The Farewell to Manzanar

Date: Nov 30, 2018
Category: Review Category


Farewell to Manzanar (1973) is a memoir written by Jeanne W. Houston and James D. Houston. The current paper provides the review of this book with the main attention paid to specific details. The story is presented from the point of view of Jeanne. She is a child in the family of Japanese immigrants and presents her experience and social interactions with other members of society.

American Camps (Manzanar)

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, and it created significant threats to all Japanese people as the FBI suggested that they could directly or indirectly participate in these attacks. Papa immediately burned his Japanese flag trying to guarantee his family safety; however, he was soon arrested by the FBI. After some time, other family members, including Jeanne, were imprisoned in one of the American camps (Manzanar). The living conditions in the camp were unsatisfactory. Japanese immigrants faced dust, low-quality food, and unprepared barracks. There were also significant problems with warm clothing as well as food preservation that negatively affected the health of many people. Mama was shocked because camp toilets were non-partitioned.

Jeanne became interested in religious issues. At some moment, she even experienced sunstroke after imaging herself being a suffering saint. As these practices were dangerous for her health, Jeanne’s father told her to abandon them. Her father was arrested and was able to return from another camp only in a year. Jeanne was waiting for him as she was proud of his behavior. In particular, she supported his decision of moving from Japan to the US due to the lowering social status of the samurai. Unfortunately, her father was unable to maintain his initial positive traits of character. Government officials believed that he was to blame for espionage and introduced corresponding sanctions in relation to him. As a result, his emotional state became inadequate, and he was unable to counter any difficulties. After his return, her father became especially aggressive and dangerous for other family members. For example, he threatened Jeanne’s mother with the cane. Moreover, he started drinking alcohol and could not control his behavior in all situations.

Afterward, the authors describe the December Riot. Three men were arrested because they were suspected of beating someone who supported the government. Thus, the rioters tried to determine traitors among them. The military police aimed at neutralizing the riot, and policemen began shooting into the crowd. As a result, two Japanese were killed and around ten other people were seriously wounded. The police accused Kaz (Jeanne’s relative) of participating and organizing sabotage. Talking about Jeanne’s father, he sang the Japanese national anthem that night demonstrating his support to Japanese people.

Although the police did not tolerate any participants of the riot, the life in the camp improved after the riot. Jeanne and her family received an opportunity to live in better barracks. Her father began gardening on a regular basis. Manzanar tended to become closer to a traditional US town. The corresponding social infrastructure was developed, and several schools were opened. All people from the camp could make some trips outside the camp. Jeanne engaged in various Japanese and US hobbies, but religious issues remained to be the most interesting and important for her.

She even decided to be baptized, but her father found out about her decision and did not allow realizing her intention. Therefore, Jeanne decided not to interact closely with her father and find other friends. However, her parents became closer together due to a birth of their grandchild. The population of Manzanar tended to decrease over time because many men were drafted. Woody was drafted and being in the military, he decided to visit his father’s relatives in Hiroshima. He communicated with his father’s aunt and understood her position. The Supreme Court stated that the implemented government policy was illegal, and government officials decided to close all camps. Some residents felt a great deal of uncertainty about the future and did not want to leave the camp. However, after some time, all of them were ordered to leave, and Jeanne’s family moved to Long Beach.

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They began to live in public housing. The family was surprised that people around them were largely tolerant toward them. In fact, the supposed prejudice was not widespread in the US society. One of the girls admired Jeanne’s knowledge of English, and Jeanne began close friendly relationships with this girl. Her name was Radine, and she lived not far from Jeanne’s family. Their tastes and activities were similar; however, some extracurricular opportunities were not open to Jeanne due to her social status. Although large-scale discrimination was absent, Japanese immigrants enjoyed fewer opportunities than Americans.

Jeanne experienced considerable psychological difficulties. She even evaluated the possibility of leaving school. However, she decided to make an additional attempt. She was nominated as a queen of the school’s carnival by her homeroom. It was very important for her, and she chose a specific sarong. Although some teachers were against her victory, her friend Rodriguez helped her to win a victory. At the same time, not all her relatives were happy of that event. For example, her father believed that she won only because she demonstrated her sexuality to American people. He considered it to be absolutely immoral and irresponsible. He told her to take lessons on traditional Japanese dances, but she took only a few of them and then decided to stop these activities.

However, she respected the feelings and thoughts of her father. Therefore, she tried to find a compromise that would satisfy all of them. She selected a conservative dress to the final coronation ceremony in order to stress her respect for traditional Japanese culture. At the same time, the reaction of the crowd helped her to comprehend that all of these dresses could not represent her internal world and the essence of her personality.

After many years (in 1972), Jeanne returned to Manzanar in order to compare her present perception of this place with her previous memories. At the beginning of 1973, she had a husband and three children. She understood that the camp existed in reality as she began thinking of it as a result of her imagination. She walked among the ruins of the camp in order to hear the same sounds and experience feelings as before. Jeanne looked at her daughter and understood that her life began in the camp as her father died there. She remembered him driving along the camp, and then, he left the family. She was able to comprehend his strange pride.

It is also necessary to provide my perspective on the proper reactions and techniques if I were in the family’s position. First of all, it should be admitted that the family’s situation was very difficult as they did not have a freedom of choice. As they were Japanese immigrants, they were directed to one of the camps. It shows how intergovernmental conflicts may negatively affect the lives of ordinary people. As the family had no choice, they had to move to Manzanar. If I were in their position, I had to move to Manzanar as well.

I think that it would be important to demonstrate some form of resistance to the existing state of affairs because no one can be imprisoned on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity, among others. Hereby, only those people who are responsible for committing some crimes should be imprisoned. I would try to deliver this message to all people around me. I would primarily rely on non-violent means. Thus, I would not support the December Riot because its participants advocated for violent means with the aim of achieving their ends.

I would try to persuade Americans that Japanese immigrants are not responsible for those crimes committed by the Japanese government. Therefore, any form of discrimination is absolutely inadmissible. I would try to contribute to the Supreme Court’s investigation of this question in the shortest period of time. After its decision, I would also like Jeanne’s family leave the camp and go to another part of the country.

I think that in a free society, immigrants should be comparatively equally distributed throughout the country. Moreover, in this way, I would be able to deliver my message about equal rights of all people to a larger audience, regardless of their nationality. I would communicate with different people and address their concerns. I suggest that the only way of achieving positive changes in society is persuasion and peaceful cooperation.


It may be concluded that Farewell to Manzanar is a unique book that is helpful both for historians and psychologists. It shows how Japanese immigrants had to adapt to extremely difficult conditions in the camp during World War II. Although some actions or strategies depicted in it may seem incorrect, one should remember that they lived in a very difficult environment. Therefore, it is necessary to be tolerant toward these people and make correct conclusions from their experience in order to be more effective in similar situations. I would recommend this book for all people who are interested in American history, sociology, and psychology.

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