The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Themes of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar is one of the most exciting stories ever told in history. The story is about Oscar Wao a ghetto nerd based in Peterson village in New Jersey. The tale narrates about a love issue between Oscar and a lady who does not appreciate the love Oscar has for her by reciprocating it. The story had been published seven years before its narration. It narrates the challenges Oscar’s family is facing as a result of interfering with the views of Rafael Trujillo who is a vicious dictator in Dominica. The aspects of the characters in the story are said to have brought a lot of challenges to the future generations in the family.
According to Yunior who is one of the narrators of the story says that the family suffering was brought in by fukú which is referred to as the mother of curses. The curse comes in after Oscar’s mother went against the famous dictator in their area. The family was unable to bear a male offspring in the future generations. The narrator says that the curse is the primary cause of the death of Oscar’s family members and suffering witnessed in the family. It is also believed that the same curse drives Oscar to mad love in life a mistake that makes his short life very miserable. In our essay, we shall analyses all the themes evident in the story as narrated by the author.
The story is full of Themes that revolve around matters of family and personal life — for instance, the theme of violence. In the story, the subject appears in different categories running from individual to massive scale. It is also in the level of family and the government at large. The narrator of the story alludes that violence is Dominica is part and parcel of the people cultures in the area. This means that violence is not a big deal to them and they expect it anytime. The relationship between Lola and Belicia is an example of violence in familial scale. Although Lola is not happy with the force between her and Belicia, she adheres to the fact that it is the only way she can be disciplined. The two ladies have a history of violence throughout the story. At her teenage life, Belicia undergoes several violence including the torture by her kidnappers at the abuse from her foster family.
The torture and imprisonment of Abelard is the first instance in the story that marks the begging of violence between the families and the government. The humiliation of Abelard by Trujillo government brings in the aspect of personal and government violence in the story. The regime of Trujillo is known for its intimidation and violent way of ruling. During the regime, violence becomes an accepted vice that is in the bloodstream of Dominican residence. Oscar who lives a miserable life portrays the legacy in the history of the family of violence. His death as a result of a violent beating in the cane field is a direct reflection of the earlier experience of Belicia. The author of the story uses this theme in the story to show the possible effects of violence on personal and government levels. Violence at this level is capable of changing the culture of a society, and the consequence of the violence is bound to every person in society.
Another theme evident in the story is the theme of Unrequited Love. In our novel, most of the character faces a challenge to experience their happiness to their love partners — for instance, the case of Oscar. Love is associated with some consequential issues such as loneliness, heartbreaks, and violence to some extent. As a result of love, Oscar’s family tries to trace the grouse root of the family curse by intervening the case of Abelard for keeping the daughter of Trujillo. A desire that Jacqueline doesn’t reciprocate in the fight for her lover. In their family, Oscar’s sister is the first one to have that kind of life which is later adopted by Oscar. This type of love is seen to cause heartbreaks to both characters throughout the story as narrated by Yunior. Belicia experiences this type of love on different occasion. For example, while in school, she develops unrequited love for Jack. A mistake that leads to her expulsion from the school and to some extent the community disowned her. She is also beaten and warned if she continuous to fall in love with the community Gangsters.
The life of Oscar is known for having unreciprocated love. This makes him develop a mindset that no woman is ready to have him for love issue other than the normal friendship. This causes a challenge to Oscar to the extent that he uses extreme and vital measures to experience his feelings to ladies. His risky measures to experience love later leads to his execution. Oscar had received a threat over his life, but due to love he had for Ybón, he returned to Santo Domingo to try his luck. The relationship between Lola and Yunior is another case of unrequited love evident in the story. Throughout the story, the two try their level best to make things work. However, at some point, Yunior develops a belief he can never make Lola happy for the fact that he believes he is not the man Lola need her life to be satisfied. This inters him from showing the best of his feelings to Lola. In a statement, Díaz the author questions people if they can have control over love feelings when trying to express them to a person they love.
The mother-daughter relationship is another theme portrayed throughout the story. The cycle of mother-little girl connections echoes down the ages of the de León family. Starting with La Inca’s safeguard of Belicia from her temporary family, mothers and her kids are standing out from one another. Even though Belicia is appreciative to La Inca for sparing her and giving her a warm, steady home, Belicia can’t resist the urge to feel anxious and caught in her condition. She longs to escape and starts to defy La Inca after her removal from secondary school effectively. She can’t see that La Inca needs just the best for her.
Belicia and Lola additionally have an adversarial relationship, and Lola portrays Belicia as ‘my Old World Dominican mother who implied that it was her obligation to keep Lola pulverized under her heel.’ Their relationship features the pressures intrinsic in their social childhoods since Lola has been increasingly presented to American impacts and family culture. Belicia is strict and oppressive and retains friendship for Lola. However, Lola, in the long run, comes to comprehend it is the primary way Belicia realizes how to express her affection. Lola appears to have acquired Belicia’s feeling of eagerness and defiance, which places them into a struggle as a result of their similitudes. It’s reasonable, in any case, that they profoundly adore one another, and once Lola finds out about Belicia’s adolescence from La Inca, she starts to comprehend Belicia’s inspirations better.
Cultural Identity is the last theme evident in the story. Most characters in the in the story do not associate themselves with specific social originality but multiple cultures throughout the novel. For instance, the case of Oscar. The author says that Oscar is denied by every culture he tries to associate himself with that is either American or Dominican. Through his life, he never adheres to customs of any culture he is associated with. For example, in the novel, we are told that boys and men in Dominican cultures frequently provoke Oscar for not adopting the male stereotypes of their religion. In American culture, his funny character and science fiction makes him different from his American age mates.
