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Farewell To Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston-Free Study Guide
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Although the book is non-fiction, it can be analyzed according to the traditional pattern of conflict usually used for works of fiction.


The protagonist is Jeanne Wakatsuki. She is both author and narrator of Farewell to Manzanar, in which she tells the true story of her life in a relocation camp in America during World War II. Jeanne retells her childhood story with the objectivity of an adult sociologist. She writes the story as a way of making sense of her early childhood and adolescence and the affect it has had on her as an adult.

Throughout the novel, Jeanne changes tremendously. As a child she is cheerful and active. She is barely seven years old and is totally ignorant of the reasons for her family's confinement in a camp surrounded by guns and guards. At first, she sees it as an adventure. Just as she acclimates to the artificial life in the camp, she is moved back into regular society, where she has to deal with a new set of adolescent problems. As a Japanese girl in post-war America, she is feared and even hated, like all of her countrymen.

The anxieties of puberty are exacerbated by her "different" appearance. As an adult, Jeanne has tried to shut out the memories of this formative time in her childhood, failing to see the connection between the past and her present. After thirty years, she decides to confront Manzanar and acknowledge her troubled childhood.


The antagonist is the post-war treatment that the author receives as a Japanese American. World War II has a palpable presence throughout the memoir. It is the force that confines the Japanese-Americans to relocation camps and the force that threatens the Wakatsuki family in Hiroshima. The war also causes the horrific wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in America and takes away Papa Wakatsuki's sense of pride and potential. It has rightly been said that when two nations wage war, the common man suffers the most. Jeanne and her family are totally victimized by the war.

Various people and situations represent the anti-Japanese sentiments that act against the Wakatsukis. The second-hand dealers who try to scavenge Mama's fine china and heirlooms, the guards with their guns pointed inside the camp, and the mothers who will not let Jeanne join Girl Scouts are all personifications of the antagonist. They represent the evil against which Jeanne must fight.


The climax is a two-fold event: Hiroshima is bombed and the camp closing is announced. The bombing of Hiroshima is climactic because it represents a painfully bittersweet blessing. Ko and his family live in America, escaping the direct affects of the bomb; but all of Ko's ancestors -- his grandparents, his aunts and uncles, his entire heritage -- is bound up in Hiroshima. When his new country bombs his native one, it is an event fraught with fear and anxiety for the Wakatsukis. At the same time, however, it marks the end of the war and the subsequent closure of the American relocation camps. Ironically, Ko's family is destroyed in Hiroshima so that his family can be restored in America.

The camp closing is climactic because it thrusts the Wakatsukis back into "normal" society. With the onset of the war, Japanese- Americans were cruelly thrust into concentration camps and forced to live under guarded supervision. At first, the injustice was unbearable. But eventually it became livable and ultimately comfortable. The closing of the camps forces yet another injustice on an already beleaguered population: they have lost everything and are sent back into the world with nothing.


Some thirty years after her family leaves Manzanar, Jeanne is able to make some sense of her childhood by returning to the site of the camp. She has been educated and trained as a sociologist and is a mother and wife in her own right. In telling her story and revisiting the places of her past, she is able to overcome the shame and confusion caused by the war and her family's confinement. Education, perspective, and maturity help her accept her past and stop denying the pain Manzanar caused. The memoir is a cathartic exercise: it helps her to say a final Farewell to Manzanar.

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