In Farewell to Manzanar, what are the chief differences between Woody and Papa? How are they similar?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Farewell to Manzanar, a memoir based on the experience of one Japanese family held in an internment camp during World War II, the characters of Papa and Woody shed light on the intergenerational differences between Japanese immigrants and their children during this period. Both Papa and Woody exhibit patriarchal and paternal qualities, as Papa is the father and Woody is the third eldest son. Woody proves this when he steps in as the paternal figure following Papa's removal from Manzanar and internment at Fort Lincoln.

Still, despite the paternal responsibilities taken on by both Papa and Woody, there are key differences that set them apart. For one, despite Papa's upbringing in Japan as the eldest son in a samurai family, he displays a great deal of insecurity. Take, for example, his feelings on his and his family's internment:

For a man raised in Japan, there was no greater disgrace. And it was the humiliation. It brought him face to face with his own vulnerability, his own powerlessness. He had no rights, no home, no control over his own life.

Evidently, the change in circumstance is devastating for Papa, whose pride leading up to the family's internment is intimately interwoven with the exclusivity of the family's having been the only one of Japanese descent living in Santa Monica. Consider, for example, Jeanne's observation from chapter 22 that "Papa's life ended at Manzanar."

Recall, in the first chapter, the description given of Papa, which sheds light on the change in his mental state following internment:

Papa loved to give orders. He attended military school in Japan until the age of seventeen, and part of him never got over that. My oldest brothers, Bill and Woody, were his crew.

The blow to his pride and sense of defeat that came with internment crushed Papa's spirit and led him to the bottle.

In stark contrast, Woody's sense of self is not tied up with his heritage as much as it is with what his purpose becomes once his father has been removed from Manzanar for internment at Fort Lincoln. Up until then, "Papa had been the patriarch" and "had always decided everything in the family," but this doesn't stop Woody from taking charge. One way in which he does this is by taking the lead on family affairs. Jeanne also states that when she "needed reassurance [she] would get it from Woody."

In chapter 3, Jeanne recounts the change in leadership once Papa has been taken away:

[Woody] gave us ten minutes to dress, then he came in carrying a broom, a hammer, and a sack full of tin can lids he had scrounged somewhere. Woody would be our leader for a while now, short, stocky, grinning behind his mustache.

Woody was the new head of the household, and it "was hard to get Woody down," no matter how hard things got: "He'd keep smiling when everybody else was ready to explode. Grief flickered in his eyes"—but nothing like the grief that Papa caused his family when alcoholism lay claim to him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Woody and Papa are similar in that they both experience the horrors of racism and anti-Japanese sentiment in the US during the 1940s. Both Woody and Papa care deeply for their family and want to do what is best for them.

However, Woody is more interested in assimilating into American life in a way that Papa is not. Papa can not access the kind of luxuries that Woody, as an American citizen, can access. Papa has only experienced the brutality of the American government, and he is furious about and humiliated by the treatment he has received. Woody, however, becomes interested in joining the US army in an attempt to escape the constraints placed upon him by the US oppression of Japanese and Japanese-American folks living in the United States. Woody and Papa have conflicting visions of how their lives can improve in the United States.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would say that the main difference between Woody and Mr. Wakatsuki is in their attitudes towards the United States.  Mr. Wakatsuki is not a citizen (is not allowed to be a citizen) and therefore feels really rejected by the country.  By contrast, Woody feels that he has opportunities in the United States and that he must pay the country back for those opportunities.

You can see this difference best in the argument that the two have over whether Woody should volunteer to go in the Army.  Woody thinks it is his duty.  Papa is still angry at the US for the way it has treated him and does not want Woody to volunteer.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team