Farewell to Manzanar


Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

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Farewell to Manzanar Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Jeanne Wakatsuki was born to Japanese-American parents in Inglewood, California, the youngest of ten children. As described in Farewell to Manzanar, she was interned with her family in the Manzanar camp from 1942-1945. After World War II ended and her family returned to California, Jeanne graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic High School and studied sociology and journalism at San Jose State College where she met her husband, James Houston. Her husband’s encouragement helped Wakatsuki Houston discuss her experiences during internment for the first time, and she eventually co-wrote her memoir with him. Farewell to Manzanar propelled Wakatsuki Houston to success and acclaim, and she has written other books since, including Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder, about the Vietnam War, and Beyond Manzanar, a collection of essays. Wakatsuki Houston lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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Historical Context of Farewell to Manzanar

Shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to “exclude” Japanese-Americans from the West Coat and confine them in government-operated concentration camps. About 120,000 Japanese-Americans were affected, most of whom were American citizens. Most prominent newspapers and many Caucasian trade unions who saw the Japanese as competition supported internment and stoked fears of Japanese espionage. Most interned families suffered serious economic and material losses as they had to sell possessions and land at a loss, and what they left behind was often stolen. In the 1960s, a younger generation of Japanese-Americans began a campaign for public acknowledgement of the internment process; they achieved success in 1976, when President Gerald Ford publicly apologized for internment on behalf of the U.S. government, and in 1988, when President Ronald Regan signed a bill ordering reparations for each surviving internee.

Other Books Related to Farewell to Manzanar

While wartime internment of Japanese-Americans was considered a taboo topic in the years after it occurred, fiction and non-fiction explorations of the catastrophe have emerged in recent decades. John Okada’s novel No-No Boy, written in 1956, is widely considered the first Japanese-American classic and is one of the first works to address conflicted Japanese-American sentiment during World War II. David Guterson’s 1994 novel Snow Falling on Cedars does not take place entirely during WWII, but centers around the relationships between two people sent to an internment camp. Joy Kogawa wrote about the Japanese-Canadian internment experience in Obasan (1981), which is similar to Farewell to Manzanar in that both books are widely used in high school curricula. Compelling photographic documentation of life at Manzanar can be found in Ansel Adams’s collection Manzanar (collected 1943, published 1988). Photographer Dorothea Lange also documented the internment experience in her collection Impounded, which was initially censored by the U.S. Army and eventually published in 2006.
Key Facts about Farewell to Manzanar
  • Full Title: Farewell to Manzanar
  • When Written: 1973
  • Where Written: USA
  • When Published: 1973
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: The Manzanar internment camp in southern California
  • Climax: The end of internment
  • Antagonist: Racism
  • Point of View: First person limited

Extra Credit for Farewell to Manzanar

Textbook Case. Farewell to Manzanar is now widely used in middle and high schools throughout the U.S. to teach students both about Japanese-American internment and the broader perils of prejudice and racism.

High Achiever. Besides writing the memoir together, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James Houston adapted the story into a screenplay that eventually won the Humanitas Prize, the highest award for television writing.