Review: Sociopathy in No Longer Human
Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human is a strange, captivating story unlike anything I have read before. It asks many questions about the meaning of life, the most prominent question being "what makes a human a human?" After much reflection, I am still unsure what I think the meaning of being a human is. However, the protagonist in this story, Ōba Yōzō, is even more estranged to people than I am.
I found the prologue to be particularly interesting in context to the story. An unknown narrator describes three photos of a boy, who is assumed to be Ōba Yōzō, at different times in his life. The narrator describes the pictures with horror, but we can tell from context that the photos are not gruesome in any way. The pictures present something unseen by the naked eye; they reveal something about Yōzō and his inner-mechanisms. The first photo is him as a child, where he displays a wide grin, but his fists are clenched, and you can see the emptiness in his eyes. The second photo depicts Yōzō with a slight smile, but still appearing empty and forced. The narrator describes the third photo as even more horrifying than the rest. He is not smiling, and this picture seems to be the true nature of what was behind the other two photographs. The narrator states, "Something ineffable makes the beholder shudder in distaste. I have never seen such an inscrutable face on a man" (p. 17). I believe the author included this in the prologue to introduce what I consider to be Ōba Yōzō's sociopathic tendencies. However, after finishing the novel, I concluded that he is not a complete sociopath.
After the prologue, the novel follows Yōzō through his whole life, which can be briefly summarized as a train-wreck. However, the most important part of the story does not seem to be the tragic events of his life, but rather the lack of emotions, and eventually strong emotions, he feels as they happen. Reading through Part 1, there was no doubt in my mind that Ōba Yōzō was a sociopath. He explains his inability to understand humans and his own feeling of being inhuman. He also expresses an inherent fear of humans, which he expresses throughout the novel. He attempts to deal with this fear by putting on a facade to appeal to society that he does not understand. "Before anyone realized it, I had become an accomplished clown, a child who never spoke a single truthful word" (p. 27). His whole childhood was an attempt to please others only out of fear that they would recognize his true nature and label him as an outcast. My initial thought was that these actions are exactly those of a sociopath: someone who truly only cares about themselves, someone who wears a mask to avoid showing their true colors, and someone who lacks an understanding of other human beings. Very quickly, I began to feel conflicted about this image I had of Ōba Yōzō. I started to realize that he was a very complicated individual.
I believe Ōba Yōzō has depression. I have not been able to research this, as there are little to no articles or analyses of No Longer Human. I mainly drew this conclusion not during my reading, but when I had finished reading and reflected on his life. Many of the events in his life were caused by recklessness, a symptom of sociopathy. However, Ōba Yōzō also says that he may have never been happy. "I wonder if I have actually been happy...I have always felt as if I were suffering" (p. 25). This is also a common theme in the novel. This led me to believe that many of Yōzō's actions were caused by extreme self-hatred and not just a disregard for life and others. He continually suffers through painful situations until he eventually breaks.
Whether Osamu Dazai's intention in writing this character was to imply Ōba Yōzō's sociopathic tendencies, depression, both, or something entirely different, the novel is an excellent depiction of the struggle to survive in a world that no one truly understands. The novel is also an incredible outlet for self-discovery; I believe that it is possible for people to conclude many different things from this novel, most of the ideas pertaining to aspects of themselves they may not have noticed before. This novel really demonstrated for me that nothing is black and white; it is all shades of grey, whether that is a good or a bad thing.