Farewell to Manzanar essay

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Jeanne was born in 1935 to her Japanese parents Riku and Ko Wakatsuki in Inglewood, California (Huang, 2001 p.127). As the youngest in the family, she was preceded by six girls and four boys. Notwithstanding the discrimination that was directed to the Japanese-Americans, Jeanne was the first in her family to study Journalism and Sociology at San Jose state college in America. She then secured a job as a probation officer and a juvenile detention officer and later married James Houston in 1957.

Apart from Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne has other publications under her name and her husband’s who is also a writer. These include One Can Think About Life After The Fish Is In The Canoe and Other Coastal Stories, Barrio and Beyond Manzanar and Other Views Of Asian-American Womanhood. Currently, she lectures in various Universities and colleges in the United States of America.

Book Summary

The 1973 Farewell to Manzanar is an autobiographical book that exposes the hardships experienced by Wakatsukis during their confinement in the American Internment camps during World War II. The novel is written to expose prejudice manifested in form of racism particularly leveled at the Japanese-Americans before, during and after World War II.

December 7, 1941, Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Kent, 2008 p. 113). This proves to be a sad day not only for the Americans but also for the Japanese-Americans. Before, the Wakatsukis were waving for Bill, Woody and their father as they were going fishing with a fleet of boats; before they knew it, the fishermen were returning to the shore. News has it that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. As a desperate measure, Jeanne’s father is forced to burn a Japanese flag in his possession and his identification papers but this proves futile has he is arrested by the FBI (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 6). Her mother on the other hand relocates their family to a Japanese ghetto in Terminal Island.

Later in February 1992, an Executive order 9066 is given by President Roosevelt demanding that Japanese-Americans be captured and moved to Internment camps after their exclusion from “specially designated military zones” (Harth, 2003 p. 5). Mama again relocates the family to Los Angeles. As they are transported, the Issei tell others the words “shikata ga nai” to mean “it cannot be helped” or “It can be done” (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 14). Their final destination is Manzanar Relocation Centre which will prove to be their new residence and the main setting for Jeanne’s novel.

The infamous Manzanar camp is in a deplorable condition that is characterized incomplete barracks, poorly prepared meals and dust that finds its way through every crack and Knothole (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 21). Majority of the internees become sick due to lack of warm clothing, immunizations and consumption of food that has not been preserved well. Their dignity is watered down by the lack of privacy as they use toilets that have not been partitioned. After the Wakatsuki family ceases dining together in the mess halls, their family begins to be disunited (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 32). As a result, Jeanne strays from her family and takes an interest in other camp residents intermingling with them.

Jeanne’s father is taken to Fort Lincoln detention camp after his arrest. On his return, the whole family except Jeanne welcomes him with a cold shoulder (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 14). However, Papa seems to have tremendously changed after his return form the detention camp were he was accused of spying and disloyalty. Papa is emotionally affected by these false charges and starts to drink heavily and behaves violently to the extent of almost hitting Mama using a cane.

Soon, the December Riot which is a result of the arrest of three men who beat a man thought to be allied to the American government. The U.S. government later decrees an Oath of Loyalty to be taken in order to separate potential enemies from loyal Japanese (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 76).  When things cool down, the Wakatsukis relocate to better barracks and Papa begins gardening. As days pass, Manzanar begins to transform into a typical town in America with schools and movement outside the camp legitimized. This loosening of the camp rules motivates Bill, the eldest in Wakatsuki family to form a dancing band coined The Jive Bombers (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 91). Jeanne later embarks on her previous studies in religious matters. When she is about to be baptized, Papa intercepts thus creating a rift between him and Jeanne.

The number of Manzanar internees shrinks due to relocation of families courtesy of a government policy and drafting. After being drafted, Woody is recruited in the military force known as all-Nisei 442 [nd] Combat Regiment (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 76). He later meets Papa’s aunt going by the name Toyo after visiting Papa’s family in Hiroshima, Japan where he also gains insight into Papa’s pride.

Finally, the American Supreme Court in a ruling nullifies and calls illegal the internment policy resulting into a closure of the camps by the Department of War (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 114). Therefore, Papa purchases a dilapidated blue sedan and relocates the family to Long Beach. They later on try to settle down to normal life even though they have some suspicion concerning discrimination from the public. According to Kent (2008, p. 91), internees had relocate back to the West Coast were their homes were located.

A first forward by the author brings us to April 1972 where Jean pays a visit to Manzanar site in company of her husband and children as a memorabilia of the reality of this location, Manzanar. As she moves through the ruins, she manages to recollect her past life in the Manzanar camp.

Themes and Styles

The theme of prejudice comes out strongly throughout the Farewell to Manzanar. Jeanne avoids the open ethnicity but delves into the subtle forms of ethnicity that are very lethal. An example of this kind of prejudiced thinking is observed when Radine is innocently perturbed at Jeanne’s capability to express herself in English (Wakatsuki & Houston, P. 141). Jeanne therefore recognizes the fact that prejudice does not necessarily have to be conscious but can be nurtured by ones culture and parents. Jeanne also notices that the relocation of the Japanese-Americans is done since the government considers them as nothing but useless and vicious people.

Furthermore, the disintegration of family institution emerges as another theme. Jean’s family begins to disunite because of the new kind of lifestyle they are forced to adopt. This happens at the mess halls where the Wakatsukis are not able to dine like typical Japanese during their mealtimes which is considered to be a ritual (Wakatsuki & Houston, p. 33). This rift was further accentuated by Papa’s return from detention in Fort Lincoln after he had been arrested (Wakatsuki & Houston, P. 40). Later on, Papa tries to lay his hands on Mama due to his heavy drinking and violent behavior that was triggered by his arrest that lead to his emotional turmoil.

In order to avoid a biased reporting, Jeanne utilizes chronology and a narration style of writing. In her foreword, a historical time frame is displayed featuring the first Japanese Immigrants who set foot in California (1869) and wraps up with the Public Law 414 (1952) that liberalized Japanese immigrants granting them the right to become American citizen through naturalization. She provides events and dates that depict the struggle of Japanese-Americans to curve out a niche for themselves among the American populace.


Farewell to Manzanar shows how as a Japanese-American, Jeanne grappled with prejudices thrown at her just to be accepted and attain the typical American life. As she excelled in her education and sports she was always met with rejection due to her physical Japanese looks. She continues to struggle for an identity which only came some years later in 1952 after Public Law 414 was enacted thus changing the popular perception that a Japanese-American did not belong in the United States.

Other works that corroborate this novel include books published by Jeanne and her husband. Huang (2001) notes that after the publication of Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne and her husband have proceeded to write on issues pertaining to Japanese-American story. He continues, “James wrote “Writing a Non-Fiction Novel about the Internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II,”…Jeanne also wrote a series of essays that arte collected in Beyond Manzanar: Views of Asian-American Womanhood (1985).” He further adds that Jeanne continues to emphasize on issues pertaining to her “dual cultural heritage”.

Farewell to Manzanar is an authentic autobiographical novel that gives the true picture of the conditions in the American Manzanar camp since its author, Jeanne was an eyewitness to the events. During these dark moments, the United States defined ‘American’ based on the physical attributes but the narrator on the contrary defined this term as based on the inner beauty that is characterized by morals, values and talents.

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