Farewell to Manzanar

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Farewell to Manzanar



Published in 1973, Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment depicts the profound impact that U.S. government-ordered internment during World War II had on Japanese immigrants and Japanese American citizens. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's first-person account of her family's experiences recalls an important episode in both the Wakatsuki's history and the nation's history. The memoir presents intimate family moments as well as broader social events. Arguments between the highly Americanized Jeanne and her more traditional Japanese father Ko stand alongside Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor—the event that drew the United States into World War II—and the internment of over one hundred thousand Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Unfolding in three parts, this memoir recounts the Wakatsuki's experiences of living in Southern California during and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. From 1942 until 1945, the Wakatsukis were confined in Manzanar, an internment camp in Owens Valley, California. Jeanne was seven when her family went into Manzanar and eleven when they were released. The story then shifts into its second part, following her family when they resettled in California after the war ended. During this period, Jeanne struggles to balance the American and Japanese parts of herself and her life. In the third section of the memoir, Jeanne returns to the Manzanar site in 1972 with her husband James and their three children, thirty years after her family was imprisoned at the internment camp. On this visit, Jeanne truly comes to understand her experience of internment, as well as the racism directed at Japanese and Japanese Americans during the Second World War and beyond.

The Houston's memoir is more than just an eyewitness account of World War II. It is also a prison narrative, detailing life in a camp where residents could leave only under special circumstances with governmental permission. In addition, it is a book about the American response to racial diversity in their country, during war and in peacetime. It depicts the relationship between Asians and Caucasians in the 1940s and 1950s, at a time when racial tolerance was less prevalent than it is today. It is a story about personal identity as well, specifically about one's identity as the product of multiple cultures that are in conflict with one another. It is a tale of how people cope with adversity, some finding success while others struggle and ultimately fail. Finally, Farewell to Manzanar is a psychological study of the shame and humiliation that results from being the target of racist behavior. This kaleidoscope of themes helps to explain the cultural importance of Farewell to Manzanar.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
James D. Houston

JeanneWakatsuki Houston was born in 1934 to Ko and Riku (Sugai) Wakatsuki, one of ten Wakatsuki children. In 1942, the U.S. government forced Jeanne and her family to live at Manzanar, an internment camp for Japanese and Japanese Americans on the west coast during World War II. After their internment, the family moved to Santa Clara, California. Houston was the first of her family to attend college. She has a range of works to her credit, most notably the nonfiction books Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder (1984, with Paul G. Hensler), Beyond Manzanar: Views of Asian-American Womanhood (1985), and The Legend of Fire Horse Woman (2003).

James D. Houston was born in 1934. After graduating from San Jose State University, he went on to become a visiting professor at several universities. He has written novels, short story collections, and nonfiction books.

Wakatsuki and Houston, both native Californians, met in college and married in 1957. They have three children. As of 2005, they live in Santa Cruz, California.


Foreword and Chronology

Farewell to Manzanar opens with a foreword in which authors Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston describe their hope of conveying the experiences of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans in internment camps during the Second World War. Writing the memoir was one way that Jeanne began to understand how those experiences had affected her life. A timeline of key events in United States-Japan relations from 1869 to 1952 is included, emphasizing the facts of the narrative
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and the history of oppression it describes. This opening part of the book also includes explanations of three key terms. Issei describes immigrants born in Japan, the first generation of a family to arrive in America. Nisei are the second generation, children of the Issei who were born in America. Sansei are the third generation, the children of the Nisei.

Chapter 1: "What Is Pearl Harbor?"

In December 1941, the Wakatsuki family is living in Ocean Park, California. Jeanne, the narrator, is the youngest of ten children. Her father Ko is an Issei who has struggled for success. He supports his family operating two fishing boats with the help of Jeanne's eldest brothers. Ko plays a dominant role as the head of the Wakatsuki family. He remains a traditional Japanese man even after spending many years in the United States. He is one of many Japanese fishermen who sail out on a fishing voyage the morning of December 7, 1941, only to return earlier than expected. While the family watches and wonders what is happening, a passerby shouts out that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor, a major U.S. naval station in Hawaii. The fishermen's families do not know what Pearl Harbor is, but everyone realizes that the bombing could cause serious problems for people of Japanese descent in America. Jeanne's father worries that he will be accused of disloyalty to the United States and destroys everything in his home that connects him with Japan. He is nonetheless picked up for questioning by the police and disappears for several days. After an anxious waiting period, the Wakatsukis discover through a newspaper article that Ko has been jailed on suspicion of treason. No one had contacted them to tell them what had happened to Ko. A year will pass before Jeanne sees her father again.

