Farewell to Manzanar

by: Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Papa

Characters Papa

Papa, one of the most complex characters in Farewell to Manzanar, is the only character besides Jeanne whose development we see from beginning to end. Wakatsuki uses the character of Papa to explore one of the principal themes of her work: the danger of judging an individual by ethnicity alone. Jeanne’s own story addresses this theme as well, but Papa’s experiences give us a different and more tragic view of its significance. Jeanne is Japanese by heritage but American by birth, so she really belongs to both Japan and America. Papa, on the other hand, chose to leave his homeland to become a noncitizen in the United States, so in a sense, he belongs nowhere. He has virtually ceased to exist in Japan, where his family buried his memory nine years after his departure. On the other hand, as a noncitizen in the United States he is one of the lowest people in the social order. The only things he has to hold on to are his family, business, house, and pride in having made something of himself in the United States despite the odds stacked against him. His imprisonment, together with the charge of disloyalty leveled at him at Fort Lincoln, strips him of his possessions, tears his family apart, and worst of all, turns his pride into bitterness and anger. He is a tragic figure, and one of the reasons that Wakatsuki rarely places blame in her memoir is that she prefers to discuss the injustice of the internment by showing the extent to which it destroyed the loving man that was once her father.