Farewell To Manzanar Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Farewell To Manzanar Analysis

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Farewell To Manzanar Analysis

In the foreword to Farewell to Manzanar, Houston explains that she is writing a “web of stories—my own, my father’s, my family’s—tracing a few paths, out of the multitude of paths that led up to and away from the experience of the internment.” Her powerful witness to what some might consider a footnote to history provides credible insight into twentieth century prejudice and injustice. Perhaps her story is all the more compelling because it is told from the perspective of a young girl; however, her voice seems to speak for all Japanese Americans imprisoned unjustly in the relocation camps of the West Coast.

In spite of the book’s theme of injustice and racism, the authors have not allowed recrimination to encroach on their work. Rather Farewell to Manzanar is a study of contrasts. Jeanne’s pensive moods, memories, and longings contrast sharply with her family’s difficult endurance of the bitter camp conditions, which are intensified by her parents’ depression and fighting. Underlying all Jeanne’s perceptions is her childish innocence. This innocence contrasts starkly with the harsh treatment of Jeanne, her family, and her friends by their government. As Jeanne matures, she is able to see more clearly what has happened to her and her family; yet she still has to deal with the contrast, or difference, between herself and her non-Asian classmates and friends once she returns home from Manzanar.

The story also provides a study of an American family that is deteriorating. Wakatsuki Ko, Jeanne’s father, underscores the theme of contrast as he battles to maintain his Japanese values and heritage along with his loyalty to the United States. Ko’s inability to confront these paradoxes is the key to his family’s deterioration. His abusive treatment of his wife and his stubborn refusal to recognize his children’s needs for social acceptance cause his family to split apart emotionally. While Farewell to Manzanar is a personal account of one family, the same fragmentation was occurring in many of the other families at the relocation camps.

Essentially, the book explores the contrast between the...

(The entire section is 890 words.)