Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 18
In April 1946, Woody and his eighty-year-old great aunt Toyo walk through Ka-ke, a graveyard about fifteen miles outside Hiroshima, and view the memorial tombstone which represents the Wakatsuki family's honoring of Ko, whom they unofficially declared dead in 1913. Hesitant to approach his Old Country family, Woody eases the fear of rejection by bringing fifty pounds of sugar and soon connects securely with a loving family who accept his GI crewcut and his Americanness. During the night, he awakens to the tearful face of his aunt, sitting close enough to search out his Wakatsuki facial qualities. Woody is too moved to speak, yet longs to hear more of his family's history.
This interlude, printed in italics, is a departure from the fragmentation wrought by the dissolution of Manzanar's homogeneity and restores a semblance of family, of wholeness to Woody. In a country where tombstones tilt crazily from the concussion of the atomic bomb, where upper-class homes preserve a threadbare respectability despite wartime privation, a GI Nisei, much like Alex Haley, author of Roots and Queen, pursues his ancestry. Woody, secure in a position of strength and authority over post-war provisions management, needs no handout. He is proud of his accomplishments, yet curiously needful of acceptance and esteem.
The pleasant exchanges with Toyo, his father's favorite aunt, whether spoken or wordless, produce an apotheosis, a dawning awareness of who he is and where he comes from. More than internal knowledge, the coming together provides him with a treasured, second-hand glimpse of his feisty, cocky father who verbally did battle with him throughout internment and refused to let go the reins of family control to an Americanized generation, one that had never known their Japanese legacy. Symbolically, Woody achieves his awareness while lying cocooned in restful repose, like an infant awakening in the bosom of a welcoming family. Out of respect to Ko, Woody, emotionally closed off from his aunts by "the dark, quiet maze of screens and mats and corridors," keeps to himself his perceptions. Instead of words tonight, next day, he will climb Papa's favorite hill to "see what his eyes used to see."
This drastic shift in time, place, and point of view — a re-creation of the pilgrimage motif — provides a useful buffer, a separation from the complex worries of how to leave Manzanar, how to pick up the threads of family support, how to face once more a world dominated by the privilege and power of white skin. Woody, the only American relative among native Japanese Wakatsukis, experiences an acceptance which bodes well for the family at home in the U.S. The authors seem to be concluding that if Aunt Toyo can overlook the cataclysm of Hiroshima and weep with joy over the family's lost sheep, then Ko, Mama, Jeanne, Granny, and the others, far across the Pacific, can make similar adjustments to a new world order.