Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment is a first-person account of the United States government’s systematic relocation of thousands of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The book, written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband, James D. Houston, takes the form of a family memoir, beginning with seven-year-old Jeanne’s impressions of being singled out because of the way she looked. Farewell to Manzanar’s twenty-two chapters are arranged in three separate sections, each section delineating the progression of one family’s experiences and subsequent efforts to deal with the injustice and indignities of being uprooted and sequestered behind barbed wire fences in the California foothills.

The first section recalls the confusion and frustration that the Wakatsuki family faced as they learned about the U.S. government’s plans to relocate Japanese Americans for reasons of national security. Mr. Wakatsuki was soon arrested and sent to an internment camp in North Dakota for Japanese-American males. While he was away, the Wakatsuki family was finally relocated to Manzanar Camp, a one-mile-square area in the eastern shade of Mount Whitney that fenced in ten thousand Japanese Ameri-cans for nearly four years. Through the eyes of young Jeanne, the authors outline the various offenses that the...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Farewell To Manzanar Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment documents one family’s experience in California as the United States government relocated thousands of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In the first-person account, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston—with the assistance of her husband James D. Houston—remembers her childhood and growing up behind barbed-wire fences in the Manzanar relocation camp in the high country of the California foothills. Farewell to Manzanar is divided into three sections, each delineating a specific phase of the Wakatsuki family’s experience.

The first section deals with the initial frustration and turmoil the family experienced when they were told of the government’s relocation policy for Japanese Americans. Mr. Wakatsuki was arrested and sent along with hundreds of other Japanese American men to a camp in North Dakota. In his absence, the rest of the family, which included ten children, is moved to Manzanar Camp. Their day-to-day existence at the one-mile-square area in the Owens Valley, east of Mount Whitney, is seen through the eyes of seven-year-old Jeanne: frigid winds blowing sand against their legs, seven or eight family members all living in cramped quarters with virtually no privacy, and the stench of open sewers. Within a few months, Jeanne’s father was returned to the family, but he had changed from a gentle...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Farewell To Manzanar Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Farewell to Manzanar offers a firsthand narrative of living through the U.S. government’s relocation program for Japanese Americans, and in this aspect it is significant as a young woman’s contribution to the literature of war, joining Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (1947) in illustrating the effects of warfare on the everyday existence of an innocent citizen. Perhaps Jeanne’s story is especially memorable in that it chronicles the effects of an official government action against a notable portion of the American population, all in the name of national security.

The book, which inspired a made-for-television film in the mid-1970’s, also functions as a case study from a female perspective of first-and second-generation Japanese American families at a crucial time in American history. Farewell to Manzanar certainly can be compared to Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989), which explores the values shared and rejected between generations of other Asian American groups.

Jeanne’s search for identity, though, is the autobiography’s most compelling element. Throughout the book, Jeanne describes her childhood longing for acceptance—by her country, her peers, her family, and ultimately herself. While Farewell to Manzanar is not primarily a study of the search for a female identity, the book does explore how a young woman comes to terms with her ethnic identity in a nonaccepting environment. Jeanne painfully traces her attempts to “fit in” as a young adult, outside the school hallways and classrooms where academic propriety seemed to allow her to integrate socially. With Manzanar behind her and the war over, Jeanne learned too well that her different appearance and different customs constituted a barrier to her acceptance, no matter how hard she tried. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s story resonates with feminist literature; it provides a compelling narrative that addresses one young woman’s “sense of unworthiness” and her confrontation of forces apart from her, but that become a part of her.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston has written a sequel of sorts to Farewell to Manzanar. Beyond Manzanar and Other Views of Asian-American Womanhood (1985) was bound with her husband’s One Can Think About Life After the Fish Is in the Canoe and Other Coastal Sketches.

Farewell To Manzanar Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Herman, Masako, comp. The Japanese in America, 1843-1973: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1974. Herman offers an extensive chronology of the Japanese American experience, starting with the 1843 sea rescue of Manjiro Nakahama off the coast of Massachusetts. Various official documents, including executive orders, governmental reports, and confidential letters, are included that deal with the status of Japanese in the United States.

James, Thomas. Exile Within: The Schooling of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987. James documents the history of elementary education offered to the thousands of Japanese American schoolchildren in the relocation camps during World War II. He explores “political socialization” as an undercurrent in the teaching of the camp schools in contrast to the values and traditions at the center of Japanese American heritage.

Kikuchi, Charles. The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle from an American Concentration Camp. Edited by John Modell. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973. These copious diary entries document the ambivalent feelings of an adult nisei who has been relocated by the U.S. government. The introduction by John Modell provides background to the Japanese American relocation. A concluding chapter on further reading is included.

Oishi, Gene. “Our Neighbors Called Us ‘Japs.’ ” Newsweek 118 (November 25, 1991): 10. This “My Turn” opinion piece confronts many of the ambiguities a Japanese American faces. Oishi worries that the obsession with the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor could turn into “an orgy of American self-righteousness and a renewed demonization of Japanese.”

Ross, Christopher. “Return to Manzanar.” Americana 19 (March, 1991): 55-58. This article, with color and black-and-white photographs, describes the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar organized by the Manzanar Committee of Los Angeles. Background to the camp, which was the largest city between Las Vegas and Los Angeles during World War II, is offered along with local museum information and a general bibliography.