Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Tone

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

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This book's an autobiography, and told almost entirely in flashback. In other words, the whole thing is just made to be reflective.

But what does reflective really mean other than sounding deep and thoughtful about very serious matters? (Which Jeanne, as narrator, pretty much always does.)

It's also about using writing (especially autobiographical writing) as a way to reflect—like a mirror—the writer back to herself (and hopefully us readers back to ourselves).

Sometimes that reflection is refreshingly real, like when Jeanne recalls her dad drunk and driving the family back to Los Angeles at the end of the book. While this would normally freak just about anyone out, Jeanne as an adult merges with her young self and points out how free and fearless she feels in this moment because of Papa:

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. (3.1.52)

What do we get? A self-reflective adult Jeanne who's willing to own that she's got that rebel streak in her, just like her dad, and maybe that's a good thing if it gets us "past whatever waited inside the fearful dark cloud, get[s] us past the heat, and the rattlers, and a great deal more" (3.1.52). She complicates this moment that, on the surface, seems only frightening and, in doing so, invites us as readers to consider the multidimensionality of life.

It's moments like these in the book when our reflective narrator is at her best—not lying to herself or to us about who she is or who the people around her are. And lucky for us, these moments appear pretty regularly throughout the book.

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