The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Summary
The author of the story is Junot Diaz. The setting of the story is in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. The novel begins with the narrator’s description of the curse, called fukú americanus—a curse of doom, specifically that of the New World. It was brought over to the islands of Antilles when the Europeans came, and has stayed ever since. The narrator makes the claim that the late dictator, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, has a close connection with fukú.
The narrator informs the reader that he will be telling us the story of Oscar de León, who was the victim of his family’s fukú. The only known way to counteract a fukú is to use the term “zafa” to ward off the curse.
The narrator then wonders if writing this book is his way of saying a zafa. The first chapter, which takes place in 1974 – 1987 in Paterson, New Jersey, details Oscar’s childhood and adolescence.
For one week when Oscar is seven, he dates two girls, Maritza and Olga, at the same time. However, the threesome soon falls apart and Oscar’s life goes downhill from then on. In adolescence, he is fat, dorky, and unattractive. Oscar’s interest in Genre makes him even more undesirable, and his only friends are Al and Miggs. Oscar’s tío Rudolfo and Oscar’s sister Lola both try to encourage Oscar to lose weight and be more masculine so that he can land a girlfriend or a lay, but Oscar does not heed their advice. When Al and Miggs find girlfriends and purposely leave him out Oscar realizes that even they think that he is a loser. Oscar goes and visits his Nena Inca in Santo Domingo, and turns to writing science fiction as an outlet. When Oscar returns he meets a girl named Ana Obregón at his SAT prep class and falls in love with her. Ana and Oscar become good friends, but are never physically intimate.
Eventually Ana’s boyfriend Manny returns from the army and Ana stops spending time with Oscar. Soon after, Oscar goes to college at Rutgers. Oscar hopes life in college will be different, but while there, he realizes that he is still a loser. The second chapter takes place in the years 1982-1985. It starts in Paterson, New Jersey. Lola narrates in the first person. She describes the day that Belicia (her mother) calls her into the bathroom to help her examine a lump that she has found in one of her large breasts. Lola gets a bruja, or witch, feeling that something is about to change.
After Belicia is diagnosed with cancer, Lola feels she has less power over her. At fourteen, Lola cuts all of her hair off in an act of defiance against her mother. A major turning point in their relationship occurs when Lola slaps away Belicia’s hand when she is about to hit her. Soon after, Lola runs away to live with a boy named Aldo on the shore in Wildwood, New Jersey. Lola loses her virginity to Aldo. Their relationship is rocky, and Aldo’s father is not much better to live with than Lola’s mother was. Lola gets lonely and calls Oscar. She asks him to meet her at a coffee shop on the boardwalk. When Oscar shows up, he brings their aunt and uncle and their mother. Lola then must live in Santo Domingo with her Nena Inca. There Lola attends high school, joining the track team and making friends. She also dates a boy named Max Sánchez. Lola’s bruja feeling comes back, and she realizes that the relief from the feeling comes from the stories that La Inca tells her about her family’s past. The third chapter takes place in Santo Domingo in 1955-1962, when Belicia lives with La Inca and comes of age.
The narrator starts the story right after Beli moves in with La Inca. He notes that before this Belicia lived an awful life with an adoptive family that mistreated her. Beli attends the private elite school El Redentor, but she makes no friends and invokes fear in others because of her volatile attitude, a toughness she adopted from her rough upbringing. When Beli hits puberty, she develops large attractive breasts and men start to express their desire for her. Beli then pursues her long time crush, Jack Pujols, who is the most handsome boy at school. Soon they are having sex in the broom closet. While Beli thinks that Pujols loves her and wants to marry her, in reality Pujols is already promised to a wealthy girl.
