Existential Helplessness and Suicide in Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human
Osamu Dazai's 'No Longer Human' is a novel with a semi-autobiographical nerve; an account of the author's own struggles with depression, addiction, and feelings of alienation and disconnection from society. The scabs we often tend to with no certainty that they will ever heal.
Dazai lived a life inhabiting a kind of uninhabitable and hardened and gnawing despair. The concept of 'individuality' felt alien to him; the consciousness of the world gripped him as terribly as his awareness of himself. Paralyzing both society and self against the impermeability of existence and the inability to cope with it. The processes of which are acutely mirrored in the novel's protagonist, Yozo, a deeply troubled individual who, in his relationship with the world and himself, contemplates death both in spirit and body.
“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.”
Throughout the novel, his very beingness is haunted by the ghoulish presence of death. He often succumbs to contemplating taking his own life as a way to escape the eternity of his pain and despair with the world and with himself.
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This aspect of the novel stands out like a sore thumb and is perhaps the only lens through which you can view Yozo's struggles with abysmal suicidal ideation.
“I am convinced that human life is filled with many pure, happy, serene examples of insincerity, truly splendid of their kind-of people deceiving one another without (strangely enough) any wounds being inflicted, of people who seem unaware even that they are deceiving one another.”
Patriarchy, too, plays a role in Yozo's sense of despair in a contrastingly distinct manner. Yozo is acutely aware of the societal pressures placed on men to conform to rigid gender roles and to the conditioned portrait of masculinity.
This pressure is deeply rooted in Japan and is reflected in the strict societal expectations placed on men to be successful, independent, and emotionally reserved. Yozo's inability to meet these expectations further exacerbates his feelings of isolation and despair.
“Now I have neither happiness nor unhappiness. Everything passes. That is the one and only thing that I have thought resembled a truth in the society of human beings where I have dwelled up to now as in a burning hell. Everything passes.”
Ultimately, the portrayal of suicide in 'No Longer Human' is a complex and visceral one, rife with a kind of cosmic numbness and helplessness that might unnerve some readers.
This and disassociation are just two of the many themes explored in the novel. I'm always pulled back to the way Dazai portrays this deterioration of a self, which is nothing but a sharp and poignant reflection of the challenges faced by individuals struggling with mental illness and alienation in modern society.
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