Form and Content
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 internees endured: icy winds blowing sand through crevices in the makeshift barracks, open-trench sewers, crowded living conditions, and lack of privacy. The narrator explains that her father was returned to the family at Manzanar but that he returned a different man—ill-tempered, alcoholic, and abusive.
It is against this backdrop of squalor and lost hope that the second section of Farewell to Manzanar takes shape. The young narrator notes that slightly more than a year after her family’s arrival at Manzanar—despite hardships and even riots in camp—the lives of the Japanese-American internees became routine and relatively acceptable. She remembers baton twirling and ballet lessons, church lessons, and schoolwork as activities that lent an air of normalcy to her growing up. In this section, also, the Houstons tell of the dilemmas facing Jeanne’s older brothers and parents, as they had to decide whether to sign the government’s loyalty oath.
In 1945, when they were allowed to return to their former homes—and to what was left of their former lives—the Wakatsukis encountered great challenges of fitting into an often-hostile postwar environment. Jeanne’s brother Woody chose to deal with the challenge by visiting relatives in Japan to gain a better perspective of his Japanese roots, but the much younger Jeanne, as she enrolled in elementary school and later in high school, had difficulty balancing her Japanese heritage with the dominant forces of growing up “American.” She tells about her shock when she discovered her young classmates’ surprise at her speaking English, and she describes her longing to have long blonde hair in order to be accepted. In high school, she entered the homecoming queen contest against her father’s wishes; when she won, however, she regretted her tactics and motivation.
The book’s third section is a short epilogue to Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s story. Nearly thirty years after arriving at Manzanar as a child, she and her husband and three children visited the lonely sweep of desert where she had been held. As her children raced about the crumbling foundations of mess halls and barracks, she was able to confront the many voices of her childhood—with both sorrow and joy.
Form and Content
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...
(The entire section is 1,776 words.)