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In the novel Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne tells the whole story through her own eyes as she saw it. She is a Japanese American who was born in the states and happens to be the main character and author of this novel. Her father, Ko, had fled from Japan to restore his families lost honor by making a fortune in America. This plan however, did not work out. Instead Ko worked a number of jobs in the states including farming, translating Japanese into English for the Government and doing around handy man jobs. He put him self through law school and there he met his future wife, who was to be Jeanne’s mother in the future. Soon the young Japanese couple got married and Ko finally, after working several decided the best occupation for him was being a fisherman. He leased a boat and began fishing off the cost of Long Beach CA. The couple moved into an all white neighborhood in Ocean Park . They had several children including Jeanne but only one, other that Jeanne, is mentioned significantly in this novel. His name is Woody and is a Japanese boy who was also born in America.
Up until a calm Sunday in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jeanne’s family was looking to have a bright future in Southern California. That day everything changed. They received the terrible news while watching there fathers fishing boat leave for a voyage and then return minutes later. The FBI came and took Ko and searched the house. Then they took Ko away charging him with delivering oil to Japanese subs near the spots where he had caught fish. The family had to move out of Ocean View and onto Terminal Island where many of the Japanese stayed after coming into the country.
It was on Terminal Island when Jeanne learned to fear the face of the Japanese. She had never been exposed to Japanese people before and spoke no Japanese. On Terminal Island all the kids were used to being around Japanese people and they spoke it the language with a harsh sailor’s vocabulary. The kids on the island verbally threatened Jeanne and poked fun at her while she stood by in fear and confusion. Mama got a job in fish cannery and Jeanne’s two older brothers also found work to help support the family. The situation on the Island came to a close about two months after their arrival, when the Navy decided to clear Terminal Island completely. They had to move to Boyle Heights, an ethnic ghetto in LA. The family remained here for only a month and then they were told they were to make the third and final move.
The family, kept together by a great effort on Mama’s part, was packed into buses heading for Owens Valley where an internment camp for Japanese people called Manzanar lied. When the family reached the camp they found they were living in a tiny room where the dust and sand blew in through the poorly constructed walls. Mama of course was furious with this arrangement, she said that they should not be living like animals. This was the truth they were living like some barn yard animals being stuffed into an over crowded barn. Jeanne on the other hand seemed to be having a good time. She was happy to be out of Terminal Island and Boyle Heights and she considered this trip an adventure, not fully understanding its meaning.
Weeks passed and conditions of living started to get better little by little, but best of all Jeanne learned not to be afraid of the Japanese face as she had feared on Terminal Island. Papa also came back to the family months after they had been in camp. It was almost as if they were going to a family again, but this never happened. Almost all the families at Manzanar were torn apart due to the awful standards of living they each had to endure. Papa was torn apart himself. His pride had been and honor had been ripped away from him. He no longer had decisions to make for the family or a job to maintain. Soon after his arrival at Manzanar he built a small still for producing brandy and rice wine with whatever materials he could gather from the kitchen. For the remainder of his years at the camp Papa drank hard times away. All the other Japanese made fun of him for this and for his different and conservative political standings. Until the final days of the camp Papa would mope and stir about in the room being miserable.
As Jeanne grew older she found things to occupy her time at camp. She went to catechism taught by two nuns who she liked very much. She went there for a long time until papa forbid it because she wanted to be baptized. Jeanne also learned how to twirl a baton with great skill. This became her favorite hobby while at Manzanar. In addition, Jeanne tried several other activities such as ballet dancing and traditional Japanese dancing, none of which worked out. Finally, the camp opened up a small school and Jeanne attended it with great pleasure. In school Jeanne learned by the teachings of a Caucasian female but more importantly school is where Jeanne got her taste of freedom. Every once in a while her class would venture outside the gates of Manzanar into the desert mountains, to go camping. Here they collected rocks from the river, roasted potatoes in the fire, and best of all forgot about life behind the barbed wire of Manzanar.
In the remaining year at Manzanar things began to grow worse. Many were joining the army, like Woody did against his father’s wishes, but most were rebelling against the camp. Surveys declaring that one was loyal to the Government were given out which lead to complete chaos. This and other tension building events lead to a riot that broke out in Manzanar. The riot was immediately triggered by the Military Police taking away one of the camps best cooks for speaking out against the camps and the Japanese peoples situation in general though. Papa stayed out of this like the rational person that he was and he kept everyone in the family out of the riot also. It was for good reason to for Papa had predicted that it would end in death and injury, and it did. Only a few died but several got hurt, either trampled or shot when the MP’s opened fire.
