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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The Wakatsuki family’s frequent moves emphasize the difficulty they
and other Japanese have in settling down permanently and reflect
their deeper struggle to connect themselves to either Japanese or
American culture. The Wakatsukis are comfortably settled in their
Ocean Park home, but when they must leave this home behind, they
become disoriented and lost, and remain so for the rest of the memoir.
In a series of forced and often sudden moves, the Wakatsukis must
pack up or sell their belongings and set out for ghettos—Terminal
Island, Boyle Heights, and Cabrillo Homes—or for the relocation
camp at Manzanar. The overall sense is that the Japanese are being
shifted between temporary situations, all the while reaching out
for a place to establish a permanent foothold. Ironically, Manzanar,
originally a prison to the Japanese, becomes this foothold, and
the Japanese are reluctant to let it go after the war. The dark
undertone to the motif of displacement is that even if the Japanese
do establish more permanent roots somewhere, another war or outbreak
of prejudice against them could uproot them just as quickly as before.
The Japanese Americans at Manzanar latch onto typical
elements of American culture in order to show that they are not
foreigners or enemies but rather loyal citizens whose only world
is America. Even the Issei immigrants had made a conscious choice
to come to the United States, and many, like Papa, adopt American
ways of life in order to make up for what they lack in legal citizenship.
The residents at Manzanar recreate many of the aspects of American
life that they like most, such as glee clubs, block associations,
high school yearbooks, touch football teams, and even dance bands.
For those born in America or long since departed from Japan, America is
their only reference point, and they hold on to American culture
as something they can share without fueling the anti-Japanese suspicions
of government officials. Ironically, the all-Japanese Manzanar is
where the Japanese can enjoy the simple pleasures of American culture.
The ethnic prejudice of the society outside Manzanar spoils the
Japanese people’s enjoyment of American culture, as when Jeanne’s
high school teachers plot to prevent her from winning the carnival
Ace your assignments with our guide to Farewell to Manzanar!