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Free Study Guide for Farewell To Manzanar-BookNotes

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THEMES

Racial prejudice, the strain of war, and the gradual decline of the family are all issues with grave thematic import in the memoir. The impact of these weighty issues on a young girl's adolescence is the focus of the text, and the sole reason for its existence.


MOOD

The mood of the memoir is reflective. In re-living her past, Jeanne Wakatsuki is objective, yet sympathetic. Her recollections of her childhood are a mature attempt to understand and make sense of the past events that have shaped her life. Within the book, there are some powerfully moving moments, such as when Papa Wakatsuki sings the Japanese anthems, when Aunt Toyo weeps at Woody's door and when an adult Jeanne wanders around the remains of Manzanar.


Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston - BIOGRAPHY


Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston jointly author Farewell to Manzanar. The novel is the real life account of Jeanne and her family during World War II, when they were detained in an American concentration camp out of national paranoia.

Jeanne Toyo Wakatsuki is the youngest daughter of Ko and Riku Wakatsuki, natives of Japan who come to the United States in search of the American Dream. Born on September 26, 1934, in Inglewood California, Jeanne is the youngest of four boys and six girls in the Wakatsuki family.

Jeanne Wakatsuki was only seven years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked and her family was displaced to a Japanese detention camp. She struggled to understand why she was living in a place surrounded by guards and guns. When the camp was closed, Jeanne struggled to be a poor teenager of Japanese descent in a country that was very anti-Japanese. Jeanne, however, did not let her troubles stand in the way of her success. She became the first member of the Wakatsuki family to go to college, studying Journalism and Sociology at San Jose State; after graduation, she worked as a social worker at a juvenile detention hall and probation officer in San Mateo, California, from 1955 to 1957. Jeanne was also the first Wakatsuki to marry outside her race. Her husband, James Houston, is a co-author of the memoir. They married in 1957. Ten years later, in 1967, Jeanne gave birth to twins, Joshua and Gabriel. A third child was born several years later.

James Houston was born to Albert Dudley Houston and Alice Loretta Wilson Houston, on November 10, 1933, in San Francisco. His father had been a Texas blacksmith and sharecropper. James graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, studied at San Jose State College and Stanford University, and achieved the rank of lieutenant in the U.S. Airforce. James' proposal for marriage, inscribed on a ti leaf and sent to Jeanne all the way from Hawaii, was accepted; the couple married in 1957.


In 1967, James began his writing career with the publication of Gig, which earned him the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. He also received the Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford. In 1969, James wrote and published his novel, Between Battles, and the family moved to the University of California, where James taught English.

For the first twenty years of their relationship, James knew nothing about Jeanne's painful childhood. As he learned more about her experiences in post-war America, he suggested that Jeanne should write 'a story everyone in America should read.' The couple decided to jointly write Jeanne's book of memoirs after James overheard Jeanne sharing her painful childhood with her nephew, Gary Nishikawa; he had been born in the Manzanar camp hospital.

The Houston family traveled to Manzanar, which is written about in the last chapter of the book. The revisit heals Jeanne's scars as she strolls through the ruins of the camp. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, she confesses feeling "sullied, like when you are a rape victim...you feel you must have done something. You feel a part of the act," but returning to Manzanar has a cathartic effect upon her. She is able to accept the past and at the same time put it behind her.

In 1984, Jeanne was awarded the Warner Communications' Wonder Woman award for "the pursuit of truth and positive social change," as a result of her work on Farewell to Manzanar. Since the publication of the first book on Manzanar, the authorial team has written several other works on multicultural topics; they include Beyond Manzanar and Other Views Of Asian-American Womanhood; One Can Think About Life After The Fish Is In The Canoe and Other Coastal Stories; and Barrio, an eight part mini series for NBC. Aside from her books, Jeanne also writes articles for Mother Jones, California, West, California Living, Reader's Digest, and the New England Review. She is also a lecturer at several colleges and universities around the United States. James is a prolific writer who is constantly publishing new works. At present, the Houstons live in Santa Cruz, California.


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND


Farewell to Manzanar
is the true story of Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family during World War II, when the Japanese-Americans were confined to interment camps all over America. The first sign of trouble for Japanese-Americans was the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Though many of these American citizens of Japanese descent had never heard of Pearl Harbor, they immediately felt the consequence of being from Japan in wartime America.

Provoked by the violent and deadly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war against Japan. Almost immediately the Japanese Americans on the West Coast began to feel an open hatred expressed against them by their fellow citizens of European descent. The government completed matters by arresting more than three thousand Japanese-American males on grounds of treason after the issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Roosevelt. Though the arrested were American citizens, they were victims of a nationalist paranoia that saw nothing beyond their oriental faces.

Eventually, more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were taken by the government, causing them to lose their property, homes and belongings. They were sent to live in concentration-style camps, called relocation centers; the camps were located in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, and Wyoming. In the beginning, the living conditions at the camp were very sub-standard, for they were quickly constructed and not kept clean. Living quarters were like military barracks, arranged in rows and offering little privacy. In addition, armed soldiers guarded the camps heavily. Although detainees were never tortured or made to do hard labor, camp life was hard and demeaning. In the camp at Manzanar, California, it was particularly dry and dusty, for it was located just outside the Mojave Desert.

In February 1843, all camp detainees were asked to sign a Loyalty Oath, pledging their allegiance to the United States and their willingness to serve in the war against their native country; if they refused to sign, they would be sent back to Japan. Most Japanese-Americans in the camp signed the Loyalty Oath and many of the males were called into military service. Even though many Americans of Japanese descent fought bravely in the war, they were often not trusted and were given no credit.

To end the war, the American government decided to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soon after the bombs exploded, the Japanese surrendered to the Americans. As a result, the detention camps for Japanese Americans were closed. The detainees, however, had to re-enter society in total poverty, having lost everything when they were sent into the camp. Additionally, they had to face the distrust and paranoia of their fellow Americans of European descent. It was a very difficult time for Japanese Americans, during and after the war.


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