to Flatfish and the madame from the bar attending his bedside. He goes to a hot spring spa to recuperate but ends up drinking even more than before. On his return to Tokyo, he vomits blood. To cope with his alcoholism, he becomes hooked on morphine. Yozo’s health continues to decline due to morphine addiction and tuberculosis. Just when he resolves again to die by suicide, Flatfish and Horiki take him to a mental institution. When Yozo is released sometime later, his brothers reveal to him that their father died. They arrange for Yozo to live in a small house by the seaside with a servant, an older woman who occasionally violates him. Yozo is 27 years old by the end of his narrative—but could be mistaken for a man of 40.

The narrator becomes intrigued by Yozo’s story and decides to use it as source material for a novel. When he questions the proprietress—the madame who shared Yozo’s notebooks and with whom he lived—about Yozo, she reveals that despite the way he portrays himself in his writing, those around him saw him as an angel of a man.