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As the narrator of Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne
describes events in a very unemotional and observational way, as
if looking on from a distance. This tone is effective because it
helps her keep the factual accounts of the events she witnesses
separate from her emotions at the time she witnesses them. She is
careful about how she mixes her own analysis and reflection as a
writer with the events she is telling as a narrator. The story tends
to come in waves of information, and between waves Jeanne takes
a step back and tells us what she thought of things as they were
happening and how she thinks of them now. These moments of reflection
combined with the way Jeanne freely jumps in time within chapters
give the impression that she is writing and commenting on things
at the same time that she is remembering them. This narrative
style fits with the nature of the work, which focuses in part on
coming to terms with one’s memories.
Jeanne’s observational tone derives partly from her age
at the time of the internment. Throughout the memoir she emphasizes
that she was young at the time and did not really understand the
war or the real motives behind the camp. As a young girl she is
unaware that U.S. fear of Japanese people is behind her family’s
imprisonment. In fact, she does not see the camp as imprisonment
at all, but rather as an adventure. As the story goes on and Jeanne
gets older, however, her view of the world shifts drastically. The
violent change in her father during the internment years and her
later discovery of the unspoken prejudice of the world to which
she returns reveals to her that the world is more complicated than
she originally realized. Farewell to Manzanar is
a coming-of-age story, and Wakatsuki begins by describing events
simply and innocently, much as a child would see them. The
discoveries she makes about herself during and after her time at
Manzanar give the memoir its structure and allow us to chart Wakatsuki’s
progress from girl to teenager to woman. The work is a way for Wakatsuki
to come to terms with herself, and we must understand how unaware
of her ethnicity she was as a child in order to appreciate the maturity
she shows later in struggling with prejudice.
Jeanne’s experiences with prejudice in her school life
after the war constitute the main content of her memoir and develop
some of the work’s most important themes, such as the danger of
racial stereotypes and the difficulty of self-discovery. These two
themes converge in her story, for she can discover her true self
only by overcoming prejudice and setting aside her own preconceptions about
what it means to be either Japanese or American. Only at the carnival
queen coronation ceremony at her high school in San Jose does she
begin to understand that until she stops pretending to be what she
is not, she will never be able to understand who she is.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Farewell to Manzanar!