Farewell to Manzanar

by

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

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Mama Character Analysis

Riku Wakatsuiki, Jeanne’s mother. Reserved and demure, Mama fulfills the ideal of traditional Japanese womanhood in many ways: she runs an efficient household, gives birth to many children, and supports her husband’s wild schemes and career changes. However, Mama also knows her own mind. Her decision to elope with Papa rather than marry a wealthy farmer shows her independence, and rather than sell her precious china to an unscrupulous secondhand dealer, Mama smashes it all on the street. During internment, Mama’s adherence to traditional norms becomes a sign of her strength. It allows her to maintain her dignity when circumstances seem designed to strip it away. At Manzanar, Mama wears a homemade sunhat as she trudges to and from work, and upon returning to California, she dresses carefully and wears make-up to her menial job at a cannery. These rituals are both a mechanism for maintaining her own dignity and something that steadies the rest of the family, especially Jeanne. However, Mama’s resolute acceptance of whatever happens to the family prevents her from discussing, or helping Jeanne to understand, the traumatic experience of internment. By eventually writing a memoir, Jeanne both valorizes her mother’s behavior and rejects her methods for coping with suffering.

Mama Quotes in Farewell to Manzanar

The Farewell to Manzanar quotes below are all either spoken by Mama or refer to Mama. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Belonging in America Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition of Farewell to Manzanar published in 1973.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Mama took out another dinner plate and hurled it at the floor, then another and another, never moving, never opening her mouth, just quivering and glaring at the retreating dealer, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

[Mama] would quickly subordinate her own desires to those of the family or those of the community, because she knew cooperation was the only way to survive. At the same time she placed a premium on personal privacy, respected it in others and insisted upon it for herself. Almost everyone at Manzanar had inherited this pair of traits from the generations before them who had learned to live in a small, crowded country like Japan. Because of the first they were able to take a desolate stretch of wasteland and gradually make it livable. But the entire situation there, especially in the beginning … was an open insult to that other, private self, a slap in the face you were powerless to challenge.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

My own family, after three years of mess hall living, collapsed as an integrated unit. Whatever dignity or feeling of filial strength we may have known before December 1941 was lost, and we did not recover it until many years after the war …

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

But as badly as he wanted us to believe it, he never did finish law school. Who knows why? He was terribly proud, sometimes absurdly proud, and he refused to defer to any man. Maybe … he saw ahead of him prejudices he refused to swallow, humiliations he refused to bear.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

He was not a great man. He wasn’t even a very successful man. He was a poser, a braggart, and a tyrant. But he had held onto his self-respect, he dreamed grand dreams, and he could work well at any task he turned his hand to …

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

There had always been doors to keep some moments private. Here there were no doors. Nothing was private. And tonight [Papa] was far too serious—he seemed to have reached some final limit.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa, Kiyo
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

I was proud of Kiyo and afraid for what would happen to him; but deeper than that, I felt the miserable sense of loss that comes when the center has collapsed and everything seems to be flying apart around you.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa, Kiyo
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

Three years of wartime propaganda—racist headlines, atrocity movies, hate slogans, and fright-mask posters—had turned the Japanese face into something despicable and grotesque. Mama and Papa knew this. They had been reading the papers. Even I knew this, although it was not until many years later that I realized how bad things actually were.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

The physical violence didn’t trouble me. Somehow I didn’t quite believe that, or didn’t want to believe such things could happen to us. It was the humiliation. That continuous, unnamed ache I had been living with was precise and definable now. Call it the foretaste of being hated … At ten I saw that coming, like a judge’s sentence, and I would have stayed inside the camp forever rather than step outside and face such a moment.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Related Symbols: Barbed Wire
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 20 Quotes

I couldn’t understand why [Papa] was home all day, when Mama had to go out working. I was ashamed of him for that and, in a deeper way, for being what had led to our imprisonment, that is, for being so unalterably Japanese. I would not bring my friends home for fear of what he would say or do.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

He was unforgivably a foreigner then, foreign to them, foreign to me, foreign to everyone but Mama, who sat next to him smiling with pleased modesty. Twelve years old at the time, I wanted to scream. I wanted to slide out of sight under the table and dissolve.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Mama, Papa
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Farewell to Manzanar LitChart as a printable PDF.
Farewell to Manzanar PDF