The Curse of Oscar Wao
Have you ever felt cursed in your life-like anything you do or say causes bad luck? Well, this is Oscar de León. He is the protagonist in the novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Oscar de León is a Dominican-American man who grew up in Paterson New Jersey and is the son of Beli, the brother of Lola, and the most cursed one out of all his family members. Oscar is a kind-hearted and intelligent man, but no one wants to talk or be friends with him. Reason being, the curse of the fuku that has been inherited by his family from his grandparents, has negatively impacted his social life as well as, his overall lifestyle as a young man. Many believe that the fuku is the protagonist throughout the novel, but it is clear that Oscar represents the protagonist because he is characterized as defying society’s expectations of a Dominican man as a result of his unexciting lifestyle and his unmanly characteristics.
To begin with, Oscar is discriminated against because of his uninteresting life. Most people strongly believe that Oscar is not good enough to interact with them because of his nerdiness. In chapter one, the author reveals that “[Oscar] wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he’d wanted to” (Díaz, 2008, p.21). It is clear that people shy away from hanging out with Oscar because they would be embarrassed base on the fact he’s dressed like a Star Wars character. Similarly, Oscar has been considered an outcast because of his weight. In chapter one Yunior makes it clear that “Sophomore year Oscar found himself weighing a whopping 245 lbs.. and it had become clear to everybody, especially his family, that he would become the neighborhood parigüayo” (Díaz, 2008, p.19). Without any doubt, Oscar’s physical appearance allowed people to make many assumptions about his identity; which lead to him being depressed very often throughout his life. Furthermore, it is very inhumane to constantly judge a person based on their looks instead of getting to know who they really are. All in all, Oscar’s life represents the inequality and discrimination that happens in today’s society.
Second of all, Oscar is not perceived as the typical Dominican man because of his lack of masculinity. During his high school career, it is clear to many that Oscar had little to no experience with dating girls because of his nerd like character and obesity. In chapter one, Lola revealed to Oscar that he would stay a virgin if he doesn’t change. Undoubtedly, it is unusual for a Dominican man to remain a virgin at Oscar’s age because of their flirtatious and charming personality. However, Oscar is the complete opposite and as a result, he was teased because he did not fit the stereotype of a normal Dominican man and no one seemed to love him for who he really is. Additionally, Yunior reveals in the first chapter that Oscar’s physical appearance and personality deprives him of having girls like many other Dominican men. Yunior reveals that Oscar “Had none of the High Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it” (Díaz, 2008, p.19-20,). Clearly, Oscar is not capable of living up to the expectations of a Dominican man and as a result, he will never be accepted for who he really is. Instead, he is perplexed by the fact that he defies the stereotype of Dominican men. Overall, Oscar’s true identity reveals to the readers that despite being true to who you are it is not guaranteed that the person will be accepted by others; especially if they defy the stereotype that they are labeled under.
On the contrary, the fuku has always played a major role in being the true protagonist based on the fact that it has always been there from the start to the end. According to Yunior the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the whole story itself the fuku has cursed the De Leon and Cabral families throughout the novel. In this case, the fuku is the villain and the families are the heroes. One major section of the novel shows how much of an impact the fuku has on Oscar’s mom Beli. Beli was the third daughter in her family. Her mother died when she was only a few months old and her father was never seen by her. Her sisters disappeared and she was left alone. No one in her father family wanted her because she was really darken and she was born bakini- underweight for a baby and ever sickly. (Díaz, 2008, pg 251-252). Even though many would believe that the fuku is the protagonist, it is clear that Oscar is the true representation of a protagonist because he is continuously judged because of his unexciting lifestyle and his lack in masculinity.
In conclusion, Oscar’s life has been the center of attention throughout the novel. The discrimination he faces because of his unexciting lifestyle and his unmanliness results in him being the protagonist. In fact, the fuku had already set the fate of the families throughout most of the novel, but Oscar’s life taught many life lessons which highlight the fact that he is the true protagonist. In sum, everyone faces challenges but being true to who you are despite the odds that are against you; shapes you into the great person you are destined to be.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Masks Unveiled
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz narrates the life of a Dominican-American overweight nerd, Oscar de Leon. As it follows Oscar till his death, it also recounts the experiences of living under Trujillo’s dictatorship. However, what also takes the shape of a dictator is the narrator of the novel, Yunior de la Casas, Oscar’s college roommate. As he creates the identity of the Dominican diaspora through many of the characters and their stories, it makes it nearly impossible for Oscar to contend to it.. Nevertheless, it is through his narration that clues readers to believe that this identity becomes unclear to Yunior himself. As the narrator, the death of Oscar Wao becomes inevitable as it is used to protect the true identity of Yunior that otherwise would have been threatened should his life had continued. With Oscar’s death, Yunior’s secret dies with him.
The Dominican-American diaspora identity is first noted on the very first page of chapter one, of course as it compares to the lack thereof it from Oscar’s part. Yunior writes, “And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him)” (Diaz, 11). As it continues, “…it had become clear to everybody, especially his family, that he’d become the neighborhood pariguayo. Had none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn’t play sports for shit, or dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. and most damning of all: no looks” (Diaz, 19-20). Throughout the novel, the identity of the typical Dominican man becomes clear that it is one of a machismo no less. It is also an expectation that family and friends anticipate a male to meet. As the novel goes, it recounts the countless cheating scandals, children almost born out of wedlock and the violence that transpired under Trujillo’s dictatorship. As a result, it uses stories of Oscar Wao to depict his failed duty as a Dominican man.
