Farewell To Manzanar Masterpieces of Women's Literature Farewell To Manzanar Analysis
by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston

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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.

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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 disruption of war and the security of family. Jeanne’s father, Ko, illustrates this contrast dramatically. In spite of his many faults and shortcomings as a father and husband, he is a sympathetic character. The dominant society has rendered him powerless. He seems to accept this status; his exile in North Dakota seems to reinforce his abject state of mind. When he is reunited with his family at Manzanar, he seems to have given up his influence as a strong member of the family. Interestingly, Ko’s violent outbursts of frustration at Manzanar are offset by the gentle care he gives a small rock and moss garden that he establishes by his barracks doorway. The reader comes to understand that Ko retreats into reveries of a past when he could respect himself and provide for his family. By the end of his stay at Manzanar, he is content to live by the Japanese motto “Shikata ga nai” (it cannot be helped).

Jeanne’s older brother Woody is another example of the pull between cultures. As he must decide whether to sign the loyalty oath proffered by the U.S. government, he wrestles with self-doubt and anguish over a seeming rejection of his Japanese heritage. Woody also represents the rift between generations of Japanese Americans. Early in the book the writers define the terms issei, the first generation of Japanese to immigrate to America, and nisei , the second generation of...

(The entire section is 890 words.)