Farewell to Manzanar

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Summary

Chapters 18–19

Summary Chapters 18–19

Analysis—Chapter 19

In “Re-entry,” Wakatsuki uses imagery from science fiction to highlight the contrast between the changed Japanese Americans and the seemingly unchanged outside world. The term “re-entry” refers to the return of a spacecraft from outer space into Earth’s atmosphere. Wakatsuki’s use of this word to describe her return to Los Angeles gives the sense that she is returning from a far-off planet rather than a valley 200 miles away. This alien world she expects to encounter is dominated by hate, and her conception of hate as a “dark, amorphous cloud” suggests that she believes hate is a sort of supernatural event rather than a human reaction. Additionally, her feeling of having voyaged in a time machine back to the same life she left before the internment implies the years at Manzanar have suddenly ceased to exist. Wakatsuki’s suggestion that the Japanese are expected to continue as though the war years have been erased is tragic, however, for their experiences during the war have caused changes in them that are too important to forget.

The difficulty of understanding one’s identity is one of the themes of Farewell to Manzanar, and Jeanne’s story demonstrates the obstacles to self-discovery. Papa is eventually able to understand Woody’s American roots, and Woody comes to understand Papa’s Japanese dignity, but Jeanne must come to terms with her own identity at the same time that she must face the prejudice of postwar America. Her departure from the camp marks an acceleration of the process of self-discovery she begins at Manzanar, a process that climaxes in her experiences with prejudice after the war and comes to a resolution when she later visits the camp and begins writing her memoir. The reexamination of her own story in Farewell to Manzanar is a means for Wakatsuki to understand the erased years of her time at Manzanar and how they shaped the person she has become.