In a peer-reviewed article, Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Life Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” as Foundational Romance, written by Elena Machado Saez, Saez analyzes the novel to support her argument that with Yunior as narrator, the novel “establishes a link between storytelling and dictatorship” (Saez, 527). In addition, she takes a stance that there is a fear of otherness that stems from Yunior’s romantic feelings with Oscar. Saez writes, “Oscar’s sentimentality and sexuality frustrate Yunior’s narrative and become prominent themes within the narrator’s descriptions of Oscar. The sentimentality that contributes to Oscar’s inauthenticity as a Dominican male is intimately connected to his thwarted heterosexuality. Unable to find a willing partner with whom to engage in sex, Oscar’s virginity delegitimizes his masculinity and his identity. (Saez, 535). The idea of sentimentality is highly rejected with heterosexuality. Yunior recounts when Oscar once cried over Maritza, his mother said, “Tú ta llorando por una muchacha? She hauled Oscar to his feet by his ear…She threw him to the floor. Dale un galletazo, she panted, then see if the little puta respects you” (Diaz, 14). The ideology that some kind of violence must exist in an heterosexual relationship was quite common as it relates to the power dynamic of genders. Nevertheless, this is exactly why Beli uses it to “console” her son.
In addition to Oscar’s highly uncontrollable emotions for women, Saez also introduces the idea that his virginity was also a “product of his sentimentality, and together these factors invalidate his claim to Dominican masculine identity” (Saez, 537). Yunior notes, “…when it came to the mujeres my roommate was like no one on the planet. On the one hand, he had the worst case of no-toto-itis I’d ever seen” (Diaz, 173). Nonetheless, as predicted for any dictator, it is Yunior’s personal agenda to serve as a zafa for Oscar that causes him to end the novel with Oscar’s confession of his succession with long awaited sexual intimacy. As readers, we take a great deal of pride that despite the tough road Oscar endured, he regardless triumphs the fuku that had shadowed over his family and himself.
It is this very same agenda that speaks volumes on Yunior’s own matters that otherwise would clash with the identity of the Domincan diaspora that is so plainly described throughout the text. Saez points out, “Yunior is ‘the Higher Power’ who inserts Ybón into the story as a ‘last-ditch attempt to put [Oscar] back on the proper path of Dominican male-itude.’ How Yunior explains things, how he chooses the Truth he will tell, is shaped by his own agenda. His involvement in Project Oscar has more to do with his own issues with sexuality, especially as his infidelity and addiction to sex become tied to the political context of the Dominican nation. Through Yunior, the personal becomes political” (Diaz, 541). What confuses Yunior is what becomes rather clear to the readers. As he wonders why he cannot be faithful to the one woman he desires, Lola, the idea of hypersexuality begins to reveal itself as mask for perhaps homosexuality. Yunior recalls the conversation he had with Oscar,
“She loves you.
I know that.
Why do you cheat on her, then?
If I knew that, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Maybe you should try to find out” (Diaz, 313).
It is due to Yunior’s indenial and fear of being outcasted from the “Dominican male-itude” as Saez puts it, that causes him to not to admit the possiblity of unsatisfaction of woman and sex. The fear of this originates in how he sees Oscar is treated due to his queerness ways. Scared of being labeled as an Other, he keeps confusion with his sexuality to himself. Therefore, he continues to search for a glimpse of completeness in other woman through infidelity, unbeknown to him that he will never find it for as long as he does not commit himself to his true self.
The question also surfaces behind why Yunior was so envious of Oscar once he began to pull girls that Yunior claimed he so desperately wanted him to do. Yunior writes, “Oh, but you should have seen the O. He was like I’d never seen him, love the transformer…I should have been happy for the Wao. I mean honestly, who was I to begrudge Oscar a little action? Me who was fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped at the parties and the clubs; me who had pussy coming out of my ears? But of course I begrudged the motherfucker” (Diaz, 185). These are the subtle hints that scholars such as Saez, suggests there is some sort of jealousy due to the intimate feelings Yunior had towards Oscar. Yunior himself also faces some confusion behind why he feels the way he does towards Oscar.
The mask that circulates the novel takes root in many forms, mostly surrounding Yunior de la Casas. As he hides behind narrator, dictator, zafa, sex addict and friend, he is able to conceal his own secrets with his sexuality by diving into it of Oscar. This notion can be supported by another one of Yunior’s subtle hints, a short statement made by Lola to Yunior. She claims, “Ten million Trujillos is all we are” (Diaz, 324). As Yunior poses the novel to be about the struggles of Oscar belonging to the Domincan diaspora identity, it in fact frames the narrative of how Yunior sees himself in the same predicament. This is the power of storytelling that Yunior used to his advantage. However, as it goes without saying, the narrative represented more about Yunior than it did about Oscar.
- Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books, 2008.
- Saez, Elena Machado. “Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Díaz’s ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ as Foundational Romance.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 52, no. 3, 2011, pp. 522–555. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41472506.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: a Specific And Interesting Novel
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Brutal Narrative or another Fairy Tale?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, is, not coincidentally, a novel which follows the life of a boy named Oscar Wao, his family, and best friend (who is also the narrator). Throughout the story, the narrator details how Oscar and his family transform into their older, adapted selves, and how a Dominican curse called fukú deeply affects (or so they think) the outcome of many of the events that transpire throughout each of their lives. Taken at face value, TBWLOOW can be seen as the story of an overweight, nerdy boy living a particularly odd life in a society driven by sex and the oppression of a man with the power of “fukú.” However, Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, contends there are underlying common themes that enables novels to appeal to a broader audience, and rightly so. Arguably the most prevalent underlying theme in TBWLOOW is the use of fairy tales and children’s’ literature, which Foster delineates in his novel in the chapter titled “Hanseldee and Greteldum.” The three shining examples of this theme are the Peter Pan; refusing to mature while also having a girl nurturer, the Snow White; a foul woman who delivers death to an “innocent,” but is rescued by a hero of sorts, and the Wizard of Oz; entering a world that follows dissimilar rules and works aberrantly.