Chapter 2: Shikata Ga Nai-Chapter 4: A Common Master Plan

Jeanne remembers that her father taught her to fear Asians, especially the Chinese. She is forced to confront these fears when her family relocates from their mostly Caucasian neighborhood to Terminal Island, an Asian ghetto in Long Beach. Jeanne is often frightened by her Asian classmates, some of whom do not speak English. Secondhand dealers prowl through Japanese neighborhoods hoping to buy quality merchandise for little money from the Issei and Nisei, who are now desperate to raise money. One dealer offers to buy Jeanne's mother's fine china for a tiny percentage of its value. Her mother (Mama) smashes all the dishes rather than sell them to this opportunist.

Soon, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues an executive order requiring all people of Japanese descent who live on or near the West Coast to report to internment camps. Mama and Jeanne's older brothers try to ensure that the entire Wakatsuki family arrives in a single group at Manzanar, the first of ten hastily erected, permanent internment camps. The camp is near the Mojave Desert, surrounded by towering mountains in a harsh climate that is utterly foreign to many internees.

Jeanne, a high-spirited child of seven, does not realize the difficulties she and other internees will face in Manzanar. She shouts gleefully while entering the camp because all the Wakatsukis almost filled the bus. Once she encounters the flimsy, ill-equipped barracks, the dreadful food served in dining halls, and the barbed-wire fence enclosing the ground, Jeanne realizes Manzanar is an unhappy place. Sand blows through the gaps in the walls and ceilings of the barracks, covering everyone and everything with a layer of dirt. There are no stalls for privacy in the restrooms. The cooking is done by internees who have never cooked before, and the food is often inedible.

She remains grateful that most of her family is at one camp. Their group includes Mama and Granny as well as her brother Woody and his wife Chizu, along with her other siblings Bill, Kiyo, and May. With Ko jailed in North Dakota, Woody becomes the de facto, or unofficial, family leader. He sets out to improve the family's cramped quarters in Block 16, and he comforts Mama when she complains that the internees are forced to live like animals. As time passes, the internees learn to endure the humiliations of camp life, reassuring themselves and each other with the Japanese phrase, shakata go nai: "it cannot be helped."

Chapter 5: Almost a Family-Chapter 7: Fort Lincoln: An Interview

Jeanne and her family adapt to camp life, but they begin to drift apart because they no longer share meals. The barracks are not big enough to cook and eat in, so the families begin to eat in shifts. Before long, some of Jeanne's relatives leave the camp for jobs far from their homes on the West Coast. Mama, Woody, and Jeanne's older siblings get low-paying jobs doing administrative work at the camp and repairing facilities. Mama becomes the camp dietician. They are eager for the limited income, but they also want to demonstrate their loyalty to the government that has imprisoned them. Even though her family practiced an informal form of Buddhism, Jeanne's hunger for attention leads her to start attending catechism classes taught by Catholic nuns. The tales of the torments inflicted on Catholic saints help her to cope with her own unhappiness. She is on the verge of converting to Catholicism when Ko returns from North Dakota. When Ko arrives at Manzanar, only Jeanne rushes to embrace him. The rest of the family keeps its distance, crying.

The story of Ko's past unfolds, including the family's history in Japan as samurai warriors. He travels from Hiroshima, where he has few opportunities, to Hawaii and ultimately to the northwestern United States. Ko's style and charm win Mama's heart. They relocate to California and Ko struggles to support his growing family, working first as a farmer and later as a fisherman. As a former Japanese citizen, the law forbids him to own land, fishing boats, or other property.

Ko dominates his family and commands their respect. When he rejoins them at Manzanar, however, he is utterly changed. In an imagined scene from the book, a government official interrogates Ko at the North Dakota prison. Ko questions the value of going to war unless it is absolutely necessary. He feels both sympathy and disgust for the warring Americans and the Japanese. He compares the conflict to two parents fighting: "When your mother and your father are having a fight, do you want them to kill each other? Or do you just want them to stop fighting?" Like the child, Ko simply wants the opponents to find peace.

Chapter 8: Inu-Chapter 11: Yes Yes No No

Ko is miserable in the camp even though he is reunited with his family. He refuses to go outside and begins to brew rice wine, stinking up the family's tiny quarters. Jeanne learns that the other Issei imprisoned with Ko in North Dakota suspect him of betraying his countrymen and call him an inu, or dog. Because loyalty is highly valued among the Japanese, these rumors intensify Ko's humiliation and he becomes increasingly abusive toward his family. In a drunken rage, he threatens to beat Mama to death with a cane. Eleven-year-old Kiyo stops his father by punching him in the face. The moment is a turning point for Jeanne: "I was proud of Kiyo … but deeper than that, I felt the miserable sense of loss that comes when the center has collapsed and everything seems to be flying apart around you."

