Farewell to Manzanar
Summary—A Double Impulse
I was suddenly aware of what being of Japanese ancestry was going to be like. I would be seen as someone foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all.
Jeanne enters sixth grade and finds her teacher warm and kind. When she is asked to read aloud and does so, however, the children stare, and one girl, Radine, comments that she didn’t know Jeanne could speak English. Jeanne is stunned that the girl can doubt her ability to speak English and suddenly realizes that having a Japanese face will not cause people to attack her but will simply make people see her as foreign. She begins to wish she could become invisible. She blames the wartime deportation of 110,000 Japanese on both white society’s inability to see Japanese people as individuals and the Japanese acceptance of this attitude. Her desire to disappear conflicts with her need to be accepted, and she becomes involved in academics, sports, and student government. Outside of school, however, Jeanne learns that she cannot be friends with certain children because their parents will not accept her. Jeanne takes this rejection quietly, but is dissatisfied with her school activities. She asks Radine if she can join the Girl Scouts, but Radine’s mother, who is assistant troop leader, will not allow her to do so.
Jeanne does not blame Radine for her mother’s reaction, and the two become close friends. Radine even stands up for Jeanne in public. Jeanne teaches Radine how to twirl a baton and imagines herself as a majorette leading a band. In the fall, the two girls audition to be baton twirlers for a local Boy Scouts drum and bugle corps, and both are accepted. Jeanne is made majorette and leads the band in a white outfit with a gold braid. She soon realizes that her acceptance in the Boy Scouts band is partly because the boys and their fathers like to see young girls performing in tight outfits and short skirts. She learns that her sexuality is a tool she can use to gain acceptance.
Woody and Ray come back on leave from the military, and though they tease Jeanne about her skinny legs, which they call “gobo ashi,” they are actually quite proud of her. Papa does not share their pride and wants Jeanne to become more Japanese. His housing project has failed, and Jeanne has lost respect for him because they are still in the cramped apartment where they must eat in shifts. Papa tries to fish for abalone with Woody off the coast of Mexico, but the enterprise fails when worms attack the drying fish. Papa begins to rely on Woody, who has grown in stature since his visit to Japan and who, as a citizen, can easily cross borders and obtain fishing licenses. Jeanne loses even more respect for Papa because of his continual heavy drinking and refusal to conform to American ways. At a PTA awards dinner, he embarrasses Jeanne by overdressing and bowing to the gathered crowd of parents in Japanese fashion. Jeanne begins to see him as unforgivably foreign.
Throughout Farewell to Manzanar, Wakatsuki depicts herself as a naïve child to show that it is primarily her youth that prevents her from truly understanding the motives behind the internment. She often uses childlike images and simple incidents to describe abstract concepts or large events, such as the image of the returning fleet of ships as a flock of seagulls that she uses in the first chapter to relate the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here she uses the wonderment at her ability to speak English to pinpoint the moment at which she realizes that she is no longer a child. Farewell to Manzanar is a coming-of-age story, but unlike most coming-of-age stories, the growing up occurs quite quickly and is as abrupt as the trip through the time machine she imagines upon returning from Manzanar. There is no transition for her into the world outside Manzanar, and the shock of realizing that she “will be seen as something foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all,” strips her of her innocence. Radine’s simple but prejudiced comment makes Jeanne feel shame for the first time and initiates her into how people really see her as a Japanese American.
Wakatsuki uses the concept of invisibility to discuss both the origin of ethnic prejudice and her own specific experiences. Her suggestion that the internment of 110,000 Japanese is a result of Americans’ inability to see beyond the “slant-eyed face” is one of the rare moments in her memoir that she places blame on white people. However, she also blames her own people’s acceptance of this invisibility. Jeanne too begins to accept her fate, but her desire to make her Japanese face disappear conflicts with her need to be accepted as an American and as an individual, and accounts for the chapter’s title, “A Double Impulse.” The paradox of this double impulse connects her to Papa’s struggle with being Japanese in America. But Papa is beaten down by ethnic prejudice and resorts to drinking; Jeanne fights it by choosing the areas in which it is acceptable for her to succeed, such as extracurricular activities and academics. Though ultimately unsatisfying, her involvement in academics and school activities are an important first step in countering her invisibility and coming to terms with her own identity.
Jeanne grows more distant from Papa after leaving the camp not because she has lost respect for him but because he rejects her attempts to fit into American life. Papa’s alcoholism, refusal to work, and misfortunes with his housing project make him pathetic and nearly unlikable, but his inability to understand Jeanne’s need to be accepted creates the widest gap between them. At the beginning of Farewell to Manzanar, Papa seems to embrace America and shun Japan, so much so that he has given all but two of his children American names. His experience with prejudice, however, has disillusioned him and made him resentful. Jeanne’s feeling that Papa wants her to be “Miss Hiroshima 1904,” the year of his departure from Japan, suggests that Papa has nearly given up on America and is yearning to return to his Japanese roots. It is sad that Jeanne, who is so afraid of being seen as foreign, begins to see her father as “unforgivably a foreigner.” In striving to be accepted in a world where being Japanese is a handicap, she is unable to see beyond her own father’s Japanese identity and tries instead to make him disappear from her life.
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