When they are caught, Pujols is punished and sent away to the army. Beli is heartbroken. Beli then gets a job as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant called Palacio Peking. Belicia attracts two suitors during this time, but does not sleep with either of them. Then Belicia meets the Gangster, an older man who has a direct affiliation with Trujillo. Beli falls in love and ends up pregnant with the Gangster’s child. The Gangster is married to Trujillo’s sister, who takes revenge on Beli by having her beaten and causing her to miscarry. She is left for dead in a cane field, but a Mongoose with lion eyes appears and leads her out of the field.
Beli then leaves the country to live in New York City, and on the plane ride there, she meets the man who will become Oscar and Lola’s father. Chapter Four takes place at Rutgers University, where Oscar attends college in the years 1988 – 1992. Yunior starts the chapter by detailing how he got involved with the de Leóns when Lola takes care of him after he is jumped and beaten up. Lola is worried about Oscar because he tried to commit suicide at the end of the previous year. Yunior agrees to live with Oscar in the artsy dorm Demarest. Oscar and Yunior are unlikely friends, but they get along. When Yunior’s girlfriend dumps him because of his infidelity, Yunior decides to put his extra time and energy into shaping Oscar up so he can have a better chance at getting a girl, but Oscar loses interest part way through, and Yunior gets angry with him. Then Oscar falls in love with a Puerto Rican goth girl named Jenni Muñoz. They spend a lot of time talking, but are never physically intimate.
Jenni stops hanging out with Oscar when she finds a boyfriend, and Oscar acts out by tearing things off her wall and yelling at her. Soon after, he tries to commit suicide by jumping off a train bridge in New Brunswick. Before he jumps he sees the Golden Mongoose, and he survives the fall because he lands on the median. Oscar lives by himself for the fall semester of the next year, but then Yunior ends up in a relationship with Lola and moves back in with Oscar for the spring. In the beginning of Section II, Lola talks about her last days in Santo Domingo with La Inca before she has to return home. Lola breaks contact with all friends, and makes $2000 by sleeping with an older man. She then gives the $2000 to Max’s family when he dies in a jaywalking accident. Chapter five gives the details of Abelard Luis Cabral’s story, Belicia’s father and Oscar and Lola’s grandfather.
He is a successful doctor married to a nurse. They have two daughters together. They live an affluent lifestyle and often socialize in the same circle as Trujillo. Their oldest daughter, Jacquelyn, develops into a beautiful woman. Abelard begins to fear that Trujillo will want to sleep with her (as he is known to do). Abelard consults his wife, Socorro, his mistress Lydia, and his friend Marcus, who all give their own opinions on the subject, but Abelard takes no action. When Abelard is asked pointedly to take Jacquelyn to a party, Abelard chooses not to obey the order. Soon after Abelard is arrested for a “Bad Thing” he said about Trujillo.
The actual reason for his arrest is unclear—it could also have been about his refusal to let Trujillo have his daughter, or about a book he wrote that claimed that Trujillo has supernatural powers. Abelard is sentenced to 18 years in prison. Socorro then finds out she is pregnant with their third daughter Belicia.
After Belicia is born, Socorro dies in an accident and Belicia is adopted by Socorro’s relatives, and is then passed on to another family to be their slave. Abelard’s other two daughters die in mysterious ways, and Abelard dies during his imprisonment. Beli is eventually rescued by La Inca, who finds Beli in a chicken coop with a terrible burn on her back. La Inca brings her to Baní, nurses her back to health and civilizes her.
Chapter Six takes place in the years after Oscar graduates from college, 1992 – 1995. Oscar returns to Paterson, New Jersey and lives with his mother. He gets a job teaching at his old high school, Don Bosco Tech. There he meets another teacher named Nataly who he becomes friends with and whom he fantasizes about, but she moves away. Oscar is very unhappy and depressed. After three years of this, Oscar decides one summer that he will go to Santo Domingo with his mother, tío, and sister. The de Leóns go and stay with La Inca in La Capital where she now lives. Oscar has not been there in years and has forgotten how much he loves it—he especially loves how beautiful the women are. He decides to stay for an extra month. During that month, he falls in love with a semiretired prostitute named Ybón. He becomes good friends with Ybón, but like his other relationships, they are not physically intimate.
