Farewell to Manzanar Chapter 20 Summary

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

In Chapter 20 of 'Farewell to Manzanar,' Jeanne re-enters society after living in the Manzanar internment camp for three years. We'll summarize this chapter about Jeanne's efforts toward cultural assimilation.

Beginning Sixth Grade

Chapter 20 begins with Jeanne's first day of sixth grade, which is also the first time she's attended public school in three years. She worries that she'll have to face open and even violent racism as she returns to Los Angeles after the end of World War II. However, her teacher is kind and tries to make Jeanne's first day as smooth and conflict-free as possible. Her classmates don't show the frank anti-Japanese aggression she has anticipated.

Instead, she encounters a more passive form of racism, based largely on ignorance. When she reads a passage aloud perfectly, a blonde Caucasian girl named Radine is genuinely surprised, remarking: ''Gee, I didn't know you could speak English.''

The New Girl, the Asian Girl

For the first time, Jeanne realizes that because of her appearance, Caucasians and non-persecuted minorities won't treat her as the westernized American she is, but as an alien. ''They wouldn't see me, they would see the slant-eyed face, the Asian.'' As an adult narrator, she observes that ''...you cannot deport 110,000 people unless you have stopped seeing individuals.'' She finds that she has what she calls a ''double impulse''; she wants to be both invisible and fully accepted by her peers.

Getting Involved at School

Jeanne knows that one of the reasons other Americans are uncomfortable with the Japanese returning from internment camps is that they are perceived as stand-offish and antisocial. She works hard to fight this stereotype by performing well in school and joining student organizations like sports teams, the yearbook, the school newspaper staff, and student government.

A sixth-grade California girl who might resemble Jeanne works hard in school (photo by Francis Stewart, 1942)
A sixth-grader in 1942

Getting Involved in Society

Jeanne isn't barred from doing any of these school-related activities, but she soon learns that non-school-related organizations are more racially biased. Her best friend, Radine, is forced to tell her she can't join the Girl Scouts, and Jeanne accepts that some girls' parents won't welcome her into their homes. However, Radine actively works to defend and protect Jeanne from any overt discrimination at school, and Jeanne teaches her how to twirl a baton.

A Boy Scout corps in her neighborhood seeks baton twirlers to march with their band, and Jeanne and Radine successfully audition. Jeanne is proud to become lead majorette, wear a distinguished and ornate uniform, and practice with the Boy Scouts. Both the boys and their fathers appreciate her performance, and for the first time, she feels socially included outside of school in a way that really matters.

Jeanne, as the adult narrator, realizes in retrospect that some of her popularity in this regard was due to her own budding physical maturity and the ''snug satin outfits and short skirts'' that made up her uniform. However, she recognizes that her early adolescent self, learned an important lesson about the social power of femininity.

A baton twirler at Manzanar (photograph by Ansel Adams from the Library of Congress)
Manzanar baton twirler

Growing Apart from Papa

Cultural Conflict

At this point in her life, Jeanne realizes she is growing emotionally distant from her father. He doesn't approve of her somewhat sexualized American roles as a lead majorette and, later on, as a Miss America contestant. She's further embarrassed by her father's heavy drinking, which he resumes at this time.

Waning Manhood

Jeanne also loses respect for Papa when his latest economic enterprises fail; he tries in vain to set up a housing cooperative, then loses his business drying shrimp and abalone to a species of worms.

When her older brother Woody returns from Japan ''with his mustache thicker and bearing a sword that had been in the family for 300 years,'' Jeanne perceives that ''while Woody grew, Papa seemed to shrink, losing potency.'' No longer the man of the house, Papa has to depend on Woody's citizenship and ability to get boat and fishing licenses in order to work.

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