Mama Character Timeline in Farewell to Manzanar

The timeline below shows where the character Mama appears in Farewell to Manzanar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: What is Pearl Harbor
Belonging in America Theme Icon
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
...the first weekend of December 1941, Jeanne Wakatsuki has just turned seven. She’s with her Mama and her sisters at the wharf near her house, watching the fishing boats get ready... (full context)
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...each other they always set sail together and share their nets. Standing at the harbor, Mama, Billy and Woody’s wives, and Jeanne wave goodbye. They don’t know exactly when the men... (full context)
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...the dock and shouts that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. Neither Chizu nor Mama know what Pearl Harbor is, but the employee is running down the docks “like Paul... (full context)
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...paper accusing him of delivering oil to Japanese submarines with his boat. The accusation makes Mama burst into tears and Jeanne hugs her legs, not understanding what’s going on. (full context)
Chapter 2: Shikata Ga Nai
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...so that he couldn’t be “labeled or grouped” by his race. However, after Papa’s arrest Mama moves the family to Terminal Island; Woody and one of Jeanne’s older sisters already live... (full context)
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...to the cannery to process the catch, even if it’s the middle of the night. Mama and Chizu start working in the cannery in order to provide for the family in... (full context)
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...“dangerous” to allow Asians to live so near the water and the nearby naval base. Mama knows something like this is coming, but she can’t prepare because she doesn’t know where... (full context)
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...the neighborhood, offering ridiculously low prices for goods that the families can’t carry with them. Mama has brought only her most valuable things to Terminal Island: pottery, treasured tableware, and kimonos... (full context)
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...such a thing does happen; they don’t want to be separated again, as Papa was. Mama has finally received a letter from him telling her that he’s been imprisoned as an... (full context)
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Mama and Woody go to work packing celery, while Jeanne and her siblings Kiyo and May... (full context)
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...her, and the adults are all playing cards or reading as they do at home. Mama and her brothers have strategized to make sure everyone in the family is evacuated to... (full context)
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...never eat rice with sweet foods. However, no one protests; when Jeanne opens her mouth Mama pokes her, warning her not to be impolite. (full context)
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As the youngest child, Jeanne gets to sleep next to Mama. She’s happy about this and continues to sleep next to her mother every night until... (full context)
Chapter 3: A Different Kind of Sand
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Because it’s so cold at night, Mama has unpacked all the clothes and spread them over the children. In the morning, all... (full context)
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Before Mama gets overwhelmed by the dismal shack, Woody arrives with a hammer and a box of... (full context)
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Woody assures Mama that he will make things better. Suddenly, his baby daughter starts to cry. He announces... (full context)
Chapter 4: A Common Master Plan
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...camps into usable clothes, but for now everyone makes do. Jeanne laughs when she sees Mama wearing old trousers much too big for her, but the important thing is to stay... (full context)
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The first time Jeanne and Mama visit the latrine on Block 16, they find it covered in excrement and all the... (full context)
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Eventually, the internees build partitions in the latrines, one by one. Mama and Jeanne’s sisters walk all the way across camp to use bathrooms with private toilets.... (full context)
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Mama never becomes accustomed to the “humiliation” of the latrines, but she learns to endure it,... (full context)
Chapter 5: Almost a Family
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Jeanne is too young to be humiliated by the camp as Mama is, but life at Manzanar changes her in other ways. For example, mealtime was always... (full context)
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Although they have to stay near Mama, Jeanne and Kiyo eat with groups of other kids; they enjoy the independence. After a... (full context)
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...Papa and her older brothers catch the fish, they run back to the house where Mama fries them for everyone to eat. Jeanne concludes the paper by saying she wants to... (full context)
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Soon after arriving at Manzanar, Mama gets a job. Anyone with any special skills is asked to work, driven by “community... (full context)
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Moreover, Mama is constantly worried about Papa. Letters arrive twice a month, in which half the writing... (full context)
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Unable to depend on Mama, Jeanne seeks attention elsewhere, taking her “first steps” into the world outside her parents’ realm.... (full context)
Chapter 6: Whatever He Did Had Flourish
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However, in the meantime Papa meets Mama. She was born in Hawaii, where her father was a fieldworker. Her parents eventually settled... (full context)
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Mama meets Papa at a wholesale market where her parents are selling produce and Papa is... (full context)
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Mama attempts to run away with Papa, but her brothers eventually find her, take her home,... (full context)
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...strikes he loses his land and has to work as a migrant laborer while supporting Mama and eight children. Just before Jeanne is born, he becomes a fisherman, doing well enough... (full context)
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For Jeanne, the prewar years are represented by Papa and Mama’s silver anniversary celebration in 1940: Papa wore a new suit and Mama an elegant dress.... (full context)
Chapter 8: Inu
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...space but because of his “dark, bitter, brooding presence.” He rarely goes outside and makes Mama bring him food from the mess hall, saving up the fruit syrup to brew moonshine... (full context)
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
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...that the neighbors gossip about him because he’s brewing moonshine in the barracks. Jeanne and Mama hear some women in the latrine calling Papa an “inu”—a Japanese insult that means “dog.” (full context)