Peter Pan, the boy who never matured on his adventures throughout the small island of Neverland and who had a nurturing mother that wanted only the best for him, is a prevalent character in TBWLOOW whether the reader realizes it or not. That character’s name is Oscar Wao; the boy content living his early life inside his bedroom with only his nerdy distractions to keep him comfort. The Dominican boy afraid of change, of not living up to expectations, and of being hurt by the nefarious real-world; whose sister looked after him in his teenage years when their abusive mother would not. One can easily understand why Oscar chooses to stow away inside his house with his creatures comforts, considering all the heartbreak and rejection he has endured as a child. The narrator mentions a shining example of this immaturity in the first chapter: “One of those nerds who was always hiding out in the library, who adored Tolkien and later the Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman novels (his favorite character was of course Raistlin), and who, as the eighties marched on, developed a growing obsession with the End of the World” (Díaz 23). This is but a glimpse at the many manias Oscar has throughout his childhood and even adult life. For Oscar to survive childhood, he needs the sage guidance and nurturing from his sister, Lola. Advice such as, “Cut the hair, lose the glasses, exercise. And get rid of those porn magazines. They’re disgusting, they bother Mami, and they’ll never get you a date” (Díaz 25). Lola is invariably there for Oscar when things are awry, like the time he stands in front of a guy’s house with a Colt .44 and Lola makes him promise he’ll never pull anything like that again. Clearly, Díaz envisions Oscar as Peter Pan while crafting this tale, or possibly, the two stories became synonymous with each other in the recesses of his mind. As Thomas Foster said, it is possible the author unintentionally included these masked themes as a side effect of being well read and so subconsciously continues the stories he has been reading his whole life. It is also very likely Junot Díaz wanted to make the unfamiliar and bizarre territory of his novel more familiar and relatable to the reader. Being capable of inadvertently connecting the dots between an already understood story and new literature allows the reader to follow along and appreciate the story set forth by the author.
The tale of Snow White is one of an evil woman ridden with jealousy and of a prince set on saving a woman he loves. Again, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the narrative of Snow White and Beli, Lola and Oscar’s mom, as she advances through her teenage years. In the story of Beli, the Gangster’s wife embodies the characteristics of the evil woman in Snow White. The gangster’s wife threatens Beli, “These two very large and capable officers are going to take you to a doctor, and after he’s cleaned out that toto podrido of yours there won’t be any baby left to talk about,” (Díaz 141). The wife ruins Beli more than that, though; she has those two officers beat her senseless in a cane field, too. “How she survived I’ll never know. They beat her like she was a slave. Like she was a dog,” (Díaz 147). Now for the prince in this peculiar take on the story of Snow White; a merengue band that just happens to be driving near the cane fields, or more specifically, the lead singer; an “accidental prince” of sorts. Without the kindness of the lead singer, Beli most certainly would have died alone on the outskirts of a cane field. Again, without Junot’s frequent violence and intricately woven Dominican storyline, his novel would be yet another generic fairy tale. However, without the fantasy aspects such as Snow White, the witch, and the prince, the reader would be left reading a incredibly grotesque tale of a woman cursed with affliction and be left wondering: why? The prince gives the reader hope and reason to continue the story, and reminds them the literature is not exactly founded on unfamiliar grounds.
The Wizard of Oz is the final fairy tale theme from which TBWLOOW takes many cues from throughout the story. It is hard to pinpoint an exact point in which this theme is implied, because it is apparent throughout the whole novel. From the moment the story starts, Díaz paints a picture for the reader of a society driven by a catastrophic, wicked force known as fúku and a ridiculous amount of Dominican sex. “Fúku americanus, or more colloquially, fúku-generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World,” (Díaz 1). Díaz explains in the early chapters of TBWLOOW the many instances in which fúku supposedly affects historical events, such as the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Hurricanes, and the list goes on. The emphasis on sexual intercourse and the libido of Dominicans never lets up throughout the story of Oscar’s brief life. From the moment Oscar was in elementary school, till the time he entered college, he is obsessed with the idea of losing his virginity and becoming a true Dominican. His sister, Lola, lives her life almost the opposite of Oscar. Instead of worrying about being a “true Dominican,” the coition is more or less forced upon her, especially with the desirable “assets” she was blessed with early on. “One thing you can count on in Santo Domingo. Not the lights, not the law. Sex. That never goes away” (Díaz 206). One would be hard-pressed to argue that a society powered by such abstract and anomalous ideas is a “normal” one. Díaz certainly crafted a “Wizard of Oz society” of sorts, which lends a hand to the already prevalent fairy tale theme in his novel. This idea also helps the reader comprehend why the lives of those in TBWLOOW are so unfortunate and bizarre compared to other individuals. Another positive aspect of including Wizard of Oz themes is the ability to provoke the reader’s mind to contemplate the characteristics of the various personas in TBWLOOW. Both stories emphasized peace has to be found in oneself, which in TBWLOOW’s case, assisted the reader in better comprehending the characters and their purpose in facilitating the individual aspect of the novel’s theme.
After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one might discover they read an oddly satisfying tale of an eccentric Dominican boy and the people he cares about the most. Why is this story so highly acclaimed with all of its quirks and abnormalities though? Well upon analyzing the characters and their personal traits, it is easy to see how TBWLOOW is really just an extension of stories many readers encounter their whole lives: fairy tales. This small, or sometimes large, hidden theme can often times make or break a book. The furtiveness of a novel’s underlying, simplistic theme allows for the execution of a somehow familiar, but gratifyingly divergent story. The reader is not always conscious of what draws them into the book, but that uncertain allure is what allows literature to advance along its course of infinite possibilities. TBWLOOW perfectly executes this abstraction using old fairy tales such as the stories of Peter Pan, Snow White, and the Wizard of Oz. Although the reader is unaware, the familiarity of these tales weave through the background of Oscar’s story and speak to us like an old friend.
