Farewell to Manzanar


Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

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Barbed Wire Symbol Analysis

Barbed Wire Symbol Icon

When Jeanne and her family first arrive at Manzanar, they are appalled to see the barbed wire that surrounds the camp’s grim enclosure. The fence demonstrates that they aren’t just in “government custody,” they’re in prison. In the early and chaotic days of Manzanar, barbed wire signifies the complete exclusion of Japanese Americans from society, and the drastic actions which prejudice can spur.

However, as internees respond to internment by creating their own functional society, barbed wire becomes less important to Jeanne—and it even sometimes becomes a sign of comfort. Jeanne describes a picture from the Manzanar high school yearbook in which a woman walks on a path towards the edge of the camp, but the barbed wire fence is out of focus and invisible. As Manzanar society becomes more functional, it’s easier to forget that the fence exists at all. Jeanne enjoys going on camping trips outside the fence with her class, but she reflects that if she had the option to leave the fence forever, she would run straight home to the barracks. By this point, life at Manzanar is all Jeanne knows, and the fence is a comforting boundary, rather than a limit. Jeanne’s parents also come to see the fence as protective. By the time the war ends, they’re accustomed to life at Manzanar, and the anti-Asian hysteria that has persisted through the war means that Japanese-American families will face hostility and violence when they return to their homes. Even when they are officially free, the Wakatsukis are among the last families to leave the camp. For them, isolation behind the fence signifies safety—however, it’s important to remember that this safety is informed by the racism awaiting them on the other side. Whether the barbed wire symbolizes imprisonment and exclusion or comfort and safety, it’s a reflection of the prejudice which has made Japanese-Americans unsafe in mainstream society.

Barbed Wire Quotes in Farewell to Manzanar

The Farewell to Manzanar quotes below all refer to the symbol of Barbed Wire. 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 16 Quotes

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 22 Quotes

These rock gardens had outlived the barracks and the towers and would surely outlive the asphalt road and rusted pipes and shattered slabs of concrete. Each stone was a mouth, speaking for a family, for some man who had beautified his doorstep.

Related Characters: Jeanne (speaker), Papa
Related Symbols: Stones, Barbed Wire
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Farewell to Manzanar LitChart as a printable PDF.
Farewell to Manzanar PDF

Barbed Wire Symbol Timeline in Farewell to Manzanar

The timeline below shows where the symbol Barbed Wire appears in Farewell to Manzanar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Shikata Ga Nai
Belonging in America Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...landscape; dust swirls around the bus and pelts the windows. The bus drives through a barbed-wire fence and Jeanne can see some tents, behind which lie long rows of barracks. The adults... (full context)
Chapter 12: Manzanar, U.S.A.
Shame and Pride  Theme Icon
...hobbies he’s never been able to pursue, like carving furniture and even hiking outside the barbed wire fence—after the authorities have given permission. His favorite pastime is collecting stones and building a... (full context)
Belonging in America Theme Icon
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
...It portrays students wearing sweaters and holding books while they walk past the barracks and barbed wire , cheerleaders with pompoms, and students performing in a play about “a typical American home.”... (full context)
Belonging in America Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...path; Jeanne knows that this road leads towards the edge of the camp, but the barbed wire is invisible in the photo. In retrospect, the image seems “both stark and comforting.” (full context)
Chapter 13: Outings, Explorations
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
...but she’s more preoccupied with the fact that this is her first night outside the barbed wire of Manzanar. (full context)
Chapter 17: It’s All Starting Over
Belonging in America Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 22: Ten Thousand Voices
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
...By this time, the women have stopped shouting. From this angle, Jeanne can’t see the barbed wire fence; she knows she should be afraid, as she normally is when considering life outside... (full context)
Internment and Family Life Theme Icon
Shame and Pride  Theme Icon
When he reaches the barbed wire fence, Papa turns sharply and drives back towards the bus stop, where he honks the... (full context)