Farewell to Manzanar

by

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

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Farewell to Manzanar: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In June, the Manzanar schools close permanently. The high school’s last yearbook includes a photo of a hand breaking the barbed wire fence with pliers. Word goes around that everyone has to leave by December first; internees who don’t leave on their own will be resettled by the government in the town of their choice, shipped out on a weekly schedule.
While the barbed wire at first seemed insurmountable, the students communicate their new sense of power and independence by depicting its downfall.
Themes
Belonging in America Theme Icon
Passively, Papa decides to wait until he’s scheduled to leave. He doesn’t even have a definite job to go back to, because a wartime law has made it illegal for Issei to have fishing licenses, and he’s sure that his boats have been stolen. At least in camp his family has enough to eat.
Papa used to be an active and decisive man, but internment has destroyed his ability to make decisions and undermined his confidence in his ability to provide for the family.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
Shame and Pride  Theme Icon
Throughout the scorching August, Papa sits in the shade and reads the newspapers aloud, telling the family about Japan’s final losses. When he reads about housing shortages on the West Coast, he becomes frustrated and abandons the newspaper. He and Mama begin arguing about what to do, and Papa becomes short-tempered again.
Again, indecision and powerlessness triggers tension within the family. The Wakatsukis are most at peace with each other when they can preserve the conventions that dominated their lives before the war.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
When Mama gets tired of arguing, she tells Jeanne to rub her back and release some of the tension. Since Jeanne isn’t strong enough to rub out the knots, Papa takes over, firmly digging his thumbs into Mama’s back. Papa says that Mama should see a doctor for her back, but she’s unable to because the hospital is so understaffed.
Papa’s short temper, exacerbated by internment, contrasts with his massaging of Mama’s back and concern for her health, reflecting his ultimate tenderness for his wife and family.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
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Papa reassures Mama, telling her that the block leaders have decided to send a petition to the administration demanding that internees be allowed to stay at camp until they figure out somewhere definite to go. However, it’s clear he’s unsure if the petition will work. When Mama asks Papa bleakly what they are going to do, he proposes one of his far-fetched ideas: getting a government loan and founding a “cooperative” in California to house displaced Japanese-Americans. He says that the government is obligated to help internees get a new start after all the trouble it’s cased them, but when Mama asks doubtfully if the government will actually do anything, he resumes massaging in silence.
Papa’s far-fetched schemes used to be a source of excitement for the family, and Jeanne always takes pride as she recounts his prewar escapades. However, now they seem unrealistic and reflect his powerlessness, rather than his ability to improve their circumstances. At this point, it’s Mama who emerges as the more practical and capable spouse.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
When the atomic bombs fall on Hiroshima, the war is definitively over and the Wakatsukis realize they must return to the outside world. Just as Pearl Harbor ended the prewar period of Jeanne’s life, this “appalling climax” is the end of her time at Manzanar. Internees are happy to see the end of the war, but any celebrations are dampened by the atomic bombing—Papa is worried about his remaining family in Japan, especially since his own children are now scattered across the country.
The news of the atomic bombs is another moment of fracturing for the family. Since they don’t even know if their relatives have survived, they may be totally cut off from their Japanese heritage, which has been the binding force between them both before and during the war.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
While Papa reads the papers and looks at the mountains, other families leave the camp every day. When it’s finally time for the Wakatsukis to leave, there are only two thousand reluctant internees left inside Manzanar.
The family’s growing reliance on the camp contrasts starkly with their initial reluctance to move there.
Themes
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon