Exploring Social Identity in Take Me Out and No-No
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Exploring Social Identity in Take Me Out and No-No Boy
In both stories, the lead characters struggle to deal with their social identities. In No-No Boy, Ichiro struggles with his cultural identity. He is a born American, yet his mother and father are Japanese. In Take Me Out, Darren has to deal with "coming out." Although he is comfortable with his own sexuality, he didn't think that it would affect his relationships with those around him as much as they did. In their novel and play, Okada and Greenberg (respectively) address the issues of social identity, and explore how individuals deal with the issues that they face.
In No-No Boy, Ichiro is faced with the ultimate challenge of associating himself with one culture. On one hand, he could support America and enlist to fight in the war, and on the other hand, her can refuse to fight for America. Ultimately, Ichiro decides not to fight in the war, and as a result, he is shunned. Ichiro cannot defend himself from accusations by simply declaring himself an American. The difficulty he experiences admitting his no-no boy status is understandable, but his inability to declare himself an American is baffling, especially since that is what he desires most. Never is his internal conflict more evident than when he finally arrives home where his traditionalist mother, who still insists on a Japanese victory, welcomes him (Ling, 365). In her son's refusal to serve, Ma sees her own unwavering loyalty to Japan. Ichiro, however, is far more divided on the matter. In the novel, he thinks to himself, "We were Japanese with Japanese feelings and Japanese pride and Japanese thoughts because it was all right to be Japanese and feel and think all the things that Japanese do even if we lived in America. Then there came a time when I was only half Japanese because one is not born in American and raised in American and taught in America… without becoming American and loving it" (Okada, 15-16). Ichiro wants to be recognized as an American so badly, but he cannot extend that same recognition to himself. Instead, he references his American upbringing and education as if they are somehow separate from him, each of them superior to himself as a whole (Ling, 366).
The novel also mentions the fact that the United States was at war with Italy and Germany at the same time. However, citizens of Italian or German ancestry were able to blend in with the American population with greater ease than Ichiro, whose crime against the country becomes known after one glance at his face. Due to his physical traits, he is immediately set apart as an inassimilable foreigner and automatically suspected of treason. Ichiro fails to realize that his position in post-war America is no different than those same Nisei who exert the painstaking efforts to torment him. He cannot bring himself to articulate, not even to himself, that he is an American citizen, much less one worthy of recognition. His status as a no-no boy not only affects how others within and outside the Japanese community view him, but, as depicted by his constant internal back-and-forth, also distorts how he views himself.
Emi, who blossoms into a close friend as the novel progresses, sees right through Ichiro, though. She implores him to recall how proud they felt as young students singing "The Star Spangled Banner" and pledging allegiance to the flag at school assemblies. She wants Ichiro to realize that his mistake is "no bigger than the mistake [his] country made" (Okada, 96) against him, but in the process, she ignores the simple fact that the United States possesses much more power than Ichiro, leaving Ichiro to bear the brunt of harsh consequences for his mistake whereas the United States can easily proceed into the future, undeterred, by its treatment of the Japanese.
The topic of Ichiro's "mistake" ultimately concludes when he shrugs off Emi's efforts by stating, quite matter-of-factly: "It was different then" (Okada, 96). Spurred on by what effect her words might yet have on him, Emi responds "Only because you think so" (Okada, 96). But she seems to place full blame on Ichiro for his predicament. Things
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