Ybón has a boyfriend, the capitán, and he is in the national police force. One night when Oscar is driving them home from a bar, Ybón’s boyfriend pulls them over. As soon as they are pulled over Ybón jumps on Oscar and gives him his first kiss, which is witnessed by her boyfriend. Oscar is taken to a cane field and beaten, but he survives. Ybón is beaten as well, and she comes to visit Oscar to let him know she will be marrying her boyfriend. Oscar’s mother books a flight for him to leave Santo Domingo. When Oscar returns to New Jersey, he goes to visit Yunior in Washington Heights and he borrows money from Yunior. Oscar uses the money to fly back to the Dominican Republic and pursue Ybón.
Oscar spends twenty-seven days there in pursuit, and also researches and writes a manuscript. At the end of the twenty-seven days, Oscar is taken to a cane field and shot by two men who work closely with the capitán. After Oscar’s death, Yunior and Lola break up. A year after Oscar’s death, Belicia dies of cancer. Yunior describes his life in Perth Amboy, where he is married and teaches creative writing. He says he still sees Lola occasionally, and she is also married and has a daughter named Isis. Yunior hopes to tell Isis all about the history of her family, and to show her all of Oscar’s books and manuscripts. Eight months after Oscar dies, Lola receives a package containing two manuscripts.
One has a few chapters from a space opera Oscar was writing. The other is a letter to Lola in which Oscar says there will be another manuscript coming in the mail that will contain some sort of cure, perhaps to the fukú. The manuscript never arrives. Oscar also reveals that he was able to go on a trip alone with Ybón where he has sex with her and enjoys the intimacies of a romantic relationship.
The Individual and the Nation
The novel focuses on the viewpoint of diaspora from the Dominican Republic. Yunior, the narrator, provides the eyes through which the readers see. His narration is a mix of United States popular culture and Dominican history. For Yunior, the two are intertwined. Although the characters living in the United States are physically separated from their country of origin, they still feel a strong connection to it. The nation is sometimes represented in the individual; the epigraph emphasizes this with Derrick Walcott’s words “Either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”
The importance of the individual is stressed as well. Some of the characters’ lives (Belicia, Abelard, La Inca) operate within Trujillo’s regime, parallel with it and usually involved in it, politically, romantically or sexually. Even Oscar becomes involved in the personal life of a member of the Policía Nacional, and is thus symbolically involved with the state, much the same way that his mother and his grandfather were involved. The individual and the nation can also be looked at as the quotidian versus the official.
The prescribed content of the novel is the daily lives of the characters with a focus on their love lives; but the undercurrent of the novel is the role the official/state plays in the characters lives via political control as well as supernatural influence. The Outsider/ The Immigrant
Oscar is the outsider in the novel mostly due to his nerdiness, his intelligence, and his grotesque physical appearance. Like the theme of the individual and the nation, Oscar as the outsider parallels the immigrant as
the outsider. An immigrant is an outsider of his own country as well as in the new country. He is no longer in his country, yet is also not a part of the new country. In the story, the matriarch Belicia is the immigrant that bridges the Dominican Republic with the United States in the novel. However, her children feel the effect of the diasporic movement as well. Belicia, Oscar and Lola all seem to be on a quest to find where they belong. Dominican Masculinity
Díaz emphasizes sex as a key ingredient in being a Dominican male. The Dominican male is characterized as having power and charm, and is physically attractive, sexually active, and violent. Oscar’s lack of “G” is central to the novel; his goal throughout the novel is to have a woman return his affection. Oscar also lacks the ability and the desire to fight or commit violence of any nature. Without the necessary masculinity, Oscar fails to reach his goal of finding requited love until the end of the novel. Yunior, on the other hand, is the epitome of Dominican Masculinity; he is muscular and sexual, and is always sleeping with more than one girl at any given time.