Many men at Manzanar share Ko's despair, powerlessness, and rage. Their anger erupts one year after the Pearl Harbor bombing when two thousand internees riot. Elsewhere in the camp, Jeanne's brother-in-law Kaz stumbles into a standoff with armed American soldiers, barely avoiding lethal violence. Kaz sees that the camp restricts the American guards in much the same way that it confines the internees. After the riots, the camp director tries to soothe bad feelings by giving the internees Christmas trees. Ill will persists and in February internees are forced to sign loyalty oaths declaring their willingness to join the U.S. armed forces. Ko maintains his antiwar beliefs, and argues with other men and with his son Woody, who is eager to join the American military and defend his country. Ultimately, Woody does join the all-Nisei troop that went on to become the war's most decorated unit with the highest percentage of casualties. During the loyalty oath crisis, Ko stops drinking as much. Still, he fights a man who accuses him of betraying his fellow Japanese, and returns to this man's barracks as a dust storm begins. Ko and a family friend sing the Japanese national anthem, which does not celebrate military might as the loyalty oath did, but instead focuses on the ability to endure hardship.

Chapter 12: Manzanar, U.S.A.-Chapter 14: In the Firebreak

Life improves slightly for Jeanne's family by spring of 1943. They move to roomier quarters near the hospital where Mama works. Ko attempts to beautify the new barracks and tends to some neglected pear trees. Internees are now allowed to leave the grounds of Manzanar for hikes and outings in the nearby Sierra Mountains. Even while confined, many of the internees recreate their former lives as farmers by planting gardens and cultivating fresh produce. Boy Scout troops and glee clubs spring up, and the school publishes a yearbook. Members of Jeanne's family start a band and a jazz combo to provide entertainment for weekly dances. Jeanne experiments with a mix of American and Japanese pastimes, but favors the American ones she knows best. Taking up baton twirling, Jeanne becomes adept at many twirling tricks. She returns to the Catholic nuns and sees a young girl dressed in a magnificent white gown for confirmation. Jeanne craves the beautiful dress as well as the chance to be the center of attention. She announces she wants to convert to Catholicism. When a nun approaches the Wakatsuki's barracks seeking Ko and Mama's permission to baptize Jeanne, Ko refuses to let the nun enter his home, declaring that Jeanne is too young to make such a decision. Jeanne abandons Catholicism, hating her father for robbing her of that pretty white dress. When she practices baton twirling, she pretends she is hurling her father high into the sky.

This incident deepens the rift between Jeanne and her father. Tensions rise as Eleanor, Jeanne's eldest sister, prepares to deliver a baby. The family worries because births in the Manzanar hospital have not gone well in the past. Jeanne and Ko are out for a walk when Mama rushes toward them, yelling. She announces that the new baby is a boy, and both he and Eleanor are fine. Jeanne witnesses the intimacy and love her parents share and gains new insight into her father.

Chapter 15: Departures-Chapter 18: Ka-ke, Near Hiroshima: April 1946

Internees leave Manzanar as government policy softens toward the Japanese. By 1943, many of the adults have left. Six thousand internees—most of whom are either very old or very young—remain at a camp that once contained ten thousand people. Members of Jeanne's family leave too, including Woody, who goes off to combat. A successful legal challenge forces the U.S. government to revise the laws it used to imprison people of Japanese ancestry in the camps. The government announces that Manzanar and the other internment camps will close within twelve months.

The news of freedom brings worry, rather than the joy one might expect. The Wakatsukis have lost their home, so there is nowhere to which they can return. In addition, anti-Japanese racism makes it difficult for them to relocate. Wartime propaganda depicts anyone with a Japanese face as vicious and hateful, increasing tensions between Caucasians and the Japanese. Hate groups form to prevent Japanese Americans from returning to the West Coast. The internees, too, are suspicious of other ethnic groups after enforced isolation in internment.

Even at age ten, Jeanne knows what it is like to be hated and humiliated. She dreads leaving the familiar confinement of Manzanar. Several of Jeanne's relatives relocate to New Jersey to avoid the anti-Japanese fervor on the West Coast. Ko is unsure about where to take his wife and younger children. By law, he cannot hold a commercial fishing license and his boats have been confiscated. A housing shortage increases the difficulty of finding a place to live. Ko hatches the idea of starting a housing cooperative with fellow former internees and seeks government funding to carry out his plan. On August 6, 1945, America drops the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Ko's hometown. World War II ends soon afterward, and the Wakatsukis leave Manzanar in October.

Woody is dispatched to Japan during the American Occupation. In an imagined scene, he visits Toyo, the now-aged aunt who funded Ko's passage from Hiroshima to Hawaii. Toyo welcomes Woody as Ko's son, evidence that Ko survived. Woody brings a gift of sugar to his father's family, a mark of respect. He sees the devastation in Hiroshima and learns that his father's family has slipped into poverty during the war. Toyo has retained her dignity, however, and Woody understands why his father has such tremendous pride. Toyo comments that Woody inherited the Wakatsuki eyes, just like his father. Woody feels a stronger connection with Ko than ever before.

