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CHAPTER 1: "What is Pearl Harbor?"


The Wakatsukis are a Japanese family with ten children, the youngest of whom is Jeanne; she is the narrator and author of the memoir. In December 1941, the Wakatsukis are living near Long Beach, California. Mr. and Mrs. Wakatsuki are immigrants; they have come to the United States from Japan, searching for the American Dream. Jeanne's father and brothers man a fishing boat called The Nereid and work for the canneries on the coast.

On this particular day in December, Jeanne stands on shore with the other Wakatsuki females; they all wave good-bye to the Wakatsuki men as they set out to sea. As the women watch the Nereid travel further away, it suddenly turns and heads back to shore. Jeanne and the others are confused about the strange return until a cannery worker on the docks runs toward them; he delivers the news that Japan has just bombed Pearl Harbor in a deadly surprise attack.

Jeanne's father is immediately frightened that his ties to Japan will cause him trouble; he goes home and burns the flag he had brought from Hiroshima, as well as all documents that might tie him to Japan. The family then relocates to the home of their eldest son, Woody, who lives on Terminal Island. After two weeks, Ko Wakatsuki, Jeanne's father, is arrested and interrogated. Later the family learns that he has been taken into custody and falsely charged with supplying oil to Japanese submarines offshore. The family is devastated at the news.


Farewell to Manzanar is a memoir, a true story of remembrance of a period in the author's life. Jeanne Wakatsuki-Houston, the author and narrator of the memoir, tells the story of her childhood and adolescence after she has become a mature adult. In the Foreword, she explains the book is her effort to look into the past and come to terms with those years she spent in a relocation camp. She and her family were sent to Manzanar simply for being of Japanese descent, even though Jeanne and her siblings were native-born Americans. The author admits that in the past she has tried to deny the memory of life in the camp; but she no longer feels she can avoid her painful past. Writing the memoir is an attempt on her part to purge her heart and mind of those camp years. It also is intended to give an accurate account of life in the internment camp, which is unique among historical concentration camps. In the camps, located on American soil, an attempt was made to make life "normal," despite the painfully deliberate circumstances.

Jeanne is the protagonist of the memoir, even though she is only seven years old at the start of the tale. As a result of her youth, she cannot understand the magnitude of Pearl Harbor or why her family must move to Woody's house. As a small girl, she then observes with confusion the arrest of her father and the subsequent move to Manzanar. Everything is a blur to Jeanne as a child, but the adult narrator is able to put more meaning and understanding into the incidents that occur after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Having been trained in sociology, Jeanne, the narrator, is able to make deductions and correlations from childhood confusions and impressions.

At the start of the book, Jeanne's father is a proud, dignified, self-respecting Japanese-American who loves to be in command of his wife and ten children. He works hard at fishing and in the canneries, trying to realize the American Dream of wealth. He feels that if he is successful in America, it will honor his wife and children. Born in Japan, he has immigrated to the United States to find a better life; he still, however, has strong ties to his native land, for all of his extended family is still in Hiroshima.

In the beginning of the memoir, the family life of the Wakatsuki family is presented as entirely normal. Then, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and everything changes for the Wakatsukis. Ko, the father, immediately knows that Pearl Harbor will bring all Japanese immigrants under suspicion. Out of fear, he goes home and burns his country's flag and his papers tying him to Japan; it is a symbolic act that shows he is severing his connection with his native land. Unfortunately for him and his family, they cannot change or hide their looks; it is apparent that they are of Japanese descent, a fact that will cause them many troubles and sorrows.

Jeanne undergoes a quick succession of changes in her young life. She is abruptly moved to the home of her older brother, Woody. There she watches her father be arrested and taken away. Then she learns that he has been charged with treason and will remain in custody. Soon the entire family is moved into Manzanar, a Japanese detention camp near the Mojave Desert. It is no wonder that the seven-year-old child is upset and confused.

The author's style of narration is simple and lucid, totally devoid of ornamentation. It is almost as if a young girl could have written the memoir. The title of the first chapter also expresses innocence; the Japanese-Americans really had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, not even knowing of its existence or location. Then through no fault of their own, they are suddenly alienated from their neighbors and placed in internment camps.

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