After moving to Block 28 an establishing a better sense of order, Jeanne becomes happier and more tranquil in Manzanar. Moreover, she finally has a real school to attend. For the first year, all teachers were volunteer and there was no equipment or formally allocated school building. Now a full-time staff has been hired and barracks have been converted into an elementary school and high school, complete with desks and lab equipment. Jeanne says that her fourth-grade teacher was the best teacher she ever had, a strict woman whose efforts made sure that Jeanne was fully prepared to return to school on the outside.
Jeanne’s teacher at Manzanar is a marked contrast to the teacher she had in Los Angeles, who refused to talk to her because she was Japanese. In this way, school at Manzanar protects Jeanne from experiencing the racism that would surely befall her if she was attending a mainstream school.
Jeanne sings in the elementary school glee club, learning folk songs that are popular throughout the country. Outside school, she participates in recreation programs, often staffed by young Caucasians hired by the government. In the company of leaders, groups of children can go on hikes or picnics outside the barbed wire fence, and restrictions gradually loosen. Whenever she goes on a trip Jeanne takes a jar to collect water from the pure mountain streams.
Though it’s exciting to leave the fence, it’s also a reminder that the restrictions of internment don’t serve any real purpose or stem from any real threat, but are merely an expression of racial prejudice towards a marginalized group.
Jeanne’s favorite leader is Lois—like many Caucasians who volunteer at the camp, she’s a Quaker. She’s having a covert affair with a Nisei boy, and in order to have time alone they take all the girls on camping trips. Jeanne and her friends enjoy the ghost stories Lois tells, as well as the gossip circulating about her romance. As she falls asleep, Jeanne can hear the two counselors sneaking into the woods, but she’s more preoccupied with the fact that this is her first night outside the barbed wire of Manzanar.
Jeanne is observing a moment of growing up for Lois, who is experiencing her first teenage romance. At the same time, she’s experiencing such a moment of her own by leaving the fence. The juxtaposition of these two experiences shows that for Jeanne, Manzanar represents childhood, while leaving its bounds is synonymous with the inevitable progression into adolescence.
Still, Jeanne reflects that if someone told her she was free to leave Manzanar, she would have run home to the barracks. She likes looking at the Sierras, but it’s frightening to actually think of going there. Anyway, she’s happy at Block 28.
Jeanne’s explicit affirmation of comfort at Manzanar emphasizes the extent to which the camp has become a place of safety—not just as a refuge from racism but as a childhood idyll.
Instead of thinking about the outside, Jeanne focuses her energy on explorations within the camp, looking for “that special thing I could be or do myself.” People are offering classes in all kinds of different activities, and Jeanne learns baton twirling from a teenager; she practices, joins a baton clubs, and enters contests. When she eventually returns to California, she uses this skill to gain acceptance in her new high school and prove that she belongs—it’s the “one trick I could perform that was thoroughly, unmistakably American.”
Even at ten, Jeanne is much more drawn to “American” activities like baton twirling than traditional Japanese skills. She once visits an old geisha who is teaching traditional dance at Manzanar, but she struggles to understand the woman’s dialect and the teacher seems like “an occult figure, more spirit than human.” Soon, Jeanne hurries back to her more familiar activities.
Still, Jeanne is fascinated with the Japanese lifestyle the geisha embodies, and she explores it through two girls in her class who continue taking the classes. Wealthy and full of themselves, the girls tell Jeanne that to become a good Japanese dancer she has to put cold cream in her hair and stop wearing underpants—instructions Jeanne follows until Mama catches her and explains that the girls are just being mean.
Jeanne’s interactions with the geisha—or her students—are never meaningful or improving. This humorous incident shows that Jeanne is unable to connect with her heritage in the way she feels she ought to, even at a young age.
Fed up with the geisha, Jeanne turns to ballet, which seems like a fun idea. She reports to an abandoned barracks where a woman is starting to give classes. When everyone has assembled, the amateur accompanist begins to play and the teacher dances dramatically. It’s clear she was once a good dancer, but now even Jeanne can tell she’s overweight and out of practice, and it’s sad to watch her perform. Jeanne is fascinated by her legs, which her sisters would make fun of for their prominent veins.
While the geisha signifies nostalgia for Japanese culture, the ballet dancer seems to represent the futile desire for everything to stay as it was in the outside world—she pursues dancing even though she’s a little too old and out of practice. Jeanne’s disenchantment shows her unwillingness to commit to outdated cultural practice of any kind.
To be polite, Jeanne participates in the day’s class. But when the woman eventually takes off her ballet shoes and reveals her bleeding feet, she decides she can’t take the class—in fact, the woman’s “very need to hold on to whatever she had been” makes Jeanne frightened and confused.
Jeanne doesn’t understand and can’t relate to the woman’s desire to recapture her pre-internment identity—perhaps because Jeanne barely remembers life before Manzanar and is crafting her entire identity within the camp.
Jeanne’s most serious “exploration” is her flirtation with Catholicism. She resumes studying with the nuns Sister Mary Bernadette and Sister Mary Suzanne and listening to stories about the martyrs. She’s primarily inspired by watching one of the orphans be confirmed in an elaborate ceremony. The orphans are generally ostracized (even by Jeanne and her friends) so Jeanne feels particularly impressed to see an orphan girl arrayed “like a bride” in a splendid white dress, for once the center of positive attention. She wants to be a “queen” like this girl.
The comparison of the orphan girl to a “queen” foreshadows Jeanne’s later role as her high school’s carnival queen. In both cases, Jeanne seeks confidence through receiving attention and participating in cultural rituals—both of which are signs of external acceptance, rather than internal development.
A few days later, Jeanne announces to her parents that she’s going to be baptized and confirmed. Papa is immediately outraged, shouting that she’s too young and that if she converts to Catholicism she won’t find a good Japanese boy to marry. Jeanne turns to Sister Bernadette, who tries to remonstrate with Papa, but he is implacable. For weeks, Jeanne is sulky and angry with Papa, imagining “the white-gowned princess I might have become.” As she returns to practicing her baton, she imagines throwing Papa into the air and watching him twirl around until she catches him.
Jeanne sees Papa as standing between her and acceptance and confidence—just as she will blame Papa for the racism and rejection she faces as a middle school student outside the camp. In both cases, she’s attributing the faults of a large and deeply flawed social system to the nearest scapegoat at hand: her father.