Chapter 19: Re-entry-Chapter 21: The Girl of My Dreams

The Wakatsukis leave Manzanar in a car that Ko buys so his family can return to Southern California in style. As they arrive in Los Angeles, Jeanne imagines roadside signs telling the "Japs" to turn around and go back, but there are no obvious signs of the kind Jeanne feared. In fact, she experiences little overt racism in Los Angeles. The Wakatsukis find an apartment in a poor community. Ko, however, has lost everything and is discouraged to realize he is no better off now than he was in 1904, when he arrived in America. Driven by pride, he tries to start the housing cooperative and gets nowhere. Mama works at a cannery to provide income for the family, but humiliation shadows Jeanne's parents. Jeanne, too, struggles with powerful shame when she begins sixth grade. When the teacher asks her to read, Jeanne performs perfectly. The pride Jeanne feels disappears, however, when another student expresses surprise that someone who looks like Jeanne can speak English. Jeanne realizes that even if she does not face open racism, she will always feel that she is an outsider, a foreigner. She longs to become invisible, yet she also wants to excel so that others will accept her.

A blonde girl named Radine befriends Jeanne. Jeanne teaches Radine to twirl a baton and the pair become majorettes for a Boy Scout band, performing in snug, revealing uniforms. Ko objects to his daughter's lack of modesty. He tries to push her toward traditional Japanese pursuits, but it does not work. All of Ko's attempts to start a business fail. Woody slowly becomes the family leader, while Ko's influence shrinks. At an awards ceremony honoring student academic achievement, Ko and Mama show up in their finest clothes. When Jeanne's name is announced, Ko rises to his feet and makes the loftiest gesture of respect he knows: he bows in Japanese fashion to the assembled parents, teachers, and students. Jeanne is mortified and wishes she could disappear.

In high school, Jeanne and Radine's friendship begins to break up over their racial differences. Jeanne becomes a majorette for the school band only after the band teacher receives permission for an Asian to represent the school so prominently. Frustrated by this setback, Jeanne sets out to excel. Meanwhile, Radine dates the Caucasian boys who Jeanne longs to date. She stays away from them, knowing that Ko will forbid it. She dreams of being a stereotypical, blue-eyed blonde girl.

When Ko moves the family to Santa Clara, north of Los Angeles, Jeanne makes the best of her new start. She competes to be queen of the school carnival, dressing in an exotic costume that makes her stand out from the other girls. The students elect her queen, though some teachers try to change the vote because they are reluctant to give this honor to a Japanese American. A Latino boy learns about the teacher's plot, and helps Jeanne win her crown. Dressed like royalty in a Gone with the Wind-style gown, Jeanne wants to cry when she realizes she is still an outsider. As the only Asian in the court, she is not invited to a party thrown by a Caucasian girl. She cannot be Japanese in the way her father wants, and she cannot be American like her Caucasian classmates.

Chapter 22: Ten Thousand Voices

Nearly thirty years after being shipped to the Manzanar camp, Jeanne revisits the site. She is starting to understand the effect that the years in internment had on her and on her family. In April 1972, she, her husband James, and their three children drive to the Owens Valley. Most of the buildings are gone, although two guard houses and some other structures remain. Strolling through the once familiar landscape, memories wash over Jeanne. She hears her recollections in the whispery voices of Manzanar internees. Beautiful rocks are scattered here and there, a remainder of the gardens built by many Issei. She remembers playing with friends and singing in a chorus, and cherishes these recollections. To her amazement, she discovers that Ko's pear trees have somehow survived all this time. She finds a stepping-stone her father had placed near their barracks. Jeanne realizes that a deeper understanding has replaced the shame and fear she felt about the years of internment at Manzanar.

As she leaves with her family, she recalls an episode that happened shortly before the Wakatsukis left the camp. Ko impulsively decided the family would leave Manzanar only in their own car; no bus would do. He returned to Manzanar with a flashy blue four-door sedan and a half-empty bottle of whiskey. He hustled Mama, Chizu, May, and Jeanne into the car and sped off, driving wildly through the camp. Jeanne's initial fear gave way to grudging admiration for the wild defiance in her father's eyes. As a fifth grader, she was still young enough to believe her father could protect her from any danger. The wild ride ended as the car bumped through a deep pothole. The Wakatsuki family returned to pack their bags and leave Manzanar.



Even though Farewell to Manzanar is a wartime memoir, it is not focused on battle scenes or front lines. Except for the camp riot, there is little of the violence one might expect to find in a traditional war story. Instead, the memoir depicts a different kind of violence: that of government-sanctioned racism. Though Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston focus on only one family, they tell a story common to the approximately one hundred and ten thousand Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants who were confined in internment camps from 1942 to 1945.

These individuals were ordered to be interned by the highest level of the U.S. government, an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor naval station on Sunday, December 7, 1941, led to this policy, but it was merely the culmination of a series of anti-Japanese policies touched on in Farewell to Manzanar. The oppression of Asian people has a long history in the United States.

