English 214 Spring 2013 Words of the Wao In the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the author Junior Diaz paints the picture of a nerdy Dominican’s quest to find a woman who will love him as much as he loves science fiction . Transporting us from the United States to the Dominican Republic and back, Diaz creates a work of fiction that blends modern language with ancient culture. The life of Oscar DeLeon is told to us by his friend Yunior and briefly his sister Lola. The books structure chronicles the DeLeon family’s reoccurring struggles through intimate stories of their past relationships.
While the life of Oscar Wao might be brief, the novel is spewing with historical information while still creating a fictional world in which all the characters live, love, and learn. The characters use specific language to bring us into their world. The contrast between Yunior’s extensive sophisticated vocabulary and his frequent use of curse words reflect an inner polarity. Yunior’s use of curse words and slang also speak to a younger audience while reflecting his personality. Yunior is the novels main narrator, so his voice is dominant one in the novel.
Yunior sees himself as some what of a “bad boy” and uses curse words and slang to enhance that identity. “Here I was going the fuck out of my way to help this fucking idiot out,” says Yunior while describing the frustration he feels towards helping Oscar loose weight (92). Helping Oscar loose weight to get girls doesn’t fit with his “bad boy” look, but perfectly reflects the educated compassionate side to him. Yunior displays moments of articulation reflecting his vast vocabulary “… adolecent nerliness vaporizing any iota of a chance… ” (23).
By the end of the novel we come to find out it is Yunior who eventually ends up compiling his old friend Oscars lengthy works of literature. A feat unable to be accomplished by the inarticulate “bad boy” he emulates at times. Yunior struggles between his articulate writing identity and his idea of himself as a “bad boy. ” The frequent transition between English and Spanish creates a realistic sense of the character’s bi-cultural lives. Most of the main characters all speak fluent Spanish and are all living in predominately spanish speaking households. Beli began to see beyond the cat calls and the ‘dios mio asesina’ and the ‘y ese tetatorio’ and the ‘que pechonalidad,’” (92). The author creates a real sense of their bi-lingual life by adding in spanish words and phrases just how a real live person would. During Lola’s narration she explains “I was a fea, I was worthless, I was an idioto,” using both English and Spanish to describe how she felt while simultaneously expressing she is the same in both her Spanish speaking world as well as her English speaking world.
Diaz obviously knows exactly how each bi-lingual speakers communicate by his careful placement of spanish words which flow so perfectly through the novel. Uncovering why the characters do what they do and why they say what they say gives us deeper insight into the their motivation, as well as the connection between all of them, a key aspect in this novel. Not being a Spanish speaker I found myself confused at times, but as the novel progressed using contextual clues to understand the spanish became easier and easier.
The prevalent use of Spanish gives non-spanish speakers a feeling that they are “outside” of the characters culture or community, just like at times the characters feel “outside” of their own culture and community. Readers are forced to negotiate the language shifts much like the characters are forced to negotiate culture shifts. Oscars voice is heavily influenced by his passion for science fiction, wether it is using big words or referencing his favorite sci-fi author, Oscars dialect has a distinct tone in the novel.
Oscar explains to his sister a pretty girl he met in class “She sits next to me in SAT class. I think she’s orchidaceous,” (35). The use of the word orchidaceous is not only uncommon for someone of his age, but creates a gap between him and his peers. While Oscar says very little in the novel, the reader gets a sense of how the other characters view him by the vast difference in their vernacular and voice. Even Oscar himself knows he is a little different, “You ain’t weird-Believe me, I’m an expert in the subject,” he tells a girl he is trying to get at, not the best idea he has ever had (34).
Being an alpha male in the Dominican culture is heavily weighed by how many girls your getting and how great your game is. Unfortunately for Oscar he was not as blessed as his fellow Dominican peers, Yunior describes it best “dude was supposed to have an Atomic Level G, was supposed to be pulling in the bitchs with both hands, Everybody noticed his lack of game and because they were Dominican everybody talked about it,” (26). This idea that Oscar is less Dominican or less of a man because of his “anti-swag” when it comes to women stays with Oscar his whole life.
This idea he has is a major underling theme of the whole novel. Oscars use of large words distances himself from his community and also reflects the intense isolation he feels throughout the book. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a compelling work of fiction which is enhanced greatly by the author, Junot Diaz’s use of words and language. Each characters word choice and voice gave the reader insight to that characters identity. The characters in the book speak in a way which reflects them as a person, but this concept is not limited to fictional characters.
All of us speak in a way that gives our peers, families, and even strangers insight to our identity. From talking with a masculine tone to using big words, we are all using language to reveal who we are or who we would like to be, from a buff athlete to a pre mature genius. Being aware of how we speak can give us a better understanding of how others perceive us. Maybe if Oscar had realized he sounded like a pretentious nerd every time he opened his mouth he would have gotten more women over his brief and wondrous life. The way in which we speak reflects our own identity weather we like it or not.