A short time after, the news came that the Japanese remaining in the camps were free to leave. This news came only after the third trial that had challenge the Government for treating the Japanese people like they were. Finally, on the third trial the Supreme Court ruled that the camps were unconstitutional because of the fact that the Japanese were fighting for the US inWW2. This was great news for the younger prisoners, for they were energetic and ready to get out in America and start over again. To add to the situation, WW2 ended. The camp was both sad and exited, for America had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but the war was finally over. As for the older people of the camp, leaving Manzanar may have been worse than coming. Papa, Mama and Jeanne stayed in the camps for as long as they could. Like so many others in the camp they had no home to return too nor did they have enough money to buy a new one. People had been so used to living at Manzanar that they would rather stay there and live out the rest of there lives than enter a world full of hate towards the dark brown, oriental race. These feelings of being hated were mostly derived from newspaper articles that depicted single accounts of Caucasians severely harassing or harming Japanese people. Jeanne, Papa and Mama stayed at Manzanar till they found out the housing being offered were almost entirely gone. At this news Papa, with his great pride, bought a car and drove the family, with all their belongings, out of camp. When they entered back into civilization they found that nearly nothing had changed, only the people in the internment camps had changed not the Country out side the gates of the camps. Also, they found that those stories of great hate were untrue. No one seemed to mind or notice that they were free to live rite next to everyone else again.
Mean while Woody was still serving the US army in Japan even after the war. Here he visited his Japanese relatives and found that all the stories Papa had told him about their family were true. This made Woody have enormous respect for Papa. When Woody finally came home he found that the family was living in a housing project in west Long Beach called Cabrillo Homes. The family spent three years here. Mama supported the family by working a fish cannery while papa, with much to pride to work a job like that, tried to find people to support his solution to the low housing problem in California, which in time failed. Jeanne, now in 6th grade, learned how to live as a Japanese girl after WW2. She was an outsider but she tried desperately to fit in and she succeeded in many at doing this. She achieved good grades and many respectable positions at her middle school. At the end of Jeanne’s 8th grade year the family moved again. They moved in order for Papa to farm land he was leasing from a friend.
In the next four years Jeanne experienced the pain of being in high school and being Japanese. She went through many trying times but overall I believe she was accepted at her school. She was even voter Queen of the School her senior year. Jeanne considered this entire acceptance a great achievement but it was not considered great by Papa. He felt she was throwing away her culture and becoming an undesirable women by Japanese standards. Even though Jeanne was greatly embarrassed by her father during her high school years she began to see what he was talking about only after it was too late to turn back.
The rest of the novel speaks of how Jeanne went back to the sight of the Manzanar years later after she had married and bore two children of her own. In this final part of the novel Jeanne recaps memories in great detail and reveals that spirits still remain at the camp. The novel then ends when she tells in specifics how her family had left Manzanar with great pride in Papa’s new car.
Many historical elements appeared through out Fare Well to Manzanar. To start, dates were give quite frequently in the novle. One example of this is when they talk about how Papa was taken away in December of 1941. The most obvious historical element in the book was the talk of WW2. In several different instances the characters would talk about the war, who was going to win, the shortage of supplies and materials because of it and most of all they talked about being at Manzanar as a direct result of the war. Another historical element that existed in the book was the mention of the Sears Roebuck’s catalogue. Sears Roebucks had long turned into just Sears years and years ago. This gave the reader a clue that the novel took place several decades ago. Finally, the mention of Japanese not being able to become citizens of the US at the beginning of the book was an indication that the book’s setting was before the 1950’s?, when the Japanese were allowed to become full citizens of the US.
Fare Well to Manzanar made me realize how truly awful the Japanese internment camps were that existed in America during WW2. Although I had already known what the camps were and why they were set up. I did not know until after I read Fare Well to Manzanar how the lives of the people in the camps were affected. I learned that not only did the camps leave a lasting unpleasant impression on the Japanese people they gave them a social handicap in the US as well as in Japan. To further explain, people became used to being treated like dirt and when they were set free it took them a long time to re-adjust to any society American or Japanese. This book also furthered my knowledge on the way Japanese possessions, including homes, were taken away from them leaving the Japanese people with nothing to return to after there stay in the camps were over. Fare Well to Manzanar enlightened me but it also saddened me, how can I live in a country that did this to a race I respect so much? I will get over the sadness quickly but many Japanese that experienced the interment camps never will.
I would recommend this book to any one regardless of their involvement with Japan or its culture. It teaches many useful lessons, such as how to grow up in an environment where you are not fully excepted, and it shows the consequences of harshly accusing and intire race of being hostile towards the US. I believe that Fare Well to Manzanar should be put into the lists of books high school students are required to read. After all the best way to not repeat history is to learn form its mistakes. All things considered this was great novel from which many values, ideas and traditions can be learned from.
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