Tîo Rudolfo also embodies the masculinity that Oscar seems to lack, and both Yunior and Rudolfo attempt to give Oscar pointers on how to have more “G” and attract more women. Oscar, however, fails to heed their advice.
Feminine Sexuality and Power
Both Belicia and Lola are portrayed as sexually desirable in the novel; their sexuality is a form of power for them. For Belicia the power is emphasized by her breasts, reportedly 35DDDs and described in hyperbolic terms. For Beli, the onset of puberty and becoming a woman marked the beginning of her power; she realized she could control men with her sexuality. However, she also soon realized that the control was only to a certain extent; Beli falls in love three times, but never remains in a lasting relationship.
Lola’s legs and hips are the source of her power. She can reportedly stop traffic when she wears shorts; when Yunior describes Lola he usually focuses on the amount of leg she has showing or, he’ll focus on her butt, often using hyperbolic descriptions. Lola recognizes her power and uses it in a more directed fashion than Beli. While Beli used her physical attractiveness to seek love, Lola uses hers to seek escape. Silence /Páginas en blanco
On many occasions the narrator points out that there are gaps in the story, or what he refers to as páginas en blanco (blank pages). There are a few reasons for these literary silences; one is to let the reader figure out his/her own interpretation of the story. Another is that the Trujillo dictatorship did not allow for record keeping. Also, the voluntary amnesia of the characters allows them not to feel the pain caused by death and loss. By writing this book the narrator is attempting to fill the páginas en blanco that Oscar left in his death, and the silences that were left in the story of the fukú of the Cabral de Leóns.
Also, both Abelard and Oscar’s manuscripts go missing after their deaths, thus leaving silences. Díaz uses dashes in place of words in order to emphasize blank space and missing words. The image of the blank page also appears in the last section of the book, when Oscar dreams of a man holding a blank book. In the end, Yunior has a similar dream of Oscar holding a blank book, and it is this dream that eventually prompts him to write down Oscar’s story. Love and Violence
In Oscar Wao, love often has a direct connection to violence. This theme ranges from domestic violence to extreme gut wrenching violence that occurs as retaliation for loving too much and/or loving the wrong person. Beli experiences the violence when she loves the Gangster, Oscar experiences it when he loves Ybón, and Abelard experiences it when he protects his daughter out of love. Lola has a difference experience of love and violence—she cannot separate her mother’s love from her mother’s violent behavior towards her. Love is a strong emotion in the novel, and it is countered by anger and revenge that fuel violence. The author leads us to question, which is more powerful. Both serve as fuel that keep the characters going; both anger and love influence the rash decisions the characters make. The Supernatural and Genre Fiction
The novel is infused with a variety of supernatural elements. The most obvious is a fukú that provides the undercurrent for the entire narrative, leading the reader to wonder if the events are all a result of fukú. Another supernatural element in the book is the mongoose that appears to both Belicia and Oscar in their time of need. The power of La Inca’s prayer to
save her daughter is portrayed as a force beyond the natural. Trujillo’s power is also likened to the supernatural, and the narrator and other characters often challenge the reader to believe that perhaps Trujillo is of supernatural origin. Genre plays a related role in the novel, as the author uses forms of these genres throughout the novel, emphasizing the “sci-fi” and “fantasy” nature of life in the Dominican Republic by comparing Trujillo to Sauron of Lord of the Rings and to an episode of the TV show Twilight Zone, amongst other references. The narrator refers often to Oscar’s love of Genre (capitalized). The genres in reference are fantasy, science fiction, and comic books. Genre is associated with Oscar’s outsider status as a nerd. The novel’s characters loosely parallel characters from the Fantastic Four and thus liken the outsider to the hero.
