Imagine that one day you’re going about your daily routine, when suddenly your life is tipped upside down, your family is separated and you are removed from your home a sent to an unfamiliar place. Sounds like a bad dream, right? Now, fathom that this was the tragic reality for many if not all Japanese American families during World War II. “Farewell to Manzanar,” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston is a novel that captures the true story of the struggles that Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family faced as they were separated and sent to Manzanar (a Japanese internment camp in northern California) during World War II. While at camp Jeanne was accompanied by her mother, granny, and nine brothers and sisters. Before coming to Manzanar, Jeanne’s father was imprisoned, along with many other Japanese men in separate camps for war questioning. After a year of being separated, Jeanne’s father joined them at Manzanar.Jeanne and her family spent three years at Manzanar until they were released in 1945 at the end of the war. After a tumultuous transition into “normal life,” they still faced many problems. During the novel Jeanne grows up while she faces problems regarding racism, exclusion, and acceptance. Throughout this novel I realized that Jeanne possesses true strength because despite all the trying obstacles that are thrown in Jeanne’s path she perseveres and proves her strength, not through violence, but through strength of mind.
Jeanne was too young to grasp moving to Manzanar, yet she still had a positive attitude about the whole situation. When Papa (Jeanne’s father) came to Manzanar, he was a changed person. He wasn’t comforting, and Jeanne couldn’t look to him for help. Jeanne said, “Day after day he would sip his rice wine or his apricot brandy, sip till he was blind drunk and passed out,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 47). Even at meal times he would have Mama (Jeanne’s mother) bring his food back to the barracks. He not only isolated himself from the world but from his family too. One night Papa flew into an angry rage and began to curse and abuse Mama,(Farewell to Manzanar, 49). As he hit Mama, Papa yelled,”I’m going to kill you this time,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 49). Jeanne may have had to watch her mother die, but her courageous younger brother intervened and stopped the abuse. Jeanne frequently had to stand by and watch as her mother was abused.It must have been horrible for a child to see such a thing, yet Jeanne stayed strong and was able to deal with her problems and continue with her life. If the change in Papa wasn’t bad enough, Mama began to change also. Jeanne said, “One afternoon there came a moment when I was cut off from both of them, Papa and Mama together. It wasn’t loneliness I felt, or isolation; they were still within reach. Rather, it was that first, brief flicker of total separateness,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 85). Jeanne continued to feel this way, still she endured the mental and physical separation that she from her parents, and stayed strong throughout her stay at Manzanar.
After leaving Manzanar Jeanne had to make the painful a difficult transition into “normal life.” The kids at her new school would stare at her as if she was from another planet. Despite the mean glares, she slowly began to talk to the other children. Jeanne soon befriended a girl named Radine. Radine was a Girl Scout. Jeanne really wanted to participate in Girl Scouts, but she was afraid to ask. One day Jeanne said to Radine, “Can I belong,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 115). Radine replied, “Gee, I don’t know. but we can sure find out. Mama’s the assistant troop leader,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 115). The following day Radine said, “Gee, Jeanne, no. I’m really sorry,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 115). Even though Jeanne boiled with rage, her conscious reaction was, “Oh well, that’s okay, Radine. I understand,” (Farewell to Manzanar, 115-116). This quote shows how much self- control and maturity Jeanne has. She was upset with the situation yet she remained calm and didn’t blame Radine for her mothers’ racist rejection. after this incident Jeanne didn’t give up on the world. She continued to get good grades and participated in other school activities. By her senior year in high school she was voted senior carnival queen, (Farewell to Manzanar, 125). This shows Jeanne’s strength and ability to overcome to odds.
Almost thirty years after leaving Manzanzar, Jeanne thought of returning there to bring closure to her life. Following her heart, Jeanne and her husband piled their three kids into the car and set out for Manzanar. They got there only to see that there wasn’t anything left. A few rusted bare flag poles and gravestones were all that was left of Manzanar. Jeanne still spent some time there, thinking and taking in everything she had been through. After finally grasping all that she had been through, she was able to go home and put the past behind her, (Farewell to Manzanar, 134-139). This shows how strong Jeanne truly was. Though she had been through alot in her life, she was able to persevere and keep moving on. She never let racist or close-minded people get the better of her. Throught it all, Jeanne showed strength, not through violence, but through strength of mind.