Farewell to Manzar is a first-person account of what it was like to live in a Japanese internment camp, Manzanar, during World War II written from the point of view of a young girl named Jeanne Wakatsuki. She describes in detail what she and the rest of her family experienced. Throughout the book there are many elements that could be further analyzed, but perhaps the most important have to do with the four main characters, Jeanne, Papa, Woody, and Mama, as well as with the various themes expressed. The way in which Jeanne describes events from her daily life comes across as if she is uninvested in what is happening. She often places herself outside of the events, almost like she is reporting on them. Her story also tends to come in jumbled waves of information, as if she initially began writing about one specific thing, but then recalled a whole array of other memories that she felt were relevant. It is possible that Jeanne’s decision to place herself in a reporting role comes from her inability to comprehend the world around her at a young age. Her accounts began with memories from when she was very young and, as she states, did not really understand the war or the motives of the camp.
Initially she was unaware that the United States’ fear of Japanese people was the reason that she and her family were being held at Manzanar. Throughout the story Jeanne begins to mature and this drastically changes her view of the world. She begins to analyze her life and discovers things about herself during and after her time at Manzanar that map out her growth from a young, innocent child to a woman that struggles with prejudice. Thanks to Jeanne, the book very accurately depicts the development of Papa over time. She speaks about Papa in a way that really helps to illustrate what happens when someone is faced with immense racism and is judged only by their skin color. Whereas Jeanne was born in the United States, Papa was not, so his experiences present a different and more extreme view of this prejudice. Jeanne is a Japanese-American, so really belongs to both Japan and America. Papa, on the other hand, left his homeland to live in the United States where he is not a citizen. He has almost no ties remaining in Japan because his family chose to bury his memory nine years after his departure. Additionally, as merely an occupant of the United States he is one of the lowest people in the social order. It is almost as if he belongs nowhere since he cannot claim ties to a specific country.
The only things Papa has in life are his family, business, house, and the pride of having made something of himself in the United States. His imprisonment and the charge of disloyalty given to him at Fort Lincoln, strip him of everything that he owns and loves in the world, and turns his pride into hatred and anger. In the memoir it seems that Woody’s personality is a complete opposite to Papa’s. Woody is always sure of his identity as an American because he was born here and believes his responsibility to his family to be very important to him. Papa, on the other hand, has a very tough time with his national identity and because of internment camp does not always act with the best interest of his family in mind. Jeanne often talks about the arguments between Woody and Papa, which further displays the differences between the two men. Their fight about Woody fighting in the war for the United States is a great example of these differences. Papa believes that fighting for the United States would mean fighting for a country that imprisoned him, whereas Woody believes that it is his duty as a U.S. citizen to fight for his country. Woody is afforded so many privileges because of his citizenship, such as access to jobs, licenses, and other opportunities, that Papa cannot have because he is an immigrant. This is part of the reason that Woody feels that service to his country is the price he must pay for the freedom he enjoys. Mama’s role throughout the story seems to be one of caring and sacrifice. She always does what is best for the family and is always putting family above anything else.
When Papa is sent away, she takes a job at the cannery to provide for her family. When Papa can’t find work after they are freed, she again goes to work because she has too much pride and love for her family to let them suffer. She only wants the best for her husband and children and shows them all unconditional love and support. Mama is very much the unsung hero of the story. It’s the little things that she says and does that shows her character and demonstrates how much she cares about those that mean the most to her. One of the most prevalent themes in Farewell to Manzanar is very much expressed throughout most of the story. The Wakatsuki family, just like many other Japanese families, begins to fall apart because of how Manzanar forces them to live their lives. When they first arrive at Manzanar this is not a huge issue, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly harder to live normal lives. The turning point for the Wakatsuki family, however, seemed to come when the family is no longer able to depend on Papa to be there and to be a constant source of strength in their lives.
Jeanne says that she believes the beginning of her family’s unraveling was due to the “mess hall lifestyle” and the way in which it did away with Wakatsuki family mealtime. Once they stop eating together, the family stop communicating with each other as often and in a way lost touch with one another. Papa’s return from his imprisonment at Fort Lincoln only fuels the flame that leads to the downfall of the Wakatsuki family. His experiences in prison left a completely different man.. He can no longer be the source of strength for his family, and returning to them is ultimately what kills all hope that the family can recover and become whole again. Jeanne blames her family’s falling apart on Manzanar rather than on the war itself because the war has very little to do with what happened at Manzanar and how they were treated while they were there. The bombing of Pearl Harbor lead directly to the creation of camps like Manzanar, but the war itself is far removed from the daily struggles that Jeanne and her family endured. The lack of privacy and the overcrowding of the camp, among other things, create a physical discomfort that over time morphs a discomfort that is both mental and emotional.
The frustrating conditions of life at Manzanar lead to shortened tempers and result in sudden outbursts of violence, such as the December Riot, or the various arguments and violent actions that Papa found himself connected to. These examples demonstrate that divisions had developed, not only within families, but within the Japanese-American community as a whole. Jeanne never speaks in her memoir about blatant and deliberate racism, and instead chooses to discuss the subtle and unspoken prejudices that they encounter everyday. There are rumors that Japanese Americans were beaten and abused once they left internment camps, but many of those claims were never proved, and the open racism that they were anticipating never comes to be. By thinking that all of the white Americans hate them, Japanese Americans are buying into the prejudice that they had previously experienced. They fail to remember that many Americans are actually anti-war and do not hate the Japanese at all. Unfortunately, however, there was still a lot of prejudice happening everyday which became such a normal part of society that people began to forget that what was happening was prejudice. For example, when Radine finds out that Jeanne is actually able to speak English, she is quite surprised. Radine judged that Jeanne could not speak English due to her Japanese appearance and because the culture she grew up in had taught her so. Another example of this is when Jeanne explains how the relocation of Japanese Americans was due to the government’s inability to see any good in the Japanese.
She found that white Americans really didn’t care about who she was as a person. Instead they simply judged her to be a foreigner and placed on her all of the traits that they associate with Japanese people as a whole. Probably the most prevalent example of racial prejudice, however, came in the form of the U.S. government’s wartime propaganda campaign. These ads shaped what many people thought about Japanese people. This propaganda, unfortunately, worked very well and scared many people. Much of the United States had a very skewed view of who the Japanese people actually were, and these racial stereotypes wouldn’t disappear for decades. Overall Farewell to Manzanar is an excellent book that provides great insights into the Japanese community during World War II. By examining the book it is easy to pick out character analysis and decipher the underlying themes of the book. It is easy to see how the war and the prejudices that followed directly affected the Japanese community as a whole, as well as individuals. Much of what the Wakatsuki family experienced was apropos to what everyone living with them in Manzanar was experiencing. Once they were released many prejudices continued into everyday life, and it is because of Jeanne and others that chose to write memoirs that today people can understand and sympathize with people that was so wrongly discriminated against.
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