Quotes and Analysis
1. “What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?” The narrator quoting Oscar, p. 6
Science fiction and fantasy become reality in the novel, and Oscar’s love for genre fiction stems from this awareness. The quote hints at the fact sci-fi and fantasy references abound in the novel. Díaz parallels Dominican history with a variety of science fiction and fantasy texts. Oscar is starkly aware of how the supernatural events that occur in his favorite books (and comic books) are eerily similar to the historical and current events that have happened in the Dominican Republic and in his family’s history.
2. “[Belicia], like her yet to be born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.” Narrator, p. 77
Both Belicia and Lola desire escape—but that desire is “inextinguishable.” So even when they are able to escape (as both of them are on a few occasions), they are still not satisfied. The narrator describes this feeling as being “particularly Jersey” in reference to the state of New Jersey, where Belicia and Lola spend most of their lives. Describing the malaise as “Jersey” universalizes it, presuming that Lola and Belicia are not the only ones in New Jersey who feel this way. Malaise means an uneasiness or discomfort whose exact cause is hard to identify; no matter where each woman is, she feels this discomfort, and neither character understands why she longs for other places. This feeling correlates with the theme of being an outsider/immigrant who does not feel she belongs anywhere. 3. “There it was, the Decision that Changed Everything. Or as she broke it down to Lola in her Last Days: All I wanted was to dance. What I got instead was esto, she said, opening her arms to encompass the hospital, her children, her cancer, America.” Narrator, p. 113
Yunior illustrates Belicia’s decision to go dancing with Constantina as a decision of enormous proportion—it is the decision that propelled her into the life she has today. It also was the decision that indirectly allowed Lola and Oscar to exist. Díaz’s use of capitalization here (and throughout the novel) helps to enforce the heroic elements of the story. Belicia is so important to the story, and to the characters that propel the story, that her dying days become her Last Days. The imagery here is reminiscent of that of a queen, emphasizing Belicia’s status as the matriarch of the story.
Here she appears grandiose in her gesture of opening her arms to implicate all of her surroundings, as if the hospital, her children, her cancer, and America are all part of a dysfunctional kingdom, one that she never imagined for herself.
4. “Dude had been waiting his whole life for something just like this to happen to him, had always wanted to live in a world of magic and mystery, but instead of taking note of the vision and changing his ways, the fuck just shook his swollen head.” Yunior, p. 190
This excerpt is during Yunior’s description of Oscar’s suicide attempt, when he sees the Mongoose right before he jumps off the train bridge in New Brunswick. Yunior’s abrasive and colloquial style of narration is demonstrated here when he refers to Oscar as “Dude” and “the fuck.” His tone and diction expresses annoyance with Oscar. On the surface, Yunior is annoyed with Oscar for choosing to ignore the Mongoose when Oscar has been longing to live in a world of “magic and mystery” all of his life. On a deeper level, Yunior is annoyed that Oscar wants to die and that he has lost all hopes and desires, even ones that he has been dreaming of his entire life. Without directly saying so, Yunior’s words express his love for Oscar. He wants Oscar to live and to conquer the fukú.
5. “… if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in. And that’s what I guess these stories are all about.”
Lola, p. 209
Lola’s words here refer back to the idea that she has the constant desire to escape, also known as a “Jersey malaise.” Lola comes to realize that her uneasiness in her surroundings does not have as much to do with her surroundings as it does with her—the malaise comes from the internal, not the external. For Lola, the internal encompasses more than just her individual self. The internal also includes her identity as part of the Cabral de Leóns, and as a Dominican. Even though Lola never acknowledges her belief in fukú, here she acknowledges the importance of telling “these stories” as “the only way out.” Notably, she makes this acknowledgment in an off-handed way by using the phrase “I guess.” Her guessing is a reminder that there are no definite answers.
