Both in Japanese culture and within the context of Manzanar life, stones symbolize endurance. After fighting publicly with an internee over his decision to sign the Loyalty Oath, Papa returns to the barracks and quietly sings the Japanese national anthem, crying as he does so. The anthem compares the country to a “tiny stone” that grows into a “massive rock” covered in moss. Singing the anthem, Papa communicates his own resolve to stand firm, like the stone, rather than succumbing to the pressures posed by internment. Later, as life in Manzanar becomes more settled, groups of internees create public parks adorned with beautiful rock gardens, and Papa collects stones on his walk and creates a rock garden outside his family’s barracks. Through the stones, the internees make Manzanar a livable place and create moments of beauty in an experience of degradation and shame, helping them endure internment.
Stones also show the melding of Japanese and American identities. Papa sings the national anthem after he defends his decision to declare loyalty to the U.S.—he turns to a symbol of Japanese patriotism to give himself strength as he commits himself to his adopted country. Moreover, rock gardens are so popular at Manzanar because they are a common feature of Japanese houses. As Manzanar develops, Jeanne says that the rock gardens give an “Asian character” to what is otherwise “a totally equipped American small town.” The U.S. government wants Japanese-Americans to renounce their heritage through tests like the Loyalty Oath; but it’s by preserving their culture that internees are able to endure and thrive, both within Manzanar and later as free American citizens.
Stones Quotes in Farewell to Manzanar
It is a patriotic song that can also be read as a proverb, as a personal credo for endurance. The stone can be the kingdom or it can be a man’s life. The moss is the greenery that, in time, will spring even from a rock.
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.