The Concept of Love in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Tribulations of Love in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz explores love not only as a complex force that fuels horrendous acts but also a force that leads others out of suffering. Through a depiction of two generations of the De León family. Díaz explores the loves that Oscar de León and his mother, Beli experienced throughout their lives. From the time of her birth in the Dominican Republic, Beli endured a series of tragedies. She grew up without her immediate family, and throughout her infancy, she moved between various families. Growing up in unfavorable circumstances, Beli struggled to find love throughout her adolescence. In a parallel fashion, her son, Oscar, also struggled with finding love. Unlike Beli, Oscar grew up in the completely different atmosphere of New Jersey. Incredibly uncomfortable with himself, Oscar continuously struggled with apprehension in addressing women. This apprehension, paired with the lack of a father figure to guide him, Oscar hid within himself and used video games and comic books as an outlet for expression. The single thing that motivated Beli and Oscar was the idea that one day they would find love. Eventually, Beli and Oscar both did find love, albeit unstable relationships, but love proved to be their downfall in the end. Throughout the novel, love envelops these two characters not only as a driving force of life, but also as a carrier of violence and despair.
In the Dominican Republic, Beli grew up in Baní with her aunt, La Inca. Described as having zero motivation in school and being boy-crazy, she did not appear to have a bright future ahead of her. Before Beli’s body matured into a woman’s figure, she remained unnoticed by the males around her. It was not until her body developed and she grew breasts, “. . . so implausibly titanic they made generous souls pity their bearer,” that she, “drove every straight male in their vicinity to reevaluate his sorry life,” (Díaz 92). Because of her body’s transformation, and the deliberate use of her figure, Beli finally obtained the attention of the boys around her. The maturation of her body marked the beginning of a fresh life for Beli. She, “. . . ran into the future that her new body represented and never ever looked back” (Díaz 94). Beli’s newfound body gave her the control she wanted in order to manipulate the world around her. A girl lacking any power to escape from her current state, Beli wanted nothing more than freedom from La Inca’s bakery, school, and Baní. Beli equated the idea of love to her dreams of family, wealth, and achievement, and these fantasies of boys and love allowed her to free her mind. With the development of her body, she began a relationship with Jack Pujols, the most attractive, wealthiest boy in her school. The relationship he had with Beli was short-lived and nothing more than physical attraction. In order to snag Beli and ultimately use her for sex, Jack told Beli that they would marry after high school and have a life together. With the belief that she would have a future with Jack, Beli immediately began to fantasize. These fantasies, fueled by love, were a primary escape from her present world. If not for the boy-crazy mindset, and the desire for a happy future filled with wealth and achievement, Beli would not have used love as an outlet from her life in Baní.
When the relationship between Beli and Jack ended, Beli was at a low point in life as the love she thought she had turned out to be untrue. Eventually, after dropping out of school, Beli decided to take her life into her own hands and become the person she wanted to be. One night when she was at one of the popular clubs in Baní, El Hollywood, a man known as the Gangster approached Beli. During the first meeting with the Gangster, he referred to Beli as a “Morena,” which characterizes a dark-skinned woman. Feeling offended by the description, Beli broke down, throwing items at him, hitting him, and screaming at him. After a day to calm down, Beli experienced a change of heart and decided to go back to El Hollywood to seek out the Gangster. The two danced and she immediately fell in love with him. Beli’s relationships showed the physical attraction she craved as well as the promise of a future with wealth and stability, but she also desired an emotional love. Only after getting pregnant with the Gangster’s baby does Beli discover his marriage to Trujillo’s sister. The Trujillo family remains today the most tyrannical family that was in charge of the Dominican Republic. When the Gangster’s wife discovered that her husband cheated on her and impregnated another woman, she ordered a couple of thugs to abduct Beli and kill her. The thugs fulfilled the wish of the Gangster’s wife, dragged Beli into the sugar cane fields, beat her, but they failed to entirely kill Beli. Rescued and recovering, Beli discovered that the baby suffered injury and death due to extensive trauma received during the abduction. The devastation of losing the baby sent Beli into a state of utter hopelessness as she cried out for the Gangster to come save her. Her love for the Gangster, caused her to go blind to the tragic reality of the relationship in which she engaged. The love that Beli felt for the Gangster caused the danger of death to envelop her in Baní. Because of the threat of being killed, La Inca sent Beli to the United States. As love kept Beli alive during her time in Baní, allowing her to escape daily tribulations, her love for the Gangster almost causes her death, changing her life forever and lessening the chance for Beli to fully love again.
In addition to the struggles faced in the Dominican Republic, Beli faces similar conflicts when she moved to the United States. She met a man on the plane who eventually became her husband. Beli had two children with this man, Oscar and Lola, but then left alone by him and living in poverty, she never loved another again. The relationships that Beli had during her adolescence, as well as her young adult life, proved to be toxic. Jack Pujols used Beli for sex and played her to the point where she believed they would be together forever. After Jack, the same scenario plays out with the Gangster. She is once again teased with the promise of marriage when she becomes pregnant, but that dream becomes shattered when the Gangster’s thugs nearly kill her. Even after all of that, she remained open to love and used her fantasies of love to keep her life going. Although she felt that coming to America would end her life, she found love again, developed a family, and was once again left. She wanted a life of wealth and stability through marriage, but her husband left her in poverty. Love proved to bring her nothing but abandonment and despair.
Similarly, Beli’s son Oscar experienced similar scenarios of disappointment and failed love. Unlike Beli though, Oscar never seemed to be able to find the love that he desired. Throughout his adolescence, Oscar proved to be nothing but a giant nerd. Largely uncomfortable with himself, Oscar stayed inside, playing video games or reading comic books to pass the time. The comic books and video games also served as a break from the fantasy loves that Oscar played out in his head. The escape proved to be ineffective as his fantasies fed into his games while he pretended to be a superhero saving his loves. Described as a nerd, Oscar remains different from the other nerds who, “hadn’t cared about girls,” as he was, “. . . still the the passionate enamorao who fell in love easily and deeply. He had secret loves all over town, the kind of . . . girls who wouldn’t have said boo to a loser like him. . .” (Díaz 23). Due to the fantasies of being with women who would never even think of a guy like Oscar, he remained deeply stuck inside his own mind, which did not allow him to approach women in real life. Feeling despair all throughout his adolescence, Oscar became hopeless about ever finding love.
