Farewell to Manzanar is a memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, written with the help of her husband, James Houston, in which she describes her time in the Japanese-American internment camp, Manzanar. When teaching this book, it is important to provide historical background on the bombing of Pearl Harbor and public opinion regarding Japanese-Americans. This will help students grasp how the US government attempted to justify the imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Similarly, providing students with materials on Executive Order 9066, the loyalty oath, related Supreme Court cases, and the December riot at Manzanar will allow students to better understand references in the autobiography. Other supplemental materials can include information about living conditions in the internment camps and photographs of Manzanar.

Wakatsuki Houston tells most of her memoir through the perspective of a child because she was only seven-years-old when she was in the camp. This choice of narration can prompt class discussion on why the author made this decision, how it affects the tone, and if it is appropriate for the story.

Content Warning

Farewell to Manzanar uses a term referring to Asians that is now considered a slur.

Summary

This autobiography begins on December 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the immediate aftermath. While facing rising racial prejudice, seven-year-old Jeanne Wakatsuki and her family are forced to move into the Manzanar internment camp with thousands of other Japanese-Americans. The story describes how the camp destroys her father's spirit and leaves Jeanne with painful memories. Even after her family leaves the camp, Jeanne is faced with prejudice as she tries to readjust to high school and a normal life.

Objectives for Teaching
Farewell to Manzanar

  • Infer what the thoughts, ideas, and actions of the characters might be when they are not explicitly expressed.
  • Use context clues to understand the meanings of Japanese terms.
  • Discuss the ways in which the internment camps contributed to the breakup of the family unit.
  • Identify and analyze symbols used in this memoir.
  • Consider how the Japanese Anthem, as a proverb, helps Papa endure the internment.
  • Trace the impact that racial prejudice has on the narrator.
  • Identify ways in which the families living at Manzanar managed to maintain an American lifestyle.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Inference
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Proverb
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Loss of Innocence — Jeanne spends her childhood in an internment camp, which deeply affects her family and worldview.
  • Prejudice — The Japanese Americans face racial prejudice in the form of unjust internment, actual or imagined hatred, and racial stereotyping.
  • Identity —  Jeanne tries to find her identity and come to terms with both the Japanese and American halves.

Related Works

Theme of Loss of Innocence

 

Theme of Prejudice

 

Theme of Identity

Key Facts

  • Length: 203 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1040
  • Publication Date: 1973
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Awards

  • Named one of 20th century's 100 best nonfiction books from west of the Rockies by the San Francisco Chronicle
  • Listed as one of the best-selling children's books of all time by Publishers Weekly

Movies

A made-for-TV movie Farewell to Manzanar was released in 1976. The film was directed by John Korty and remains true to the book. It was nominated for an Emmy and won a Humanitas Prize and a Christopher Award. In 2011, the Japanese American National Museum obtained licensing rights to the TV movie and released it on DVD. The DVD also includes an interview with Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and a documentary called Remembering Manzanar, which focuses on first-person recollections of former camp inmates.

Your students will love:

  • Learning about a little-discussed part of American history
  • The personal perspective

Students may have problems with:

  • Uneven pacing and jumping between moments with little explanation
  • The slow plot and limited action

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