The timeline that appears in the book's foreword provides a quick glimpse of American policies that have unfairly targeted Asian immigrants and Asian American citizens since the nineteenth century. According to this timeline, the first Japanese immigrants reached the West Coast in 1869. One year later, in 1870, the U.S. Congress passed a law that allowed free whites and people of African descent to become naturalized American citizens. Because the law did not specifically mention people of Asian descent, Asian immigrants were effectively forbidden the right to become citizens, based on their race.

In Farewell to Manzanar, this policy affects Ko Wakatsuki most directly. Ko does not put up a fight when he is arrested on suspicion of aiding the Japanese enemy shortly after Pearl Harbor is bombed. He knows that he and all other Japanese-born immigrants have few rights. In these circumstances, Ko becomes a man without a country. Because he has lived in the United States for many years, he is no longer a Japanese citizen, yet American law forbids him to apply for American citizenship. He cannot protest his arrest.

Moreover, for several days the Wakatsuki family does not know what has happened to Ko. The government officials who picked him up for questioning were under no obligation to inform his family about what they did with him. The Wakatsukis learn of Ko's arrest from a newspaper article. Significantly, the narrative never mentions a trial or any of the other standard legal processes that usually lead up to imprisonment. Even after living in the United States for decades, Ko is an Issei with virtually no legal protections. This leaves him vulnerable to oppression at the hands of the American government.


As thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans were herded into hastily-constructed barracks at Manzanar, many struggled to come to terms with their new environment. Whereas many families, including the Wakatsukis, had struggled to physically support themselves prior to the war, the struggle within Manzanar was a mental one. Internees had to find a way to mentally and spiritually survive the loss of their possessions, and the feelings of mistrust and racism heaped upon them by the entire nation. As cold wind and dust leaked into the barracks, Mama could not fathom how the family would be able to live there: "[W]e can't live like this. Animals live like this."

One of the main survival mechanisms that the interned Japanese employed was the Japanese motto of shikata ga nai: "this cannot be helped." Rather than fight a losing battle against the government or dwell upon the unfair policy that placed them there, many internees accepted their hardships and sought to make life in the camps livable, creating gardens, campsites, clubs, and other reminders of home. They banded together to make life livable. For example, when the Wakatsukis first arrived in Manzanar, there were no stalls in the bathroom, and Jeanne's mother was shy about having to use the facilities with no privacy. An old woman with a box cut into a make-shift partition offers to let Mama use it, and "[h]appily, gratefully," Mama agrees. Such gestures of kindness and solidarity helped the internees survive their new lives in the camp.

Although Farewell to Manzanar explores broad social and political issues, the memoir remains focused on the individual experiences of an adolescent Japanese American girl, and her survival in a world neither wholly American nor wholly Japanese. The narrative moves between the oppressive atmosphere of the internment camp and details about Jeanne's personal life, such as her baton twirling and glee club activities. In spite of her family's reduced circumstances, Jeanne experiences the same things that most adolescent girls experience. Perhaps because of the oppression against Japanese and Japanese Americans, she is driven by a fierce need to be accepted, to which she attributes her interest in various hobbies and her eventual obsession with baton twirling. Her normal teenage insecurity is intensified by her family's internment and economic instability, as well as by the racism she encounters. After one racist incident, Jeanne remarks, "From that day forward I lived with this double impulse: the urge to disappear and the desperate desire to be acceptable." In these serious and often depressing circumstances, Jeanne comes to understand herself and find a way to survive between cultures.


Anti-Asian Sentiment

The United States had long fostered the legal and economic oppression of the Issei and Nisei. From the nineteenth century onward, many whites regarded immigrant labor as a threat to their own livelihoods. This attitude led to outbreaks of violence as well as legal action against immigrants. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the U.S. government enacted laws prohibiting immigration from parts of Asia. As mentioned in Farewell to Manzanar, at various times in U.S. history, people of Asian descent have been legally barred from owning land and property. For a time, American-born people of Asian descent were obliged to carry identification cards. Segregationist Jim Crow laws that oppressed black citizens also affected many Asian American people. Anti-Japanese sentiment was part of the American cultural landscape even before the U.S. war with Japan, particularly on the west coast where many people of Asian descent had settled.

Executive Order 9066

When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, U.S. citizens on the west coast worried that their cities would be next. They suspected that members of clannish Japanese American communities were receiving orders from Tokyo to plot and carry out sabotage operations on the U.S. mainland. The army, in particular, played a key role in promoting the idea that people of Japanese descent were security risks, particularly those living in California, Washington, and Oregon. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which required all people of Japanese ancestry living in those states to report to hastily erected internment camps. Both citizens and resident aliens were rounded up.

The War Relocation Authority was formed to ensure that approximately one hundred and ten thousand Issei and Nisei reached the ten internment camps, all in inhospitable, remote locales. Even though most internees were not accused of crimes, the camps were surrounded by barbed wire, swept with searchlights, and manned by armed guards. Their living conditions were just like those in prisons, even though the camps were never called jails.

