Farewell to Manzanar By Jeanne W. Houston and James D. Houston Character Analysis Ko Wakatsuki

Most significant to Jeanne’s survival of internment is her survival of her father's manic-depressive antics. In the early days, when she shares Mama's bed and wears baggy World War I surplus garb, her giggles bubble happily to the surface. Ko's return, however, tips the delicate balance of a family on the edge. His alcoholism and unbridled outbursts terrify Jeanne, who has no easy access to escape. Like the contrasting masks of the theater, Ko, the dual enemy/savior of the Wakatsuki family, struts with pride, but batters against a wall of local accusation that he has gained release from Fort Lincoln through collaboration.

Boldly rejecting the label of inu and thrusting himself out of self-imposed house arrest, Ko turns his cane into a swagger stick, a mark of pride in manhood. Capable of cowing Woody into postponing military service until a draft notice makes it obligatory, Ko climbs back to the managerial spot in the Wakatsuki household and a position of importance as reader and translator of the newspaper to inmates who can't read English. While Mama works at the hospital, he retires from work and devotes himself to simple pleasures, puttering about his rock garden, making dentures, and building furniture.

The real test of Ko's resilience is his proferred freedom, which he rejects until government edicts force him to return to civilian life. Because he has acclimated himself to West Coast life, he rejects the call of his children to New jersey and drives his family home to Long Beach via three round trips across the desert. At Cabrillo Homes, he continues spinning dreams of success through a Japanese-built housing project and a failed venture into the dried abalone business. At length he acknowledges that he must return to farming.

In Santa Clara, Ko fades from the picture. Jeanne indicates that he breaks his self-destructive addiction to alcohol and succeeds at strawberry growing. His insistence that his tenth child follow Japanese codes of conduct reveals that he has no intention of loosening his grip on the role of paterfamilias. For Jeanne, the worst of Ko's headstrong individuality is his appearance at a PTA honors ceremony, where he humiliates her with an overly formalized obeisance inappropriate to the situation.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Executive Order 9066, which led to the creation of the detention centers, was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on




Quiz