Summary and Analysis
By spring 1943, as families relocate, barracks begin to empty. The twelve Wakatsukis move to Block 28, which is more convenient to Mama's job as dietician at the hospital. Ko develops an interest in a neglected pear orchard, succulent gardening, painting, sketching, and making furniture from myrtle limbs. The family, with double the space they once shared, is able to create a more liveable environment by installing Sheetrock. Tight security is eased to allow for walks along the base of the Sierra Mountains. Ko takes spiritual comfort in Mt. Whitney, which resembles Fujiyama in Japan.
At Woody's insistence, the family comes to accept internment as a situation which cannot be changed, one which must be endured. Other residents make the best of their incarceration by taking advantage of "schools, churches, Boy Scouts, beauty parlors, neighborhood gossip, fire and police departments, glee clubs, softball leagues, Abbott and Costello movies, tennis courts, and traveling shows." Ironically, remaining in camp appears much less problematic than returning to a neighborhood where anti-Japanese feeling may curtail the freedoms they enjoy at Manzanar.
Jeanne, who at age ten is understandably "desperate to be 'accepted,"' embraces fourth grade activities, including girls' glee club, an overnight camping trip, and baton twirling. An aged geisha attempts to teach her the traditional Japanese skill of odori, the stylized dance performed in kabuki drama, but Jeanne opts for ballet, which proves as disappointing as lessons from the old geisha. Casting about for some kind of activity to absorb her energies, Jeanne returns to the Maryknoll nuns and studies catechism, not so much for spiritual enlightenment or grace as for the attention received by converts. Ko, of a different mind on the matter of conversion, forbids Jeanne's religious choice on the grounds that she will never find a Japanese Catholic to marry. Following a threatening, potential stalemate between Ko and Sister Bernadette, Jeanne accepts defeat and sublimates her hatred of parental authority by tossing her baton, a symbol of her autocratic father. In her words, "I would throw him into the air and watch him twirl, and catch him, and throw him high, again and again and again."
Jeanne eventually realizes that Ko was right to forbid acceptance of Catholic beliefs, mainly because she was too immature to understand the ramifications of her choice. The return of her oldest sister, Eleanor, diverts family attention to life-threatening problems. While Eleanor's husband, Shig, fights in Germany with the American infantry, she voluntarily reenters Manzanar for the last months of her pregnancy. The family is relieved when the boy baby arrives and both child and mother survive. For a change, Ko and his wife embrace, weeping in a shared love of family.
This section comprises the falling action, the coming together and meshing of forces which had been at odds. After suffering months of displacement, the Wakatsukis acquire a makeshift contentment. In nature, Ko takes temporary refuge from the dilemma of which of the two warring governments is right and which nation — Japan or the U.S. — claims the greatest share of his soul. As Jeanne describes the inspiration of Mount Whitney, it "represented those forces in nature, those powerful and inevitable forces that cannot be resisted, reminding a man that sometimes he must simply endure that which cannot be changed."
The irony of the name Manzanar, Spanish for "apple orchard," echoes the invigorating forces of nature which replenish spirits and restore interest in life. Like prisoners, internees turn to "the little bit of busywork you had right in front of you, [which] became the most urgent thing." Sublimating despair and rage, the simple will to go on keeps Mama immersed in the dietary needs of her neighbors, Papa puttering at his hobbies, and the Wakatsuki boys interested in arrowheads, football, a hillbilly band, and a dance band.
The authors return to the theme of American normality, which is captured in the music and yearnings of kids who resemble teens outside internment camp fences. Twirling batons, jitterbugging to "Don't Fence Me In," a popular tune of the era, and singing "Beautiful Dreamer," "Down by the Old Mill Stream," "Shine on, Harvest Moon," and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," young people who would have graduated from schools named "Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, Sacred Heart" complete their education in camp. All the members of the fictional McIntyre family, which is the focus of the school play, Growing Pains, have Caucasian names, but are played by Oriental students named Shoji Katayama, Takudo Ando, and Kazuko Nagai. Jeanne, by this time old enough to envy older kids, thumbs the pages of Our World, the 1943-1944 yearbook, picturing "school kids with armloads of books, wearing cardigan sweaters and walking past rows of tarpapered shacks."
A minuscule subplot features a Quaker volunteer named Lois and her sweetheart, Isao, in a star-crossed Romeo and Juliet romance. Like young lovers everywhere, the pair waits until juvenile campers are asleep before withdrawing to the privacy of the desert. A romantic at heart, Jeanne comments, "It was years later that I remembered and understood what that outing must have been for them." As proved in the Dr. Seuss tale How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the joy and mystery of growing up and discovering love, just like Christmas in Whoville, arrives on time in its traditional form, even though the populace is immured behind barbed wire and scrutinized from watchtowers that sweep the rows of barracks with searchlights. In their tireless searches, the floodlights disclose no subversives — only ordinary people doing ordinary things.
sake (sah' kee) Japanese rice wine.
succulents fleshy, juice-filled plants, sometimes called "living stones."
Fujiyama a snow-capped mountain in Japan that resembles Mount Whitney, a large mountain overlooking Owens Valley, California.
obsidian volcanic glass which holds a lethal edge and was prized by prehistoric weapon makers for arrowheads.
Jive Bombers a swing dance band named with a pun on dive bombers, reminiscent of the notorious kamikaze, or suicide bombers, who deliberately crashed planes onto the decks of American ships.
judo a technique of self-defense, using no weapons.
kendo dueling with bamboo swords.
geisha a Japanese woman trained to entertain men by engaging in pleasant conversation, singing, dancing, and playing stringed instruments. Geishas should not be confused with either waitresses or prostitutes. Their profession was highly respected and required punctilious training in grace, charm, and deportment.
firebreak an artificial barrier or plowed strip that halts the spread of fire. Firebreaks were essential to wooden camps where barracks were built so close together that desert winds could easily spread fire.
tatami mats traditional woven straw mats used as area rugs.
chignon a French twist, an arrangement that pulls hair sleekly to the side of the head and into a tight knot at the back.
Wakatsuki-san the combination of a name and a respectful title — for example, Mr. Wakatsuki, sir.