Although some people opposed holding Japanese American citizens in the internment camps, many Americans supported the measure. A Supreme Court ruling in June 1942 stated that the War Relocation Authority could legally remove Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from their homes because of their "suspicious" ethnic origins. Even though a 1944 Supreme Court ruling declared that loyal citizens could not be held in camps against their will and Manzanar officially closed a year later, this did not mean that people of Japanese descent had equal rights. Japanese immigrants, for example, were not permitted to become U.S. citizens until 1952.

Post-War Hardships

Despite the Supreme Court rulings that permitted internment to take place, key voices in government pressured President Roosevelt to end the internment. The War Relocation Authority was placed under the authority of the Interior Department, and more humane policies were considered. However, because President Roosevelt was up for reelection, he was unwilling to reverse a policy that had broad popular support. In the first cabinet meeting after the election, however, the exclusion was lifted. Soon afterward, the internees were ordered home.

Freed internees were provided with transport home and twenty-five dollars in cash for individuals, fifty dollars for families. Like several members of the Wakatsuki family, many who had lived on the west coast, chose to relocate to the eastern United States, where they hoped to find greater tolerance. Those who returned to the west coast found that much of their property had been confiscated, stolen, or inexplicably lost during the war. A widespread housing shortage made it difficult to find a home. Japanese Americans were also refused jobs. Many endured subtle and overt racism, like that described in Farewell to Manzanar.

Almost forty years after the internees were released from camps, Congress issued an apology for the policy that had resulted in thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans losing their possessions and livelihoods during their time in the internment camps. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 paid twenty-thousand dollars to each surviving internee.

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When first published in 1973, Farewell to Manzanar received brief reviews in many of America's leading cultural publications. Reviewers consistently praised the book for its even-handed tone and its ability to bring the reader close to the experiences of those interned during the war. A 1973 review in the New Yorker commends the Houstons for telling the story of the Wakatsukis with "great dignity." A brief review in the New York Times calls the book a "dramatic, telling account." Critic Dorothy Rabinowitz writes in a review of the book for the Saturday Review that the Houstons "have recorded a tale of many complexities in a straightforward manner, a tale remarkably lacking in either self-pity or solemnity." In a 1974 review in the Journal of San Diego History, reviewer David Dufault writes that although the Houstons's book "contribute[s] nothing new for the scholar" on the subject of Japanese internment camps, it provides a point of view that has "an emotional power that will affect many readers."

Surprisingly, relatively few critical essays have been written about Farewell to Manzanar. Interviews with the authors appear occasionally, hinting at the stature the book enjoys. Its broader cultural value is best understood in the context of its publication history. According to Ajay Singh's Los Angeles Times article, "The Lessons of History," more than one million copies of the book have been sold. It is often studied in both high schools and colleges.

Even though Farewell to Manzanar is not the only first-person account of Japanese American confinement in the camps during World War II, it is the best known and most widely read. As Singh comments in "The Lessons of History," "it is the standard text on the Japanese internment."


The film adaptation of Farewell to Manzanar (1976) was written by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and directed by John Korty. It received several Emmy nominations. It is currently unavailable.


Christina Pinto-Bailey

Dr. Pinto-Bailey has written extensively on women's writing, autobiography, and the female Bildungsroman. In this essay she discusses how Farewell to Manzanar challenges the conventions of the autobiographical genre, and how writing provides the female narrator a means to define her own identity.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar, written in collaboration with her husband, James D. Houston, is an autobiographical narrative about the years Jeanne and her family spent in Manzanar, an internment camp where the U.S. government forced Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans to live during World War II. The narrative also describes the family's life during the period immediately preceding the internment, and Jeanne's life from the time the family left Manzanar to her last year in high school. Narrated from a first-person viewpoint, with the exception of three chapters that are narrated in the third person, the text focuses on Jeanne's perspective of the events. In Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne's identity begins to take shape as she relates what others do or feel, or how others react to the events depicted. In this regard, the book challenges the conventions of the autobiographical genre, in that it does not focus exclusively on one main protagonist.

The book has been described as a memoir, an autobiography, a coming-of-age narrative, and a Bildungsroman, a term that means "novel of development" or "novel of formation," such as the formation of a self-identity. This type of narrative describes a protagonist's, or main character's, development from a youth to early adulthood, when one's identity would be formed. Critics have established several common elements that characterize the Bildungsroman. Some of these are found in Wakatsuki's narrative: her family life; her school years; the presence of teachers or other mentors who influenced her (for example, the Maryknoll nun in Manzanar who tries to convince Jeanne's father to let her be baptized in the Catholic church; or the fourth-grade teacher, "the best teacher" Jeanne ever had, "strict, fair-minded, dedicated"); an absent parent; and conflicts with the father and/or the mother.

However, critics who have studied examples of female Bildungsroman have stressed that generally these do not conform entirely to the critical parameters that define the genre. For this reason, a female Bildungsroman, such as Farewell to Manzanar, typically poses problems for this form of narrative. The same has been established for the autobiographical text in general: the female autobiography challenges the established parameters of the autobiographical genre. The text below discusses the elements that characterize Jeanne Wakatsuki's autobiographical narrative as a narrative of self-formation, and the many aspects of the text that question its characterization as autobiography and Bildungsroman.

