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Farewell To Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston-Free Study Guide
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Farewell to Manzanar is an autobiographical memoir that spans a large portion of the life of Jeanne Wakatsuki, the author. The book opens with a Foreword that serves as an introduction to the problems that will be presented and solved in the narrative. It then proceeds to tell the events of Jeanne's life chronologically, with some analysis and reflective interpretation. The final chapter jumps forward in time, thirty years later, when the author is an adult, the mother of three children and a sociologist; it sums up Jeanne's experience at Manzanar and tries to make some final meaning out of it.

The memoir is unified by the presence of Jeanne throughout the book. As she tells about her life, from childhood to adulthood, the author often intrudes on the narrative to give an opinion or share an observation. Although she seeks objectivity in presenting her personal history, which is obviously factual, she naturally portrays her family with sympathy and sensitivity, even though she is realistic about their weaknesses and shortcomings, especially those of her father.

The major structural feature of the memoir is its division into three main parts. The first part is about the move to Manzanar and the experience of living there. The second is about leaving Manzanar and facing the real world. The third is about returning to Manzanar and making sense of the experience. The author checkpoints the memoir with frequent references to specific dates and times in American history, so that factual accuracy is not lost in emotional narration.


As a memoir, Farewell to Manzanar possess no contrived themes, only the real human issues that confront ordinary people in a time of war. Some of the recurring situations become thematic, including family bonds, the impact of war on the individual, and the cruelty of racial divisiveness. All of these are coupled with the naturally painful experience of adolescence in the life of the author, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.

Major Theme

The journey that Jeanne makes in her memoir highlights several steadfast truths. The most important is the significance of family heritage. Manzanar happened because people were Japanese, a different and threatening heritage during the war. It is Jeanne's father who must deal with family heritage in the most troubling of ways. He has left his native land and come to America in pursuit of his dreams. The war begins and suddenly his new country turns against him and further asks him to join with them in turning against his family home. The insult to his pride and dignity is nearly unbearable. Woody deals with family heritage in a completely different way.

As a second-generation Japanese-American, Woody has never known Japan, yet he is thrust into a detention camp even though he is an American. To prove his loyalty to the only country he has ever known, he wants to fight in the war against Japan; he wants to overcome his heritage, his Japanese ancestry, in order to claim his birthright: his American citizenry. During the book, Woody visits Hiroshima, meets some of the relatives from the Old World, and comes to terms with that part of him that is real but invisible-his Japanese ancestry; ironically, he accepts that which he has fought so hard to overcome. As a youth in America, Jeanne tries to deny her Japanese heritage, repressing all the customs, traditions, and beliefs of the Old World. She wants to become totally Americanized; dressing, acting, and thinking like her peers. It is only when she is an adult that she successfully deals with her heritage after thirty years of avoidance. The memoir is her attempt to put the old and the new into proper perspective.

Minor Themes

The injustice of the war and subsequent detainment of Japanese- Americans is also an ever-present and obvious theme of the memoir. War and paranoia are single-handedly to blame for the sheer existence of Manzanar and the subsequent shame and insecurities that the Wakatsuki family members must face. The racism and discrimination experienced by Jeanne and her family are intolerable and unfair.

The very thought that an American organization, such as the Girl Scouts, that stresses the strength of young women would discriminate against a child because she is Japanese is horrifying and unpalatable. Jeanne's awkward age of trying to fit in is complicated by a government-sanctioned racism against Americans who happen to be Japanese in ancestry.


The major stylistic feature with which this heart-rending autobiography is narrated is its simple and lucid prose. It is objective, like a report, and avoids the irrelevant details that are a feature of many whimsical childhood memoirs. At the same time, the sympathy and admiration of a young girl for her family and her childhood is not obscured by factual accuracy. The narrator displays immense control over her emotions and never seeks the unearned sympathy of the reader.

The authors have also successfully incorporated historical events into a personal narrative. Japanese songs, phrases and words are comfortably woven into the fabric of the novel. In spite of being an autobiographical story, Farewell to Manzanar is a work of tremendous social and historical importance and reads almost like a novel.

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