Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Narrator Point of View

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Narrator Point of View

First Person—Peripheral and Central Narrator—Jeanne

Outside Looking In

Jeanne may be our girl, but she's not exactly telling her story for a lot of the book. Part of the reason might be because she's so young (about seven or eight) when she gets interned, which means that pretty much all the drama's happening to everyone else.

Take Papa for example: In the first year after Pearl Harbor, he gets his entire livelihood stripped away from him gets thrown into Fort Lincoln away from his family, and becomes an alcoholic. Jeanne even goes so far as to say that Papa's life ends in camp:

He didn't die there, but things finished for him there. (1.6.1)

Now that's some serious heartbreak—tough for a second-grader to compete with that kind of adult pathos.

Front and Center

Don't let Jeanne's willingness to write about other people fool you, though—this is still her book.

Even though she gives whole chapters to other people's perspectives, Jeanne really blossoms into her own story as she gets older. For example, she considers camp to be "like a birthplace" (1.6.1).

This is especially true when she gets into the second year of camp and begins to explore the spaces outside of camp as "early gropings for that special thing I could be or do for myself" (2.13.9). As a result, she starts telling us about her explorations into Catholicism and becoming a classic odori girl.

All of this just intensifies when the family leaves camp and Jeanne enters puberty big time. All of a sudden her narrative leaves her family behind and focuses on her "schoolgirl's dream" (2.21.7) to become as popular as her white friend Radine—to be that "boyfriend-surrounded queen" (2.21.7).

Once she becomes an adult Jeanne's narrative morphs again, only this time, instead of leaving out her family or herself, she shows how their lives (especially Papa's) intersect with hers.

No surprise here that this intersection comes at the ending when she's describing her memory of Papa's drive back to Los Angeles from camp:

The way we seemed to be heading, I should have been frightened into a coma. But for this once, I was not. Watching Papa bounce and weave and shout in front of me, I was almost ready to laugh with him, with the first bubbly sense of liberation his defiant craziness had brought along with it. I believed in him completely just then, believed in the fierceness flashing in his wild eyes. (3.1.52)

See what adult narrator Jeanne does? She tells us about Papa's experience as an inspiration for her own growth out of crippling fear. It's like getting her cake and eating it too: she gets to pay homage to her pops and write about herself. Win-win.