Martine Watson Brownley and Allison B. Kimmich, among other feminist critics, have discussed the conflicted relationship of the female autobiographer with the tradition of the autobiographical genre. As they write in Women and Autobiography, it is often difficult for women to write autobiographically because they "have been taught that they should not call attention to their accomplishments and that their lives have meaning only in relation to others as wives or caregivers." Traditional critical parameters define the autobiographical "I" as male and as belonging to the dominant culture, thus ignoring issues of gender, class, and ethnicity. Moreover, the traditional autobiographical "I" is an entity "grounded in authority," as Shari Benstock states in "The Female Self Engendered: Autobiographical Writing and Theories of Selfhood."

In other words, traditionally an autobiography is written by an individual who speaks from a viewpoint that exerts control over the subject matter. For the female autobiographer, the requirement of speaking with authority becomes problematic, given women's lower status in most cultures.

For Jeanne Wakatsuki, the problem may have been a double one. First, she had to contend with being a female within a patriarchal, or male-dominated, society, a situation shared by women writers from many cultures. Second, she also had to contend with the fact that autobiography is "a genre incompatible with Japanese behavioral codes and traditions," according to Ann Rayson in "Beneath the Mask: Autobiographies of Japanese-American Women," since Japanese culture prizes privacy and, especially in women, modesty. For this reason, Rayson argues, Wakatsuki and other Japanese American female autobiographers had to find ways to "mask their egos" when writing.

Brownley and Kimmich state that a female writer of an autobiography may show some hesitation in speaking of herself, or "she may write using a double voice, one that first affirms and then undermines her authority as an autobiographer." In Farewell to Manzanar, the reader sees not so much a self-undermining narrator, but one who tends to "hide" behind other's experiences and feelings. Many times throughout the narrative, Jeanne makes statements such as "I myself didn't cry about Papa;" "I didn't mind this at all," referring to the family having to live in very tight quarters; or "At seven I was too young to be insulted," after describing how Manzanar represented an insult, "a slap in the face" to the Japanese sense of privacy. The narrator repeatedly stresses her naiveté and lack of understanding of what is happening around her. She chooses to privilege other's reactions, rather than to keep the focus of the narrative upon herself.

This strategy is in line with what Jeanne Wakatsuki states in the book's "Foreword": that the account is a "web of stories." It also corresponds with another characteristic of women's autobiographies: the tendency to present female identity as relational or as a composite of many women. Studies, among them Carol Gilligan's seminal book In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, have shown that women generally define who they are by establishing relationships and identifying with others. Thus, in Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne's identity begins to take shape as she relates what others do or feel, or how others react to the events. In this regard, the book challenges the conventions of the autobiographical genre, in that it does not focus exclusively on a main protagonist. Rather, the narrative focus shifts often from the individual "I" to the many individuals in the community, particularly to the figure of Ko, Jeanne's father.

Likewise, although Farewell to Manzanar is primarily the story of Jeanne and her family, the narrator often points out that the situations she and her family lived through were also experienced by many other families. For example, when Jeanne tells of the first summer the family spent in Manzanar, she describes the frustration and anger her parents and older brothers felt, and states: "the rage festered in hundreds of tarpapered cubicles like ours." The family story being narrated is common to thousands of other families, and the narrator stresses this commonality by referring later in the narrative to many "Mamas and Papas and Grannies" whose lives the government had disrupted in a cruel manner. In this way, Jeanne's autobiography acquires a dimension more readily found in "testimonial narratives," but that Sonya Andermahr, Terry Lovell, and Carol Wolkowitz, in A Glossary of Feminist Theory, find characteristic of "feminist autobiography": the author "presents her experience as representational" of a community, "rather than (as in traditional autobiography) unique."

The term Bildungsroman usually describes a novel or a fictional narrative, whereas Farewell to Manzanar is a first-person memoir that narrates real events. These events are both personal—Jeanne's own story, and historical—the historical facts involving the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The text thus combines the personal and the historical in a manner that is recurrent in literature by women and other minority groups: it recounts history from a personal perspective. Furthermore, the story is narrated in a tone that lends it a novelistic feel. In fact, James D. Houston, in an interview with Anthony Friedson in Biography, calls it "a non-fictional novel."

Farewell to Manzanar presents Jeanne's formative years, from age seven through seventeen, and makes references especially to her schooling, or "apprenticeship," an important aspect of the Bildungsroman. The narrative in fact talks not only about her actual schooling, but also about other learning experiences that helped shape her identity. Among these, her family's confinement in the internment camp is the utmost defining experience in her formative years.