6. “So, which is it? you ask. An accident, conspiracy or fukú? The only answer I can give you is the least satisfying: you’ll have to decide for yourself. What’s certain is that nothing is certain. We are trawling in silences here.” Narrator, p. 243
Yunior speaks directly to the reader here, pushing the reader to question the cause of Abelard’s misfortune. Although Yunior often tells the story with authority, he also takes opportunities such as this to remind the reader that the story is ours for interpretation and that there is no absolute truth, no conclusive answers. The story he tells is merely the vehicle of the zafa he is trying to create; the story is an open-ended discussion, and the reader’s interpretation of the story is part of that discussion. To demonstrate this uncertainty, there is a poignant image here of “trawling in silences”: Yunior, and the readers, are sifting through silences and searching for answers, but the lack of words by definition makes it difficult to find any answers.
7. “Tarde venientibus ossa.
To the latecomers are left the bones.”
Narrator, p. 219
This Latin phrase appears three times in the Chapter 5. The first time it appears (as noted above), Abelard’s daughter Jacquelyn is said to write the
phrase out on a piece of paper every morning before her studies. The quote appears again after Trujillo has pointedly invited Abelard, his wife and Jacquelyn to a party, and Abelard is again unsure of what to do (p. 230). Yunior suggests at that point that perhaps Abelard should have listened to his daughter’s philosophy. On the next page (p. 231) the phrase appears again as its own paragraph. Jacquelyn’s use of the phrase to start her mornings simply shows her willingness to work toward her goal to become a doctor, and of her status as the “Golden Child.”
When the phrase is used in reference to Abelard, it has a more ominous tone. Yunior implies that had Abelard decided to fix the problem before it occurred (i.e. before Trujillo had invited them to the party) then Abelard would not be in this conundrum. When the phrase appears alone in its own paragraph, it is no longer a philosophy or a suggested way of living, but a verdict. Abelard did not act in a timely manner to save himself and his family, and now he is left the proverbial bones. The bones, in this case, are the ensuing bad luck.
8. “… they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he’d be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hands up) you can be.” Oscar (paraphrased by Yunior), p. 321-322
Oscar’s speech here is indicative of his status as a hero and, in many ways, as a martyr. Oscar’s death is an inevitable part of the fukú, as the climax of the novel and as the completion of what Oscar has been striving for—to transcend his life as a fat nerd that has never been loved. In death, Oscar is able to be on the “other side” where all of his dreams are fulfilled. For Oscar, death is the only way to go there.
The gesture he makes, putting his hands up, is an act of surrender as well as a gesture of power. His surrender to his own death is what gives him the power to be a hero. 9. “This [the second package] contains everything I’ve written on this journey. Everything I think you will need. You’ll understand when you read my conclusions. (It’s the cure to what ails us, he scribbled in the margins. The Cosmo DNA.)” Yunior quoting Oscar’s Final Letter, p. 333
Oscar’s dying gift to his sister is the manuscript that he worked on for the twenty-seven days that he spent in Santo Domingo before his death. Although the manuscript never reaches her, his love for her is apparent here in his desire to give Lola “everything” she needs. Oscar’s voice in the letter seems to be aware that he will never return New Jersey, hence the reason he is sending the manuscript via mail. Lola is the one who needs the manuscript because she is the one who will carry on the family line.
Oscar seems to believe that he has decoded the DNA of the “Cosmo”— in reference to the family’s ill fate. Oscar also says he has written the “cure to what ails us,” the ailment being the fukú. Yunior includes the detail that Oscar scribbled this last part in the margins, and is thus filling up the thematic blank page. However, because the manuscript does not reach them, the “cure” remains a mystery, and the pages remain blank. 10. “So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!” Oscar, p. 335
The book closes with these words, leaving the reader with a positive exclamation despite all of the curse and thematic negative space that fill the novel. Oscar’s quote echoes Joseph Conrad’s character Krautz in The Heart of Darkness, who exclaims, “The horror! The horror!” Oscar’s claim has the opposite emotion—instead of horror at all of the awful things that have occurred in his family and his nation’s history, Oscar relishes the beauty of love despite all of the violence. Love has been the driving force throughout the novel—it is the means and the end for almost every character.
