Farewell to Manzanar By Jeanne W. Houston and James D. Houston Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 8-11

Summary

In the rising action, life becomes more complex, more disordered for the Wakatsukis after Ko returns. Disturbed by imprisonment, he paces about the barracks, refuses to go outside, and uses spare rice or syrupy fruit to distill home-brewed wine. Because internees suspect him of informing on Japanese loyalists in order to end his imprisonment in North Dakota, they call him inu, which means both "dog" and "collaborator." Ko, an egotistical man incapable of coping with humiliation, lapses into alcoholism, self-exile, uncontrolled bouts of anger, exasperating tantrums, and wife abuse. After Ko menaces his wife, eleven-year-old Kiyo steps between them and punches his father in the face, then flees to his sister's quarters to hide.

Jeanne acknowledges that Ko's spiritual and economic emasculation reflects the powerlessness of all male internees. As she summarizes Ko's impotence: "He had no rights, no home, no control over his own life." By December, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the camp erupts in violent rioting as 2,000 malcontents roam the camp singing Japanese songs and mouthing threats at MPs. Two Japanese youths are shot to death, others injured. The new camp director lamely makes amends for the event by providing families with Christmas trees.

In February 1943, polarization continues with the forced loyalty oath that requires internees to state their allegiance to the U.S. and their willingness to serve in the armed forces. Ko abandons his self-imposed isolation as he is drawn into debates with other male internees and into intense arguments with Woody, who wants an opportunity to prove his loyalty by joining the U.S. army. A footnote attests to the logic of Woody and his peers, who form the all-Nisei 442nd Regiment, "the most decorated American unit in World War II; it also suffered the highest percentage of casualties and deaths." Such overcompensation suggests the tremendous psychic pressures that a war with Japan placed on Japanese Americans.

The multi-faceted dilemma of which blanks to check "yes" or "no" forces Ko into sobriety. Clean-shaven and again proud to head a household, he limps away to the mess hall. By 4:00 P.M., as Jeanne plays hopscotch, the men's discussion ends with Ko tackling a fleeing man who called him a collaborator. Others intervene to keep Ko from strangling his attacker. At this section's climax, the night ends with a sandstorm and the family clustered near the oil stove, where Woody, Chizu, and Mama listen to Ko and a female friend of Woody's wife sing Kimi ga yo, the Japanese national anthem, which Jeanne characterizes as a "personal credo for endurance."

Analysis

Jeanne, maintaining the point of view of a young child, recalls the riot peripherally because she is too young to take part. Her game of hopscotch, a universal pastime, symbolizes her need to keep moving in incremental steps toward an attainable goal. As demonstrated later by her interest in dancing, singing, and baton twirling, Jeanne has a need to act out her frustrations with vigorous physical play, which relieves her of the stress of thinking too much about mature political and ideological debate, which she is too young to understand.

The adult conflict, an ideological debate between extremist males, results in confrontations with armed military police, tear gas, and gunfire. Although two men die in the fray, Jeanne recalls her sensory impressions of ringing bells and searchlights, "making shadows ebb and flow among the barracks like dark, square waves." Chapter 10, an interpolated episode, shifts point of view to Kaz, Jeanne's brother-in-law, who, along with other reservoir crewmen, encounters wild-eyed MPs swinging tommy guns and shouting "Japs" at men whom they assume to be saboteurs. The scene stresses an axiom of imprison-ment — guards are drawn into the violence and paranoia that they create and thus become victims themselves.

The loyalty oath evolves into a crucible in which the true mettle of citizenship is determined. As Jeanne describes it, the dilemma for Japanese Americans is a circle with three exits: "The first led into the infantry, the second back across the Pacific. The third, called relocation . . ." The latter choice would result in transport to the Tule Lake repatriation camp, from which the disloyal were to be sent back to Japan. Any of the choices threatens cataclysm for Japanese families, who have come to think of Manzanar as a refuge, despite its inconveniences and barbaric amenities.

The catharsis wrought during the sandstorm allows Jeanne to accept Ko as a beleaguered adult. In her view, he is unable to resolve the political forces that buffet him and therefore takes temporary refuge in a childhood credo and in tears. The line of the Japanese national anthem which refers to the flowering lichen that coats the rock foreshadows Ko's eventual refuge in gardening, a traditional outlet which absorbs his energies and restores beauty to his fragmented life.

Glossary

banzai a Japanese interjection which serves as greeting, battle cry, or cheer and translates "May you live ten thousand years!"

samisen a three-string Japanese banjo.

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