In Farewell to Manzanar, the Wakatsukis cope with the material and psychological effects of internment during World War II. In Jeanne’s opinion, dignity is one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture, and one of the things she most appreciates in her parents is their commitment to maintaining family pride under even the most dire circumstances. However, this emphasis on pride makes everyone in the family vulnerable to debilitating feelings of shame. Both during and after internment, everyone in the family feels the stigma of imprisonment deeply, and they often behave as if this crisis is their fault. As Jeanne grows older, she realizes she must reject both her parents’ methods of maintaining pride and coping with shame. It’s only by refusing to consider internment as a mark of shame that she cultivates a sense of personal pride that is valuable and sustaining.
The charismatic and sometimes volatile patriarch, Papa is the most prideful, and thus the most strongly affected by the shame of internment. In Jeanne’s opinion, all his past successes and failures are driven by his sometimes overwhelming sense of personal dignity: he leaves Japan because he doesn’t want to preside over the decline of his once-wealthy family, and he never completes law school in America because he feels that doing so would entail suffering humiliating prejudice. His pride makes him liable to yell at his family and spend too much money on clothes. However, it’s also this quality that makes him a dynamic and exciting person, always able to reassure his family when things go wrong, or throw a party when people need to be cheered up. In times of crisis, Jeanne often remembers the dignified way that he carved meat and portioned out food at family dinners.
Papa’s character makes internment especially difficult for him. First he suffers the shame of being deemed disloyal by American society without cause. Then, when he manages to be released early from Fort Lincoln, he’s called an inu, or traitor, by suspicious internees at Manzanar. These public disgraces lead him to lose pride even in his own eyes. At Manzanar, he quickly descends into alcoholism, and his loss of dignity, manifested in his abusive behavior towards the family, is a traumatic experience for his wife and children to behold. Jeanne notes that even after returning to California and becoming sober, Papa is never able to regain his lost pride. The shame of internment persists through the rest of his life, and possibly contributes to his early death.
Unlike Papa, Mama responds to the shame of internment by maintaining normal conventions as best she can. This makes her a beacon of strength for the family, but ultimately leads her to place too much emphasis on appearances and acceptance. Mama maintains her personal dignity—and that of the family—by preserving conventions even among dismal circumstances. She always wears a hat to protect her skin from the Manzanar sun, and she uses the latrine in the middle of the night in order to avoid the “humiliation” of sharing it with others. Later, when she’s forced to take a menial job at the cannery, Jeanne poignantly describes the neat makeup and clothes she wears in order to keep up her children’s spirits and her own.
Even Mama’s outbursts are measured and dignified. As internment approaches, Mama is forced to sell the treasured possessions she brought from Japan, and she’s further shamed because an opportunistic white dealer offers her a pitifully low price for her valuable tableware. Rather than submit to the humiliation of being cheated, she smashes each dish in front of him, maintaining her dignity even at material cost. Mama’s quiet perseverance helps the family make it through the day-to-day hardships of internment. However, it doesn’t help Jeanne grapple with the lasting shame she suffers after the experience. When Jeanne is shamed for her origins by other students in her high school, Mama encourages her to try harder to win acceptance, rather than to openly combat their prejudice or resolve her feelings on her own.
After internment, Jeanne’s feelings of repressed shame cause her to try extremely hard to fit into mainstream society, but these feelings also make her unable to advocate for herself in the face of prejudice. Only as an adult revisiting Manzanar is she finally able to realize that internment wasn’t her fault, and thus jettison the shame that lasted long after the experience. Even though Japanese-Americans have technically been cleared of disloyalty charges by the end of the war, the taint of internment lingers in Jeanne’s life through friends whose parents won’t invite her to their home, boys who flirt with her but won’t take her on dates, and teachers who don’t want her to occupy prominent roles in extracurricular organizations. Instead of becoming angry at these slights, Jeanne feels ashamed of herself and tries even harder to court acceptance and goodwill. She feels guilty that she is “imposing a burden” on friends whose parents don’t approve of her and feels grateful when, after long deliberation, her high school allows her to become its first Asian marjorette.
Long after high school, shame plays a role in Jeanne’s adult unwillingness to talk about Manzanar. Even when she encounters a reporter who visited and photographed the camp, she feels unable to admit that she was interned there. After Jeanne has married and has kids, she visits the ruins of Manzanar with her family. Returning to the camp, she remembers not the indignities of internment, but the ways in which her parents maintained their pride, like Papa’s impetuous decision to buy a car so that the family doesn’t have to leave camp in a public bus. Considering the experience on her own intimate terms, rather than through the lens of shame and prejudice that mainstream society applies to it, she’s able to see the past as a testament not to shame but to her family’s ability to persevere through many obstacles.
In its portrayal of causeless shame that internment imposes on the Wakatsukis, Farewell to Manzanar is heart-wrenching and tragic. However, the fact of the memoir’s existence—Jeanne’s ability to vindicate her family and their willingness to discuss her experience publicly—are a firm refutation of these feelings. By writing the memoir, Jeanne is able to process the shame she’s repressed for so many years and recover some of her family’s lost pride.
Shame and Pride ThemeTracker
Shame and Pride Quotes in Farewell to Manzanar
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.
[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.
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.
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.