Suggested Essay Questions
1. Discuss the differences and similarities between being an immigrant, an outsider, and a hero. Suggestion:
In the novel, the characters often embody all three descriptions in one way or another—Belicia and Yunior have immigrated to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic, Oscar and Belicia are outsiders at school, and Lola has the constant desire to be outside of wherever or whatever she is doing. The role of immigrant, outsider or hero are related because they are all roles that make the character different from the whole. The immigrant is literally outside of his/her country of origin, while at the same time he/she differs from his/her new environment. The immigrant also is symbolizes escape. The outsider, in a broad sense, is someone who does not fit into whatever whole to which they want to belong.
The hero, on the other hand, often differs from the rest of the population because he/she has power and strength that others do not have. Therefore, while the immigrant and outsider often have negative connotations, the hero has positive connotations. When combined, they provide a multifaceted view of a character. 2. In Oscar Wao, the characters are often confronted with overwhelming love as well as with unspeakable violence. Both serve as fuel that keeps the characters going. Which one is more powerful? Do love and violence work for each other or against each other? Suggestion:
As stated in the prologue, the novel’s self-proclaimed subject is the curse of the Cabral de León family—a curse that is characterized by violence. Yet, at the same time, the novel’s driving force is love: Abelard’s love for his family, Belicia’s three heartbreaks, Oscar’s search for a romantic relationship, and Yunior’s dysfunctional love for Lola. At first glance, love and violence work against each other. However, love and violence really combine to relieve the family of the curse. 3. Describe how magical realism works in Oscar Wao and in Yunior’s style of narration. What does magical realism bring to the story? What, if anything, does it take away? Suggestion:
Magical realism allows Díaz to bring supernatural elements to the story. In some ways, the supernatural helps to lighten the political undertones of the story, which could take away from the story by decreasing the potency of the reality of Trujillo’s regime and the effect it had on the people of the Dominican Republic. However, the use of the magical elements also allows Díaz to construct a story that uses the power of imagination to construct a reality that realism cannot adequately describe. Magical realism also holds significance in that it is a primarily Latino/a form of writing, and Díaz has used it unconventionally to tell a story that bridges Latino/a with Latino/a American. 4. How do the four main characters—Oscar, Lola, Belicia and Abelard—parallel comic book heroes? How does Trujillo fit into the comparison? What is the significance of these parallels and how does it add to the story? Suggestion:
Díaz loosely parallels his characters to fit the model of the comic book Fantastic Four. The four main characters fit into the paradigm of the Fantastic Four: Abelard is Mr. Fantastic, Belicia is the Invisible Woman, Lola is the Human Torch, Oscar is the Thing. Yunior is the Watcher, and Trujillo is their enemy Galactus. The Fantastic Four were often portrayed as a dysfunctional family, whose family feuds deterred them from getting their jobs done efficiently. Keep in mind that the parallel is loose, but it does allow for some valuable insight into the character’s abilities as “heroes” and their powers to overcome the fukú.
5. Writers versus Dictators: “What is it with Dictators and Writers anyway?” (97). Discuss how this motif is prevalent in the novel. Suggestion: Yunior, Oscar and Abelard are characterized by their role as writers. Abelard’s writings have the most direct confrontation with the dictator Trujillo, but Oscar and Yunior write to counter the fukú that is closely associated with the dictator. Díaz frames the pen as a valuable weapon for fighting oppression, supernatural forces, and most importantly, silence and ignorance. 6. Discuss how Diaz uses popular culture to create a discourse with Dominican history. Suggestion:
Díaz makes intertextual references to science fiction and comic books in virtually every chapter of the novel. He also references popular TV shows and actors from the time in which Oscar and Yunior live. Díaz often uses these references to frame Dominican history, thus creating a dialogue between Yunior’s expertises in both areas; Yunior gives the point-of-view of diaspora by US pop culture to expand outside of the “Plátano Curtain” erected by Trujillo to insulate the island. 7. What is the significance of the Mongoose and of the No Face Man? How does their presence influence the story? Suggestion:
Each appearance of either of these symbolic characters is loaded with meaning; they often appear at times when a monumental event is occurring or is about to occur. The Mongoose acts as a sort of guardian angel to Beli and later to Oscar; his presence relates to “zafa” or the counterspell against the curse. The No Face Man is the harbinger of fukú, and his presence indicates that the curse is active and that ensuing events will be cursed.
