Study Guide

Farewell to Manzanar Part I, Chapter 5

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston

Part I, Chapter 5

Almost a Family

  • Jeanne's mother may not be into camp life, but camp works out differently for young Jeanne.
  • Meal time isn't family time anymore. Jeanne remembers how the family used to gather around their big, circular table at Ocean Park—there was always lots of food and noise, and Papa was always at the head of the table telling them when to eat.
  • But no longer. At camp, kids eat with their friends, hopping around to all the mess halls like the mess halls are clubs.
  • Meanwhile, grownups eat together.
  • Her mother tries to keep the family together, but it's a pretty hopeless endeavor.
  • In fact, Jeanne lets us know that the family doesn't come together as a family until years later, well after camp closes and after Papa dies.
  • Okay, we're about to skip into a future memory—buckle up.
  • After Jeanne's family gets out of the camps, life is tough.
  • Papa can't get work, and half of the family has gone to the east coast for jobs.
  • The other half of the family—including Jeanne—gets relocated to a tiny apartment in Long Beach, where there isn't even enough room for everyone to eat together.
  • That's why, after camp, for her 7th-grade journalism class, Jeanne writes an essay about how her family used to go on grunion runs before the war and eat midnight grunion meals.
  • (A grunion, by the way, is a tiny, sardine-like fish that runs onto the beach at certain times of the year in California.)
  • Jeanne writes the essay because she wants to remember something she knows will never happen again. So sad, right?
  • Her major point is that camp life tears apart her family.
  • Back in the camp, Mama goes to work as a dietician and Woody works as a carpenter.
  • The wages are incredibly low, but Mama wants to work because she still needs to pay for the storage room she rented before they went to camp.
  • Jeanne's mom is also worried about Papa, whose letters are heavily censored.
  • Long story short, her mother isn't really around to give Jeanne much attention, which forces young Jeanne into camp life and a lot of people-watching.
  • She notices, for example, people like:
    • their half-Black/half-Japanese neighbor who's passing as Japanese to stay with her husband and their adopted Japanese daughter
    • a super-traditional Japanese wife who covers her face with rice powder and looks diseased
    • the two nurses with scary, kabuki-white faces
    • the two Maryknoll nuns, Sister Mary Suzanne (from Japan) and Sister Mary Bernadette (Japanese-Canadian), in charge of the orphans at camp
  • Jeanne also notices Father Steinback, the Caucasian priest who lives amongst them and eats in their mess halls and convinces a bunch of internees to convert to Catholicism before the war is over.
  • In fact, Jeanne almost converts too after spending so much time with the nuns (we're talking every afternoon and all day Sunday). She really likes all the stories about saints and martyrs, especially those about "unfortunate women" (22) to whom bad things happen because they're so loyal to their faith; when she gets sunstroke one day, she imagines herself as one of these suffering women.
  • Sunstroke knocks Jeanne down for a week, and she doesn't do her catechisms. This and her father keep her from converting to Catholicism.
  • Why her father?
  • He returns from North Dakota a completely changed man: gaunt and with a cane.
  • When he arrives, no one moves except Jeanne, who runs up to him, hugs him, and starts crying, which of course makes everyone else cry too.