Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

But he had held onto his self-respect, he dreamed grand dreams, and he could work well at any task he turned his hand to: he could raise vegetables, sail a boat, plead a case in small claims court, sing Japanese poems, make false teeth, carve a pig. (1.6.28)

This is Papa, before he gets taken away. But note—even though he may have "grand dreams," he doesn't have real plans… which is maybe how he is able to have so many different skills.

But, like Papa's arrest, not much could be done ahead of time. There were four of us kids still young enough to be living with Mama, plus Granny, her mother, sixty-five then, speaking no English, and nearly blind. Mama didn't know where else she could get work, and we had nowhere else to move to. On February 25 the choice was made for us. We were given forty-eight hours to clear out. (1.2.7)

Not knowing where you're going, only getting forty-eight hours to organize yourselves—that's got to be hard. You can't plan ahead, which also means it's hard to know how to realize your hopes and dreams once you get to wherever you're going.

The simple truth is the camp was no more ready for us when we got there than we were ready for it. We had only the dimmest ideas of what to expect. Most of the families, like us, had moved out from southern California with as much luggage as each person could carry. Some old men left Los Angeles wearing Hawaiian shirts and Panama hats and stepped off the bus at an altitude of 4000 feet, with nothing available but sagebrush and tarpaper to stop the April winds pouring down off the back side of the Sierras. (1.4.3)

Do you spot a trend here? There was no master plan; the whole internment effort was—at the beginning—a haphazard, chaotic experience, with the internees as beneficiaries of all this disorganization.

With no regular school to attend and no home to spend time in, it's no mystery that I should have been drawn to these two kind and generous women [the Maryknoll Catholic nuns]. They had organized a recreation program. They passed out candy. But what kept me coming back, once I started, were the tales of the unfortunate women like Saint Agatha, whose breasts were cut off when she refused to renounce her faith. (1.5.22)

The key word here is organized. What the nuns have on everyone else at the camp is organization. Planning, structure—that's how they're able to attract Jeanne in the first place. But it's their stories that keep Jeanne coming back, thereby cultivating her own dreams of becoming Catholic.

[…] I too was up there on the screen of history, in a white lace catechism dress, sweating and grimy, yet selflessly carrying my load. I fulfilled this little fantasy one blistering afternoon when the heat finally got me. Sunstroke. While crossing one of the wide sandy firebreaks that separated some of the blocks, I passed out.

Side note: Maybe being a martyr isn't all that it's cut out to be… even with that white catechism dress.

"Suppose we organize some kind of cooperative. For Japanese people coming back from the camps. We will design a housing project, and all the men looking for work will build houses…. We will get a loan from the government. At the block leaders meeting it was decided that they must provide low-interest loans for families returning from the camps. They cannot deprive us of our homes and our fishing boats and our automobiles and lock us up for three years and then just turn us loose into the cities again. They have to help us get a new start." (2.17.52)

Papa's plan for a cooperative outside of camp actually sounds like it could work. The only thing is this: he's basically trying to remake Manzanar outside of Manzanar, which isn't what most returnees are interested in—they want space and privacy. They've already had a few years of forced communal living, so why would they invest their own money in more communal living? It's a tough plan to sell.

I would absorb such rejections and keep on looking, because for some reason the scholarship society and the athletic league and the yearbook staff didn't satisfy me, were never quite enough. They were too limited, or too easy, or too obvious. I wanted to declare myself in some different way, and—old enough to be marked by the internment but still too young for the full impact of it to cow me—I wanted in. (2.20.9)

Jeanne just wants to be popular, which is a pretty typical dream for a teenaged American girl. But the fact that Jeanne is willing to pursue that dream in the midst of anti-Japanese racism is a pretty radical thing. Jeanne may seem safe and conservative sometimes, but she definitely has some spunk.

It was almost a brilliant scheme. In 1947, no one was yet drying abalone commercially. But there was a small worm that kept attacking the drying meat. Papa could never figure out how to control it. This plan too went to pieces. (2.20.26)

Jeanne doesn't come right out and say it, but it seems like part of the problem with this plan has a lot to do with Papa. "Papa could never figure out how to control it"—What about Woody, or the other kids, or a friend? Were they given the chance to help figure things out?

It was a pride that Papa didn't share. While I was striving to become Miss America of 1947, he was wishing I'd be Miss Hiroshima of 1904. (2.20.23)

This is like a triple whammy of conflict between Papa and Jeanne: there's a generation gap, a gender gap, a culture gap. It's like these two are from completely different times (which they are). Note: Miss Hiroshima of 1904. Jeanne's dreams might be unattainable for other reasons, but Jeanne makes Papa's dreams for her seem ridiculously out-of-touch.

To this day I have a recurring dream, which fills me each time with a terrible sense of loss and desolation. I see a young, beautiful blond and blue-eyed high school girl moving through a room full of others her own age, much admired by everyone, men and women both, myself included, as I watch through a window. I feel no malice toward this girl. I don't even envy her. Watching, I am simply emptied, and in the dream I want to cry out, because she is something I can never be, some possibility in my life that can never be fulfilled. It is a schoolgirl's dream, one I tell my waking self I've long since outgrown. Yet it persists. (2.21.6-7)

We can say this about Jeanne as a narrator: she's honest. That doesn't mean she isn't contradictory though—after all, right before this paragraph she tells us she "never wanted to change [her]self or to be someone other than [her]self" (2.21.6), but clearly, if her "schoolgirl's dream" still "persists," then something is going on. All of which goes to show that racism isn't always about hate—it can also be about love in a weird way… just maybe not love for your own self.

Papa swung left, and we clattered out onto the wide, empty boulevard that ran the length of the camp, back to where our own baggage waited and the final packing. (3.1.54)

There's no going anywhere without putting in the work. In this case, there's the baggage to deal with—all those decisions about what to take into the next life and what to leave behind. And yes, that's a metaphor for what Jeanne needs to do to prepare herself mentally going forward.