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When Mama tells a drunken Papa what the women in the latrine had been saying, he starts... (full context)
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Papa threatens to kill Mama, and she tells him to “go ahead, if that will make you happy.” He stands... (full context)
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...“outrage and admiration” and does nothing, so he runs out the door. Jeanne goes to Mama, relieved that the fight has ended but feeling “a miserable sense of loss” at the... (full context)
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...Jeanne feels that something has changed forever. Papa continues to drink and continues to abuse Mama, and it seems like there’s no way to change the situation. (full context)
Chapter 9: The Mess Hall Bells
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...out their anger. Papa calls them idiots and derides their plan to return to Japan; Mama says that maybe over there “they would be treated like human beings.” Papa tells her... (full context)
Chapter 11: Yes Yes No No
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...she only knows that men are constantly coming and going from the barracks, and when Mama and Granny try to stop their arguing Papa shouts at them. (full context)
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...men drag Papa into the barracks and Jeanne follows him. He sits silently inside while Mama pours him tea, and Woody and Chizu arrive to discuss the day’s events. A friend... (full context)
Chapter 12: Manzanar, U.S.A.
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Mama has arranged the move, arguing that she needs to live in Block 28 because of... (full context)
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...[…] glee clubs, and softball leagues”—everything that an American small town would have. Every morning, Mama goes to work in the mess halls and visits young mothers; she always wears a... (full context)
Chapter 13: Outings, Explorations
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...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. (full context)
Chapter 14: In the Firebreak
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...blood from Woody during labor, while her sister-in-law actually died from post-partum hemorrhaging. Papa and Mama have been taking turns sitting with Eleanor throughout her long labor. (full context)
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...afternoon, Jeanne is walking through a firebreak to the hospital with Papa when they see Mama running toward them and shouting. Papa is clearly terrified that Eleanor has died; but when... (full context)
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Papa puts an arm around Mama. He’s wearing a turtleneck she knit for him during his fishing days, and Mama’s hands... (full context)
Chapter 15: Departures
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In the next months, Mama and Papa grow closer together. Meanwhile, the camp population is dwindling. Some people have managed... (full context)
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As Jeanne watches Woody depart, she stands between Mama and Chizu; because of this, she remembers the day three years earlier when they watched... (full context)
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...moment— “full of proud smiles and half-concealed worry.” However, it’s complicated by th uncertainties of internment—Mama and Papa don’t even know where they will be living, or what their citizenship status... (full context)
Chapter 16: Free to Go
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...a house to return to, since their property is surely occupied by others now. Moreover, Mama and Papa—and to a limited extent, Jeanne—know that throughout the war American society has been... (full context)
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...with their husbands, soon join. The family tell each other that once they have settled, Mama and Papa and the younger children will join, but everyone knows that Papa is too... (full context)
Chapter 17: It’s All Starting Over
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...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. (full context)
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When Mama gets tired of arguing, she tells Jeanne to rub her back and release some of... (full context)
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Papa reassures Mama, telling her that the block leaders have decided to send a petition to the administration... (full context)
Chapter 19: Re-Entry
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...his “lethargy,” he walks to the nearest town with the intention of buying a car. Mama thinks this is a bad idea, but he scoffs her advice away. Papa has always... (full context)
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Jeanne and Mama go in the first trip; Papa is driving frantically and becomes outraged every time the... (full context)
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Mama is able to recover some kitchenware she’d stored with neighbors before internment. However, the warehouse... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Mama busies herself with the immediate concern of providing for the family. She soon gets a... (full context)
Chapter 20: A Double Impulse
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...she doesn’t like being in the crowded apartment, where the family eats in shifts and Mama is rarely home. Moreover, she’s lost respect for Papa—he’s never able to gain support for... (full context)
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...for all the students in the scholarship society, of whom Jeanne is one. Papa and Mama arrive completely overdressed. As each student is presented, the parents are also introduced and stand... (full context)
Chapter  21: The Girl of My Dreams
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...the outfit she wore, he becomes enraged and accuses her of “showing off your body.” Mama tries to intercede, but Papa shouts her down, yelling about the importance of modestly and... (full context)
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...sense he’s reluctantly proud of her independence and ability to stand up for herself. Meanwhile, Mama is very proud and helps Jeanne pick out a dress to wear to the coronation... (full context)
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Under Mama’s influence, Jeanne decides on an elegant but modest ball gown—unlike the other girls in the... (full context)
Chapter 22: Ten Thousand Voices
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...elms planted by internees remain. Standing in the wind among the ruins, Jeanne thinks of Mama, who has been dead for seven years. She believes in ghosts, and she feels that... (full context)
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...be the one that lay outside her own door, or it might not. She hears Mama’s voice and almost smells the cork that Papa used to heat up and place against... (full context)
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...the family’s departure from Manzanar, which she now realizes is Papa’s “final outburst of defiance.” Mama is packing when Papa announces his intention to buy a car. She says this is... (full context)
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Late in the afternoon, Mama, Jeanne, Chizu, and May see Papa proudly returning with the new sedan. He smells like... (full context)