8. Dominican masculinity is a central theme in the novel. Why is it so important, and how does it influence the unfolding of the plot? Suggestion:
Oscar’s plight throughout the story is his inability to embody the role of the Dominican male both physically and mentally. Oscar’s sole ambition is to find a woman who returns his love but he does not have the necessary masculine qualities to achieve his goal. Yunior’s plight, on the other hand, is his overachieved masculinity, i.e. his role as a ladies’ man that cannot turn off his charm, to the point that he is unable to maintain a relationship with Lola because he cannot be faithful. Oscar and Yunior are opposites when it comes to Dominican masculinity and thus act as foils to one another.
9. The dictator Trujillo is a real historical figure that Díaz inserts into his novel. How does Díaz characterize Trujillo using “Genre”? In what ways is Trujillo’s character able to affect the fictional characters of the story? Suggestion:
The story of Oscar de León is inextricable from the fukú that is associated with Trujillo in the novel. Trujillo plays the role of antagonist, and Díaz uses various references to comic book characters, such as Darkseid and Galactus, as well as to science-fiction antagonists like Sauron of the Lord of the Rings.
He is also symbolic of the Official life of the nation, while the Cabral de Leóns embody the quotidian. However, the nation cannot exist without the people that live in it. By giving the details of the Cabral de León’s stories, Díaz shows how the quotidian is essential to the existence of the official nation. 10. Examine the author’s portrayal of female sexuality as a form of power. Suggestion:
Belicia and Lola find ways to use their physical assets to assert power over others. Belicia is concerned mainly with freedom, namely, the freedom to do as she pleases be it working to prove her independence from La Inca, loving a dangerous man, or making her way unabashedly through the hardships of life. Lola desires escape, and she uss her sexuality to propel her into new places.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Díaz offers footnotes about the Dominican Republic and many of its political figures. Research the names and incidents that he offers. Are these facts or fiction? Write a brief historical account of the island nation. Who were its leaders and founders? What is the political and economic atmosphere today? Present your findings to your class.
2. Research Dominican Republic immigrants to the United States. How many are listed by the U.S. Census Bureau for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? Were there major waves of immigration for certain years? To what cities do these immigrants gravitate? What is their economic status? Their educational levels?
Include as many interesting facts as you can gather, and then prepare a chart of the statistics and share it with your class.
3. The narrator mentions U.S. influence in the Dominican Republic. What roles has the United States played in that country over the years? Has the U.S. government been involved in the Dominican Republic’s economy? Its politics? Its military? Present your data to your class.
4. The author mentions a variety of different looks of people from the Dominican Republic. Some are dark-skinned; some are fair-skinned; and some, he says, look like they come from Haiti. Find pictures of Dominicans. Find out what their cultural backgrounds are.
What are their ethnic histories? Include pictures that show typical clothing men and women would have worn throughout the history of the country. Bring the photos to class and explain your findings.
5. Create a map of the Dominican Republic. What kind of landscape is found there? How was the island formed? Pinpoint the places that are mentioned in this novel and describe the settings. Either draw pictures or produce some other visual media to give your class a sense of what the settings look like.
6. Research the New Jersey environment that is mentioned in this book. Where is Rutgers, and what does the city around it consist of? New Jersey is known for its manufacturing and industry. Is this what you imagined for these characters? What would a typical neighborhood look like? Present your findings to your class.
Cite this The brief wondrous life of WAO
The brief wondrous life of WAO. (2016, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-brief-wondrous-life-of-wao/