The internment in Manzanar followed the imprisonment of Jeanne's father under the accusation of delivering oil to the Japanese. He was sent to a prison in North Dakota, where he spent nine months, and was interrogated and mistreated. Her father's forced absence, the family's displacement, and the degrading living conditions imposed upon them radically disrupt the previous order and harmony of their lives. The Wakatsukis, as a Japanese family, were organized around the patriarchal figure and the father's authority. Once he was gone, the family was literally left without its "head," and the family members, especially the mother and Woody, Jeanne's oldest brother, struggle to give the family some sense of unity and direction. Jeanne is left "adrift," and for the first time has to look outside the family for support and guidance: "I began to look elsewhere for attention and thus took the first steps out of my child's realm toward a world of grownups other than my parents."

The first adults Jeanne is attracted to are the Maryknoll sisters and the young women who assist them in teaching catechism to the children. Jeanne becomes fascinated with the stories of saints and, later, with the special aura that seems to surround the girls who went through Confirmation in the Catholic Church. For this reason, she wants to be baptized. She also tries traditional Japanese dance, attends a ballet class, and learns baton twirling, all in an effort to find her identity, to find "that special thing I could be or do for myself." Later, she continues to practice baton twirling in high school, and engages in other school-related activities in an effort to define who she is, and to find her place in postwar Anglo-American society.

In a traditional Bildungsroman, the reader follows the protagonist's development chronologically, until his or her sense of identity is defined, or in other words, when the protagonist's self is formed and there is a final integration between the young adult protagonist and society. As Theresa A. Kulbaga and Wendy S. Hesford write in New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, "the bildungsroman follows a classic narrative trajectory of conversion in which the individual hero embarks on a long journey that ends with his resolution with the larger social community." However, many critics have suggested that a woman's identity formation is not completed at the beginning of adulthood, but rather later in life. For Jeanne, entering adulthood does not bring resolution or the definition of her identity. Accordingly, there is a gap of twenty years in Jeanne's story, a gap the narrator summarizes this way:

It took me another twenty years to accumulate the confidence to deal with what the equivalent [to Woody's] experience would have to be for me…. Suffice to say, I was the first member of our family to finish college and the first to marry out of my race.

Jeanne's sense of identity is defined later, as an older adult, and is achieved in great part through the act of writing. Writing allows an individual to return to the past, to revisit it, to see it again. In this way, the autobiographical writer not only relives certain life experiences, but also reorganizes them, giving them new meaning. In her narrative, Jeanne revisits not only her own past, but also that of her father, whose story occupies a significant portion of the book, with many details given about his origin, his past, his youth, and his personality. Through writing, Jeanne is able to understand the deep connection with her father, and thus is able to recognize in herself a characteristic she shared with him: a great sense of rebelliousness and independence, and, ultimately, a sense of individuality.

Through writing, Jeanne moves from hiding behind other's feelings and experiences to a sense of self-awareness. Therefore, writing is not only a means for the autobiographical "I" to understand her past and herself, it also makes it possible for the autobiographer to write—in a sense, to construct—her own identity. Writing becomes a process through which the autobiographical "I" leaves behind a passive situation and achieves ownership of it. Thus, the definitive farewell to Manzanar is said, not when Jeanne visits the camp in 1972, but rather when she finishes writing her narrative. This is both the final rupture from and the coming to terms with her past, from which Jeanne's self-identity emerges.

Source: Cristina Pinto-Bailey, Critical Essay on Farewell to Manzanar, in Literary Themes for Students, Thomson Gale, 2006.


Andermahr, Sonya, Terry Lovell, and Carol Wolkowitz, A Glossary of Feminist Theory, Arnold, 2000, p. 197.

Benstock, Shari, "The Female Self Engendered: Autobiographical Writing and Theories of Selfhood," in Women and Autobiography, edited by Martine Watson Brownley and Allison B. Kimmich, SR Books, 1999, p. 9.

Brownley, Martine Watson, and Allison B. Kimmich, Women and Autobiography, SR Books, 1999, pp. xiii, 1, 95.

Dufault, David, Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in the Journal of San Diego History, www.sandiegohistory.org (August 29, 2005), originally published in Vol. 20, No. 4, Fall 1974.

Friedson, Anthony, "No More Farewells: An Interview with Jeanne and James Houston," in Biography, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 56.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1973.

Kulbaga, Theresa A., and Wendy S. Hesford, "Autobiography," in Vol. 1 of New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Horowitz, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2005, p. 184.

Rabinowitz, Dorothy, Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in the Saturday Review, November 6, 1973, p. 34.

Rayson, Ann, "Beneath the Mask: Autobiographies of Japanese-American Women," in Women and Autobiography, edited by Martine Watson Brownley and Allison B. Kimmich, SR Books, 1999, pp. 132, 133.

Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in the New York Times, January 13, 1974, p. 31.

Review of Farewell to Manzanar, in the New Yorker, November 5, 1973, p. 88.

Singh, Ajay, "The Lessons of History," in the Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2001, pp. D1, D5.