Summary: Chapter 17: It is All Starting Over

In June 1945, the schools close and the high school produces a final yearbook, Valediction 1945, bearing a photo of a hand squeezing pliers on a length of barbed wire. Cultivation of the farm stops, and the administration auctions off the equipment. The army announces that the camps will close by December 1, and families who do not leave will be scheduled for resettlement, either to a place of their choosing or to their former communities. Papa is stubborn and chooses to let the government arrange for the Wakatsuki family’s resettlement. His boats are gone, and a new law has made it illegal for Issei to hold commercial fishing licenses. He spends his time reading the news of the war and relocation with disgust.

Papa and Mama regret not leaving sooner because there is no more housing available, and Mama’s friend says that the difficulties the Japanese Americans experienced when they were evacuated in 1942 are starting again. Jeanne’s parents argue about who is to blame. Mama asks Jeanne for a back massage, but Papa insists that he give it. Mama has not seen a doctor because there are too many patients, and she repeats her friend’s comment that it is like 1942 all over again. Wakatsuki notes that the barracks are slowly being deserted and that the moss in Papa’s rock garden has dried out. Papa reports that block leaders are petitioning the administration to keep the camp open until everyone has a place to stay. He plans to ask the government for a loan so that he can organize a cooperative of returning Japanese to build a housing project. He feels the government owes it to returning Japanese, but neither he nor Mama have much hope for the plan’s success.

On August 6, 1945, the United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, ending the war and any hopes of staying in the camps. The newspapers print photos of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, but few people realize the magnitude of what has happened. A week later, Americans dance in the street at the news of the Japanese surrender, and Japanese in the camps rejoice that they are no longer the enemy. Papa reflects on his now-departed children and his family in Hiroshima. As busloads of people leave the camp, Papa continues reading the newspaper and waiting for his turn to leave the camp, which finally comes in October 1945.

Analysis: Chapter 17: It is All Starting Over

The title of the final Manzanar High School yearbook, Valediction 1945, highlights the different reactions the Issei and Nisei have to the closing of the camps. A valediction is an act of saying farewell, and the yearbook’s opening photo of pliers about to cut through barbed wire shows that the young adults are ready to say farewell to Manzanar in a way that the 6,000 elderly and children who remained are not. Throughout the memoir, the Issei tell themselves that the camp must be endured, but their appeal to the administration to stay in camp longer shows how much their acceptance of the camp has made them dependent on its support. Wakatsuki’s image of her father staring at the mountains to calm his thoughts recalls her earlier comparison of him to a freed slave and reiterates the difficulties experienced by Issei in trying to adjust to normal life outside the camps. Whereas the Nisei can at least be confident in their citizenship, the internment has torn up the fragile roots the Issei planted before the war. Homeless, jobless, and without property, the Issei cannot say farewell to Manzanar as easily as the Nisei, because to leave the security of the camp means to face a society that has no place for them.

The idea of starting over that Mama’s friend mentions and that Mama mournfully repeats has a double meaning that refers to the difficulty of life outside the camp. By “It is all starting over,” Mama means that the Japanese will once again have to face the same difficulties they experienced in moving to the camps. The deeper meaning for the Issei, however, is that they must start their entire lives over, but that this time the odds are stacked against them. When the Issei arrived during the prewar boom years, jobs and housing were plentiful. By 1944, however, over a million people had moved to the West Coast to fill jobs created by the war industry or vacated by relocated Japanese Americans. Papa’s naïve and doomed plan for a Japanese-American cooperative housing project shows how desperate the Issei have become. After years of mistreatment, they still believe that the government must help them start over. This help, however, never comes, and the reality of postwar unemployment and discrimination soon puts an end to their hopes.

The camp’s state of stagnation and neglect at the end of the internment mirrors the situation the Japanese find themselves in when forced to leave. Just as the departing Japanese must try to overcome the same difficulties they face at the beginning of the internment, the Manzanar camp itself returns to the dilapidated state in which the Japanese find it in 1942. Papa’s rock garden, in which the moss is now dry, recalls the image from the Japanese national anthem, Kimi ga yo, of the rock growing large with moss. The withered, untended rock garden suggests that simple endurance is not enough and that even the most enduring of rocks need care if they are to grow. Even though the Japanese have survived the camps, their stoic acceptance of camp life has left them unprepared for and fearful of what lies ahead.