Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Plot Analysis

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Plot Analysis

Exposition

War, Panic, and Chaos

Japan's just bombed Pearl Harbor, so America goes into paranoid mode. And you know what comes from paranoia—some seriously extreme (and bad) ideas.

Like locking up Papa and other men like him, who have no real connection to the Japanese army. Or rounding up all the Japanese Americans on the West Coast and moving them from place-to-place without a real plan (or real constitutional authority).

This part of the book is all about Jeanne and her family suffering and waiting out the chaos and panic with a lot of silent endurance.

Rising Action

This is a Camp?

Jeanne and her family (minus Papa) finally get taken to Camp Manzanar—if you can call it a camp.

Nothing's really prepared for the arrival of all the internees, and the internees end up having to build and organize much of the camp themselves. It's like a massive Survivor episode, only way higher stakes and without the backing of a major TV network.

People are tense and upset because of the terrible, crowded conditions, lack of privacy, and general chaos in the camp, plus the whole getting-interned-for-no-good-reason thing. There's even a riot in the camp.

Jeanne's family is no different from anyone else at camp, but there's an added complication for them. Papa joins them later on in the year, and he's a changed man: abusive, broody, alcoholic, anti-social. Not, in other words, the kind of person you want in your crowded shack of a room or as the head of your household.

Climax

Time to Leave

Okay, it may sound strange that leaving camp is the climax in the book. In fact, you could totally argue that there are several other points in the book that could be counted as the climax (if you're lucky maybe your English teacher will let you write a paper on this topic).

But we're putting our money on this (really) late event because no other event causes as much stress and anxiety as leaving camp—at least, for Jeanne's parents (especially Papa). That's because leaving is a crisis for them: they have no jobs or home to return to, so they have no idea what they're going to do.

And clearly, once they leave (which they have to do), there's just no turning back because all the camps are shutting down.

Pretty scary, right?

Falling Action

School Daze

So what happens after a family gets out of internment?

Papa's life goes on a downward spiral because he can't be the man he wants to be after camp—that is, until he hits rock bottom and stops drinking.

But the real story at this point is about Jeanne, because being out of camp means she finally has to deal with the real world… and that means public school. Which of course means learning how to be a typical American girl while being Japanese at the same time—pretty tough considering how much racism there is toward Japanese-Americans at this time.

Anyway, the point is, that even though we call this part falling action, it's really like a whole other story—Jeanne's story—coming out of the ashes of the camp storyline. It's a little weird, we know, but it's also a story that doesn't get full treatment because it's a consequence of internment.

For example, the ending of Part 2 pretty much leaves Jeanne exactly where she started even though she just got crowned queen at a school dance: feeling awkward, friendless, and completely foreign.

In other words, it's like a straight line from being interned to feeling cast out in her Los Angeles high school…

Resolution

Return to Manzanar

Think closure here, because you've got everything a proper resolution should have: Jeanne as a mature adult, returning to the place that screwed everything up for her, and making peace with her past.

This means learning how to face Manzanar, hearing the voice of her dead mother (and a bunch of other dead internees) guiding her throughout the ruins of the camp, and—finally—remembering her dead father in a good way: as a wild man who gives her "the first bubbly sense of liberation his defiant craziness had brought along with it" (52).

If you're hearing a Katy Perry chorus somewhere in the background right now, you're not going crazy. That's what this ending is all about: rising out of the past like a fearless diva.