Farewell to Manzanar
Summary—Chapter 18: Ka-ke, Near Hiroshima: April 1946
Woody visits Papa’s family outside of Hiroshima nearly a year after the atomic bomb is dropped, and Toyo, his great-aunt, shows him a graveyard where the gravestones are tilted from the bomb blast. One member of the family has been lost, but Toyo does not want to talk about it. She explains that she has brought Woody to the graveyard to show him where his father was buried in 1913. Woody protests that his father is still alive and well in California, but Toyo explains that when the family had no word from him for nine years, they decided he was dead and placed a gravestone for him in the graveyard. She says her happiness at hearing that he is alive has erased the trauma that the war put her through.
Woody has been afraid to visit his father’s family in Hiroshima because he is an American Nisei and part of the occupying American army. Finally, however, he decides to go bearing a gift of fifty pounds of sugar, which is in short supply due to inflated black market prices. His family immediately sees past his American haircut and smile, and sees only that he is his father’s son. They accept him instantly and welcome his gift with only slight embarrassment. The family’s elegant country house is bare except for a few mats and an altar, but Toyo bears herself with dignity. They eat a special meal on nice porcelain, drink precious sake, and Woody sleeps under their finest bedding. He is proud to discover that Papa’s stories of his family’s nobility are true and imagines that Papa would be proud of how they received Woody.
Just as he is falling asleep, he feels a presence near him. It is Toyo, kneeling beside him and crying. She says he looks just like Papa, she and quickly leaves. Woody conjures up an image of Papa and is amazed at the resemblance between Papa and Toyo. In seeing her, he understands Papa’s pride and wishes he had asked Toyo about him. He decides to ask her the next day and to climb the hill Papa used to climb.
Summary—Chapter 19: Re-entry
A few days before leaving Manzanar, Papa decides that the family must leave in style. Despite Mama’s protests, he walks to the nearby town of Lone Pine to buy a car. Papa prefers unique cars and returns with a midnight blue Nash sedan with a dashboard gearshift. It takes Papa four days and three trips to transport the remaining nine members of the family back to Long Beach. The car breaks down nearly every hundred miles, but Papa always manages to fix it. Jeanne compares the overpacked car to an Oklahoma family moving west during the Great Depression. Papa drinks all the way back to Los Angeles but sobers up just before entering the city, as if he is waiting for an attack. Jeanne is afraid of the word “hate,” which she has heard her family using, and imagines hate as a black cloud descending on her. But when they enter the city, there is no sign of hatred, and it seems as if nothing has changed. Jeanne compares the trip home to a trip through a time machine.
There is little housing available to the 60,000 returning Japanese, and the Wakatsukis have a hard time finding a place to live. The American Friends Service helps them find a three-bedroom apartment at the Cabrillo Homes housing project in Long Beach. For the first time in three years, they have a kitchen and toilet, but most of the family furniture has disappeared from storage, and Papa’s fishing boats are nowhere to be found. Papa maintains hope by clinging to his plan for a Japanese housing collective, and Mama goes to work in a cannery to support the family because Papa is too proud to take such a job. Jeanne’s fear of the dark cloud of hatred slowly recedes.
Woody’s visit to Hiroshima, though semifictional, is an important window into understanding Papa’s character and the origin of the Wakatsuki pride that is so prominent in Farewell to Manzanar. The Japanese Wakatsuki family has been just as destroyed as the American Wakatsuki family, but the Japanese Wakatsukis have been buoyed up by what Woody sees as “an ancient, inextinguishable dignity.” Where Toyo’s dignity seems to raise her stature and paint her in a tragic light, Papa’s stubborn pride only makes him seem pathetic. Toyo and the others receive Woody with utmost hospitality, even though he is part of an occupying army that has recently decimated their country. In comparison, Papa’s bouts of hostility toward his family during their time at Manzanar are undignified and shameful. Woody comes to understand that he, Aunt Toyo, and Papa all share the same Wakatsuki pride, but in each of them it takes a different form because they have each gone through different circumstances.
In “Re-entry,” Wakatsuki uses imagery from science fiction to highlight the contrast between the changed Japanese Americans and the seemingly unchanged outside world. The term “re-entry” refers to the return of a spacecraft from outer space into Earth’s atmosphere. Wakatsuki’s use of this word to describe her return to Los Angeles gives the sense that she is returning from a far-off planet rather than a valley 200 miles away. This alien world she expects to encounter is dominated by hate, and her conception of hate as a “dark, amorphous cloud” suggests that she believes hate is a sort of supernatural event rather than a human reaction. Additionally, her feeling of having voyaged in a time machine back to the same life she left before the internment implies the years at Manzanar have suddenly ceased to exist. Wakatsuki’s suggestion that the Japanese are expected to continue as though the war years have been erased is tragic, however, for their experiences during the war have caused changes in them that are too important to forget.
The difficulty of understanding one’s identity is one of the themes of Farewell to Manzanar, and Jeanne’s story demonstrates the obstacles to self-discovery. Papa is eventually able to understand Woody’s American roots, and Woody comes to understand Papa’s Japanese dignity, but Jeanne must come to terms with her own identity at the same time that she must face the prejudice of postwar America. Her departure from the camp marks an acceleration of the process of self-discovery she begins at Manzanar, a process that climaxes in her experiences with prejudice after the war and comes to a resolution when she later visits the camp and begins writing her memoir. The reexamination of her own story in Farewell to Manzanar is a means for Wakatsuki to understand the erased years of her time at Manzanar and how they shaped the person she has become.
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