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Literature / No Longer Human

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Mine has been a life of much shame. I can't even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being.

No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku in Japanese, translating literally to "Disqualified From Being Human") tells the story of Ōba Yōzō, a man who is incapable of relating to other people. Perpetually resentful of humanity since childhood, he adopts a comical persona early on in life in order to disguise his true feelings. As he grows older, he is unable to overcome his feelings of alienation and trauma, leading him down a path of inevitable self-destruction.

Profoundly pessimistic but deeply insightful, it was the final and most famous work by Japanese writer Osamu Dazai, who committed suicide shortly after its publication in 1948. Though ostensibly fictional, much of it is based on Dazai's own life. Considered a national classic in Japan, it is the nation's second-best selling novel of all time and has been translated into many foreign languages, including an English translation in 1958 by Donald Keene.


The book has been adapted into many mediums such film, anime and manga, including as the first four episodes of the series Blue Literature and a manga adaptation by Junji Ito which alters the story to incorporate elements of horror. Bungo Stray Dogs takes considerable inspiration from it, with one of the main protagonists bearing Dazai's name and wielding a supernatural power named after the book.

This book provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: In the manga version by Junji Ito, Yozo is much more actively malevolent and his antics indirectly get multiple people killed who survive in the book.
  • Addled Addict: Yozo becomes a heavy morphine user toward the end of the story, which takes a serious toll on his health and results in his confinement to a mental hospital.
  • The Alcoholic: Yozo, later in life.
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  • Author Avatar: The narrator, Oba Yozo, is essentially a stand-in for Dazai himself, with many elements of his life such as his suicide attempts, tumultuous relationships and drug addictions paralleled in the novel.
  • Author Tract: As Yozo is essentially a stand-in for Dazai, the book can be read as a presentation of Dazai's own thoughts on society.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Yozo is clearly mentally unwell, but it's hard to pin down exactly what's wrong with him. His psychology contains elements of depression, dissociation, anxiety and autism, along with stranger things, such as his claim that he has never experienced the physical sensation of hunger.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Yozo himself, who keeps up a facade of friendly humor but is really as dishonest and self-obsessed as all the people around him.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Yozo finds his sense of happiness and right and wrong are so different from those of people around him that he cannot comprehend their thinking at all. In a sense, Yozo's true feelings would fall under this trope from someone else's perspective, while the whole of humanity falls under it from his point of view.
  • Byronic Hero
  • The Cynic: Yozo regards all other people with distrust, while also being aware that he himself is controlled by his vices and insecurities.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Downplayed. Yozo mentions many incidents which confirmed or increased his disconnection from others, such as being molested as a child or witnessing his wife being sexually assaulted. But none of these events seem solely responsible for his state of mind, which instead appears to have been in place since birth.
  • Descent into Addiction: Yozo first experiences it with alcohol, then with morphine.
  • Dirty Communists: An interesting example. Yozo becomes a member of a communist organization and even becomes one of its highest ranking members, but only as an amusing diversion, because he has no respect whatsoever for the group and its beliefs, viewing them as ineffectual idiots with self-righteous, inflated senses of the importance of their work. He particularly mocks their obsessive beliefs about how dangerous and secret their activities are. In other words, Yozo dislikes communists not because he thinks they're evil but because they're incompetent. He doesn't even seem to disagree with the actual ideas of communism, instead dismissing them because he thinks they're too obvious and self-explanatory.
  • Downer Ending: Despite all of his suicide attempts, Yozo ultimately survives. However, he is no happier than before, and lives a lonely existence, completely estranged from humanity, after his release from a mental hospital. Despite still being young, he looks much older due to the toll taken by all his stress and suffering. He describes himself as "disqualified from being human."
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Averted. Yozo is clear about the traumatic effects of his childhood abuse by female servants.
  • Driven to Suicide: Yozo attempts suicide multiple times throughout the book, but fails each time. In one case, his suicide partner is not so lucky.
  • Extreme Doormat: Yozo claims that he is incapable of standing up for his own interests, to the point that, when he refuses the morphine his wife offers him near the end of the novel, he believes it is the first time he has ever turned down something offered to him in his life.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Yozo believes it, and the book doesn't do much to suggest that he's at all wrong.
  • Lack of Empathy: Yozo's biggest problem.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: The entire book is focused on Yozo's experiences living as a misanthrope. He views all people as egotistical and dishonest to the point that none of them should be trusted in any way.
  • Off the Wagon: Yozo briefly recovers from his alcoholism only for the reappearance of Horiki in his life to send him back into his old habits.
  • Older Than They Look: By the end of the book Yozo is only 27, but says you would more likely expect him to be 40 by how he looks.
  • Poisonous Friend: Horiki.
  • Rape as Drama: Yozo himself is molested as a child by servants in his household, which greatly affects him. Near the end of the book, he sees his wife Yoshiko being sexually assaulted, which causes a major rift in their previously (by Yozo's standards) healthy relationship and encourages his descent into morphine addiction.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Even with as negative a view of humanity as Yozo holds, he still singles out child rape as one of the worst things a person can do and is more hurt by his wife's rape than by any other incident in his life.
  • Sad Clown: Yozo's basic nature. He can only stand to live by pretending to be a clown and amuse others, while inside he secretly fears and hates the same people he entertains.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: As far to the cynical side as one can get. Yozo despises humanity for all its faults, yet he himself is also guilty of the same shortcomings. Nobody in the book is especially sympathetic, nor does anything good happen to any of them. Yozo's view of human beings is portrayed as more or less correct, but he suffers anyway.
  • Spooky Painting: Yozo becomes enamored with the eerie paintings of artist Amedeo Modigliani, feeling that they communicate the underlying evil of humanity by portraying ordinary people with distorted proportions. As a result he takes up painting himself in order to express his true thoughts on people, and paints a self-portrait so hideous he refuses to show it to anyone except Takeichi, whose approval of Modigliani's work was what inspired him. Takeichi tells him he will be a great artist someday.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Yozo frequently makes claims about himself and others which are implausible or contradicted elsewhere. For instance, he describes himself as always being sympathetic to those whom society deems outcasts, yet his narration treats Takeichi, an ugly and unpopular classmate, with the same derision as everyone else.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Yozo's wife Yoshiko is so idealistic she even seems to truly believe Yozo needs morphine as a beneficial medicine even after he's hospitalized for his addiction to it. She also stays devoted to him long after he stops caring about her.

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