Oscar not only lost himself in his comic books and video games, but he also did not know how to speak to women in a way that did not scare them. Oscar spent so much time fantasizing about women he could not win over, usually resulting in heartache when he found out the sad truth that they did not want him. He built up perfect scenarios in his mind that never became true, which always left him feeling defeated. One specific instance of when Oscar frightened the girls around him was during his years at Rutgers. He felt that he was in love with a young lady named La Jablesse, and Oscar found himself completely infatuated with her. When he came across her with another boy, Oscar went manic, screaming and destroying her room. After that, Oscar’s roommate, Yunior, explained that, “. . . everybody in the dorm thought he was some kind of major psycho. The girls especially stayed away from him” (Díaz 188). This particular incident caused Oscar to feel that nothing remained for him, so he tried to commit suicide by jumping off of a bridge. Oscar survived the jump. Although the feeling of hopelessness engulfed Oscar, the lingering thought of finding the perfect love remained the reason that he continued with his life.
Eventually, Oscar felt that he would benefit from a change of pace, so he traveled to the Dominican Republic and decided to stay with La Inca. During his time in Baní, Oscar met a woman named Ybón Pimentel. Ybón, a known prostitute, invited Oscar into her home one day. They spent time engaging in a authentic, in-depth conversation and he instantly felt in love with her. Upon arriving home, La Inca and Beli immediately expressed their rage toward Oscar being with a “puta.” Oscar defended her and continued on to fantasize what his future life would be like if she stayed with him. Not until Ybón mentioned that she had a boyfriend did Oscar realize the extent of his love. Ybón’s boyfriend was also the captain of the local police force. When Ybón tells Oscar that they should not spend any more time together because of her, “. . . jealous Third World Cop boyfriend,” the narrator remarks that anyone else would not think twice about staying another day (Díaz 291). The moment Oscar found out about Ybón’s dangerous boyfriend, he made the terrible mistake of staying and making his presence known to the captain. By staying in the Dominican Republic, Oscar set himself up for more defeat, with the added danger of death as the captain threatened Oscar’s life.
The first time Oscar met the captain, the initial impression he made on the captain was poor. Driving the passed out Ybón back to her house, police stopped Oscar in Ybón’s car. Oscar was being followed by the captain and his men, and when they stopped Oscar, Ybón woke up and explained that she wanted a kiss. For the first time in his life, a woman had granted Oscar a kiss. The captain watched the scene unfold, and orders two other officers to take Oscar to the sugar cane fields. Here, like Beli many years prior, the thugs beat Oscar until near death. Oscar knew from what Ybón had told him about the captain that he was a dangerous, jealous man, but his love for Ybón blinded him. His burning desire to find love nearly cost him his life. Nevertheless, Oscar made escaped the cane field barely alive, following the same scenario of his mother’s near death experience in the same cane fields. After the experience, Beli forced Oscar to return to home in the United States. Despite almost being beaten to death, the first thing that Oscar told Yunior was, “I kissed a girl, Yunior. I finally kissed a girl” (Díaz 305). Although nearly being killed for having that one kiss with Ybón, nothing else mattered to Oscar but the fact that he did in fact kiss her.
Following the encounter with the captain, Oscar remained unable to rid his brain of thoughts about Ybón. Incapable of coming to his senses to make a logical decision, Oscar decided to later return to the Dominican Republic to see Ybón. Deciding to return to the Dominican Republic was the last fatal mistake he made in his quest to find love. Ybón was aware of how dangerous Oscar’s love was, especially if the captain caught them together. She knew that the captain would surely kill Oscar. He eventually convinced Ybón to go away with him for a week where had sex for the first time. Due to the extreme jealously the captain felt, Oscar was once again dragged into the cane fields. Similarly, the thugs threatened Oscar with death, but he explained to the men about his fantasy for Ybón and himself: “He told them about Ybón and the way he loved her and how much they had risked and that they’d started to dream the same dreams and say the same words” (Díaz 321). The pure love and joy Oscar felt for Ybón proved to be enough to ease the pain of knowing he was going to die. His will to fulfill some of his fantasies allowed him to have the relationship he did with Ybón. The same quest for love that fueled his life also caused his death. The men told Oscar, “Listen, we’ll let you go if you tell us what fuego means in English. Fire, [Oscar] blurted out, unable to help himself” (Díaz 322). Oscar did nothing more than try to get free, but in the process he essentially told the men to fire their gun at him, killing him.
Today, love remains a driving force for life in some people. In this particular novel, Beli and Oscar endured with the idea that love would grant them their true desires. For Beli, her life-long goal was to have a stable family with a wealthy man. But after she fell pregnant to a married man, and then had to leave her home and start a new life in a different country, she felt hopeless about ever reaching her dream life. Nonetheless, Beli’s love and fantasy world fueled her desire to continue life and start a family, even though she did experience a third and final heartbreak. The goal of finding a true love also drove Oscar through life. As he and Ybón finally developed a relationship, Oscar fulfilled his desires to have intimate, loving relations with a woman. In both situations, love led these two characters through life, but the same love that had once motivated them also caused their downfalls. Beli faced so many heartbreaks that she became cold and bitter towards her family. Apparent through his murder, Oscar’s love for Ybón caused his downfall. Although Beli and Oscar proved that love can push the continuation of life, both characters also proved that love remains a force that can bring pain and despair.
Masculinity In The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao
Throughout the novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, written by Junot Diaz, sex and masculinity is the vital element in being a Dominican male. Dominican males according to Yunior, the narrator of the novel, is someone who has power and pizzazz, dominates women, controls female sexuality through physical violence and verbal aggression and lastly protects their family. Oscar, a title character in the novel is struggling with his social status and being portrayed as having no game when it came to the ladies. He was described as being a “palomo” which is a dude that cannot get any girls for the life of him. On the other hand Yunior, is the definition of a Dominican man. He has every trait you could possibly think of and definitely does not have a hard time sleeping with every girl at one time. Yunior has the swagger and “G,” in comparison to Oscar, who lacks all ability to be considered a Dominican male with masculinity.
