Male dominance is seen to be a societal expectation in the Dominican Republic. The standard of behavior of Latin American Men, referred to as El machismo, is the standard of behavior expected of the Latino Men. In the Dominican Society, the roles expected of them are a strong sense of masculine pride, being the head of household, and a figure of authority. Any male who chooses not to follow this standard to the people is perceived as weak. Maintaining masculine characteristics such as protecting and defending family, having a muscular figure and being competitive as well as obtaining honor, dignity and respect are key to achieve the wanted status. Latino masculinity is a dominant theme incorporated throughout Junot Diaz’s Novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Without this key themes constant occurrence, Junot Diaz’s novel simply wouldn’t have the same effect on the readers.
Unlike the other masculine characters in the book Oscar the focuses on the positive aspects of female sexuality rather than marginalizing women. He tends to obsess over the beauty of women in their bodies, and has sexual fantasies. He refuses to be forceful with women which also sets him apart from the other male characters. He is honest, loving, and persistent causing many readers to sympathize with him and what he is going through. Oscars lack of “game” with women is associated with the fuku, Oscars family curse.
It is clear that Diaz uses Oscars lack of masculinity to bring out the hypermasculinity in the other men in his book. The demands that masculinity cast upon Oscar increase as he grows older. This is shown when he Oscar is told he should slap Maritza to “make the little puta respect him.” He is also told he must abandon his interest in science fiction in order to avoid “being a loser with a capital L”. Oscar ultimately loses his sense of manhood in the eyes of society because he chooses not to fulfill the new demands that are associated with it. Despite these hard times he receives from his peers, Oscar discovers that there are rewards in defying the expectations of Dominican masculinity. When Oscar loses his virginity at the end of the novel, he finds that there is beauty in the little intimacies of sex. He states “what really got him was not the bam-bam-bam of sex – it was the little intimacies that he’d never in his whole life anticipated.” Oscar is the only male character in this novel who has this mindset when it comes to women, which is yet another way he is set apart from the others.
Throughout Oscar Wao, Yunior is characterized as a dominant or ruling figure, despite his secret non-masculine side. Unlike Oscar, Yunior hides his nerdiness from the outside world, displaying toughness and strength just as a Dominican Male is expected to. This presentation of Masculinity is rewarded sexually when it is properly maintained. Being the playboy that he is, Yunior sleeps with multiple women at once, until he moves in with Oscar and his nerdy side comes out, leaving his “playboy” self to slightly die off. His masculinity grasps ahold of him once again giving him sexual rewards as he sleeps with multiple women causing an absence of many kinds of intimacy that Oscar experienced. Yunior strives against everything that Oscar seems to be: obese, emotionally unstable, sincere and a virgin (until the end). The way he interprets Oscars lack of experience to the readers may cause them to believe that he is entirely unskilled when it comes to women. It wasn’t until Yunior got turned down by a girl, and found Oscar talking with her later for him to admire the fact that Oscar could talk to women about non-sexual topics.
Trujillo is seen to be the evil villain in this novel, causing much of the heartache the characters go through. Katherine Weese points out that Yunior repeatedly uses the term “unnatural” to describe Trujillo’s power to control what is perceived as historical reality in the Dominican Republic, to control political events in his country, and to engage in sexual conquest. Trujillo would essentially have sexual relations with whatever woman he pleased, having sex with any and all the females he desired. This was acceptable, given his high status as a Dictator, and the fear of what would happen if the women were to disobey his orders. Trujillo hadn’t experienced anybody disobeying his sexual desires until Dr. Abelard refused to bring his daughter to a party of Trujillo’s in order to keep her safe. Weese references this when she points out that Trujillo is known as “The demonic predatory male and a parody of an entire system that abuses women”. Cherie Meacham then backs up her point when she states “ Honorable people like Oscar’s grandparents were destroyed trying to protect their daughters from their dictators insatiable appetite for young women.” Both Weese and Meacham back up the fact what Dr. Abelard’s choice to defy Trujillo was a very risky move, even though it was for his daughter’s safety. Trujillo casts an immense amount of direct and indirect pain on the Cabral family by cursing them with the fuku and physically beating Beli and Oscar.
Throughout this novel, Oscar seems to be emasculated in many ways. The fact that his character is male and not female is very important in terms of Diaz’s’ writing goal. Diaz created a character that ultimately could not get ahead of any culturally respected ways because of his lack of masculine qualities. Oscar is treated more like a woman than a man throughout the book; he is constantly challenged by women and gets beaten as if he was one too. Oscar does not display the typical characteristics of a Dominican man because he has seen the destruction and pain it creates. His mother’s rape affects him greatly as he takes on the symptoms of a rape survivor, as he gains weight to hide his body. Oscar chooses not to display the typical Dominican Male Characteristics because he knows the pain it can cause, through his mothers’ experiences.
Oscars lack of Masculinity seems it be at the extent that it is because he had no father figure and was never taught the importance of masculine traits. Yunior states “It wasn’t just that he didn’t have no kind of father to show him the masculine ropes, he simply lacked all the aggressive and marital tendencies.” Oscars sister Lola seems to display more “machismo” traits than he does given that she is brave, she is a leader, stands her ground, and cuts her hair short as if she were a man. Just like Oscar, Lola also had no father figure, but she somewhat becomes a father figure to Oscar as she gives him advice with girls, and life and tells him he needs to be tough.
Diaz makes an effort to have three strong female characters and his novel. It is clear that even though they are strong women, they are still seen as being below the males. This is made evident with the constant marginalization of women and the sexual violence directed against them. While the men in Oscar Wao seem to encourage degrading women, Diaz’s story represents the opposite. Diaz crafted his novel in such a way where he could expose the problems of this degrading lifestyle and attempt to change the view of women. “ But what could she do? Beli was a girl for fucks sake. She had no real power.” Oscars mother was greatly affected by her experiences when she was young. She is a very hard working woman, as she has 2 jobs and battling Breast Cancer. Beli was abused and neglected as a child and later had to move away from the Dominican Republic because she was traumatically beaten by Trujillo’s henchmen. She lived with no male figure when she moved to New Jersey in a neighborhood that was known for its diversity of immigrant inhabitants. According to Mr. Buffington, Dominican Men are dominant and have authority over their family members, while the women are responsible for the tasks and dominant. Buffington stated that when Dominican women come to the U.S. they demand greater control over household budgets and want more authority within their family, ultimately challenging authority. This knowledge is great to have in order to compare it to the De Leone family because it shows how Beli takes on the role of both the man and women. It shows how hard working she is, but no matter how much of a diligent woman she is, she will never be at the same level as the men she is surrounded by.
While Oscar’s lack of masculinity has been negatively marginalized by the characters throughout the novel, Oscar has quite a large impact on Yunior. In the novel, Yunior admits this when he states that he “learned from Oscar. I’m a new man, you see, a new man, a new man.” (Diez 326) During the time the two spent together, Oscar indirectly teacher Yunior the responsibilities of being a man. In a way, Yunior learned to balance his own positive and negative traits to make himself a more well rounded Dominican Male. Oscars death also encourages Yunior to settle down and get married; he also writes more frequently than he did prior.
Overall, Junot Diaz challenges the societal view of women by first talking about them, then exemplifying it to prove that it is an issue. He does it in such a minute way by letting the flaws of his novel speak for themselves. He intentionally made the issue more subtle because he wanted to avoid his readers to perceive his novel as a “moral tale.” This choice he made allows the reader to process their own emotions about the topic, ultimately making up their own conclusions the situations presented. Diez used the constant theme of masculinity to empower his readers with constant oppression and the emotions that arise with it.