Oscar is what Dominican men would look at as being nerdy and lacking all traits of being one of them. Throughout the book he was emasculated for so many things he did differently or found interest in and because of that he was called many names, for example: a mariconcito which is a “little faggot,” Gordo asqueroso “fat slob,” and basically a loser for enjoying the fantasy anime world the way he did. His goal in life is finding a woman who will reciprocate the love he gives, but homeboy had no such luck with the ladies and when it comes down to it, never finds that love. “Fuku” which generally is a curse or doom of some kind, also called the “Fuku of the Admiral” because the admiral was both the midwife and one of the great European victims; despite “discovering” the new world the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing Devine. Oscar’s Fuku begins when he is in, what Diaz describes as his Golden age. He loved the ladies and was always trying to kiss all the girls, this guy was even so lucky to have two girlfriends at one time. The two girls only lasted one week, when Oscar is told he must slap Maritza, one of the girls, in order to “make the little puta respect him”, and to eliminate all that weird sci-fi crap he was interested in to avoid being known as a loser. When he doesn’t listen to the advice given to him he realizes that was the last he would have of any type of play, seven years old and he wouldn’t hold another hand or kiss another girl until he was well into his adult life. Yunior states, “It wasn’t just that he didn’t have a father to show him the masculine ropes, he simply lacked all aggressive and martial tendencies.” By making Oscar out to be this non masculine man, Diaz still wants to show that Oscar is capable of getting ahead and making a different life for himself, other than the Dominican way that he stayed struggling in because of the choices he made for himself.
Yunior in comparison is the total opposite, he is the manliest man. He is the epitome of a Dominican man with all the masculinity one needs in order to get everything one wants. Yunior has swagger, he is muscular and is so sexual. Everything that Oscar lacks. On all accounts Yunior tries to help Oscar with all of the traits he knows the poor guy is struggling with, whether it was working out with him and trying to get him somewhat into shape, or hitting on girls, even though the poor guy had absolutely no stability or depth to him. Since Yunior already feels bad for being able to get whatever he wanted when he wanted, he decided to take Oscar in and teach him everything he could. Though Yunior has all this game and masculinity, he still finds ways to mess up every good thing going for himself and loses the one thing that mattered the most, Lola, Oscar’s sister. Oscar and Yunior are obviously opposites when it comes to Dominican masculinity and for this reason they are used in comparison to one another.
Fast forward to a few years later, when Oscar returns back to the Dominican Republic, he comes across Ybon, an older prostitute who he falls completely in love with. This woman puts him through the works and because a female had never shown him the affection that Ybon was giving him, he faced love as well as death shortly after. Ybon has a man who controls her every move who goes by the name of “the captain,” and when the captain gets wind of Oscar trying to scoop on his lady, he sends his men after Oscar. Before the captain’s men kill Oscar, he gives a speech, proving that after all the years of not upholding the Dominican male standard that he indeed has stayed true to his manhood and ultimately loses his life for what he wanted and believed was the most sacred thing, love. The one thing that Oscar did do for Yunior, was show him the importance and obligations of manhood and what masculinity really was. When Yunior finds out about Oscar’s death, he finds a new understanding of what he needs to do so, he finally settles down, gets married and teaches creative writing.
The character of Yunior was created to contrast the differences in Oscar. Yunior is the main man, the machismo, and most important the ultimate Dominican male, who saves Oscar whenever he comes across a situation he cannot get out of. Oscar was created to show that just because you fall under a certain ethnicity or group does not mean you will attain the same traits that the others have. When Diaz shows Yunior vulnerable at the end of the story and explaining how, if he could of just been the man that Oscar was, maybe his life would have ended up differently. Maybe he would have had the woman he truly was in love with. The fact is the difference between these two men not only shows the readers that it’s okay to not have certain attributes, but also that someone will still learn something from you and will take it for the rest of their lives, whether you are alive to witness it or not.
In the novel these two characters learn from each other and also from their experiences that have brought them this far in life. Oscar witnesses first-hand how hard it is to be a Dominican man with all the masculinity that comes along with it and has to accept that he will never be that masculine Dominican male, and Yunior find’s that having all the power and ladies isn’t everything and finally is able to overcome the masculinity his culture believes is so important to possess. Diaz constantly shows his reader throughout the novel the contrast between these two characters, and explains that even though they are opposites, they somehow manage to be the same in many ways. The Dominican masculinity is something men of this ethnicity are born into, but in some cases, like Oscar, don’t necessarily gain or understand ever.
Views on the Relationship of the Individual and Society in Oryx and Crake, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Woman in the Dunes
The relationship between society and the individual is presented in powerfully differing ways in the novels Oryx and Crake, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Woman in the Dunes. While Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake shows how the individual views society as a source of sadistic entertainment or wealth, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao shows a relationship in which society rejects the individual. In turn, Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes shows a relationship in which society forces the individual into servitude.
Oryx and Crake presents a society in which individuals living in the time before “the flood” (this story’s apocalypse) have lost all sense of social ethics. The prevailing theme in this society seems to be sadism (in a non-sexual way); the major forms of entertainment for people involve the enjoyment of human suffering. The best examples of this are the two primary forms of entertainment that Crake and Jimmy enjoy in their youth: Internet games and Internet shows. Games such as “Barbarian Stomp,” “Blood and Roses,” and “Extinctathon” all pit society on one side and utter destruction on the other, with the side of utter destruction usually winning (77-81). Their enjoyment of such games shows the appeal that death and destruction have to individuals in this society.
The example of their Internet shows, however, is even more disturbing. Whereas the games Crake and Jimmy play are fantasy, the shows they watch are not. Shows such as “Felicia’s Frog Squash,” “hedsoff.com,” and “deathrowlive.com” all display acts of violence inflicted on real people for the entertainment of the viewer (82-83). And there is such a high demand for these shows that Crake suspects that some of the executions are staged; he says that “the viewers wanted to see the executions, yes, but after a while these could get monotonous” (83). Individuals in this society have reached such a high level of corruption that acts of real violence have to be manufactured in order to meet demand.
Aside from the enjoyment of violence, these individuals have also reached a new level of sexual depravity. Even a simple thing such as viewing the news has to have some level of sexual stimulation to keep people entertained; for this, there is the “Noodie News,” a news show in which all of the anchors are completely naked (81). The worst example of sexual depravity comes in the form of a website called “HottTots,” where tourists are filmed “doing things they’d be put in jail for back in their home countries” (89). The videos involve children as young as eight performing sexual acts for the entertainment of the viewer; one only has to be 18 to legally view these websites, though Jimmy and Crake are able to get around this speed bump to view the content at an even younger age.
Another major theme in Oryx and Crake is elitism. Just as the individual in Jimmy and Crake’s society has lost all appreciation for the value of human life, so too has the upper class lost all empathy for the lower class. Society is now divided into two classes: the elites, who live in the protective paradise of the compounds, and the plebands, who live in crowded, diseased, and dirty cities. The elites of this society view the lower class as a way to make money, no matter the cost to human life. The most disgusting example of this is the corporation “HelthWyzer.” This company develops cures for diseases, but at some point in history, they ran into a problem: they figured out that if they cured all of the diseases, they would no longer generate any profit. In order to remedy this problem, they began hiding new, man-made diseases in the vitamins they sold to the pleband population; once the virus exploded into the population, they released an antidote onto the market — but in limited quantities “so they’re guaranteed high profits” (211).
What is most terrifying about the sadistic and morally corrupt individuals of Oryx and Crake is that their unethical characteristics can be found in real-life society today. People are already enthralled by violence in entertainment and games, and there are plenty of real websites where one can go to see horrible violence, physical and sexual, inflicted on real human beings. And that is the ultimate claim of Oryx and Crake: that human beings do not value the lives of other human beings. The texts poses the questions: is the society shown in Oryx and Crake the inevitable endpoint for our own society? And is humanity sadistic by nature? The text believes so, and its answer to this problem is the ultimate example of the devaluation of human life: Crake’s decision that mankind is too imperfect and cruel to continue, and must be wiped out and replaced.
Another book rife with different human relationships is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The most interesting relationship in the book is that between Oscar Wao and society. One of many questions that this text asks us is, can an individual who is unable to form a positive relationship with society survive? The text shows us that a person who does not fit into society’s standards is not valued by society. Oscar is the quintessential nerd, growing up in a time when there was nothing cool about being a nerd; he loves to watch anime (Robotech and Akira); he loves to play role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons; he is overweight, unathletic, and unattractive. He is unable to understand and follow social rules. He speaks in a way that is unacceptable to society, using words found only in dictionaries or comic books. Worst of all, because of his social awkwardness, he is never able to interact with woman, a problem that constantly weighs on his soul. In addition to being ostracized by society as nerd and a gamer, Oscar is also an outcast because of his race. Because he is of a mixed ethnicity, “The white kids… treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color… shook their heads. You’re not Dominican” (49). Unfortunately for Oscar, he is unable to fit into the standards of society in any way.
It seems that the text is trying to show us that society itself is unethical in its harsh treatment of those who do not fit its mold. This rejection by society so upsets Oscar that he feels forced to take drastic measures to eliminate the pain. He becomes so depressed and downtrodden by his status as an outsider that he tries to take his own life. This becomes somewhat paradoxical in trying to find an answer to our original question; had Oscar succeeded in taking his own life, then society would have won, and the answer would be that rejection by society is an individual’s death sentence. Fortunately, at least in this story, the individual is not killed by his rejection and is able to live on.
Unfortunately, Oscar does end up losing his life by the end of the story. Instead of losing his life out of depression, however, Oscar is able to find his own strength and stand up for what he believes in. In the end, Oscar is able to transcend his rejection by society and accept himself for who he is. However, he does have a little bit of help in doing this by finally having a relationship with a woman. It seems, then, that an individual can survive without a positive relationship with society in general, but not if he or she is entirely alone; people must have some sort of positive human relationship to help them. Oscar’s final letter, which is delivered to Yunior after his death, ends with a reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But instead of quoting the famous words of Kurtz, Oscar proclaims, “The beauty! The beauty!” (355). By the end of the story, Oscar is able to get out of the wilderness of the society that has rejected him and find the beauty in the wild of his own individuality.
The primary human relationship in The Woman in the Dunes is presented through the story’s use of utilitarianism. The story of Niki Jumpei is the story of what happens to an individual when he is forced by society into a life he does not want. At the beginning of the story, Niki has unknowingly been trapped in a society that places no value on the individual. The village does what is best for most of its inhabitants at the cost of a small minority group, who are forced to live in holes and keep the village from being overrun by the ever-encroaching dunes of sand. Niki realizes this but does not agree with it; his mentality is that an individual’s ultimate responsibility is to himself, whereas the villagers see the plight of the individual as unimportant when compared to the plight of the group.
Niki continues to resist the whims of the villagers, but after they withhold water from him, he concedes to the labor he has been forced into. This is the beginning of his descent into acceptance of his new life. He begins to rationalize his new existence by thinking that “work seemed something fundamental for man, something which enabled him to endure the aimless flight of time” (158). This is the message that the text is trying to convey: man, when forced into an existence he does not originally want, will eventually accept that existence.
Though Niki begins to lose his rebellious spirit, he still seeks to return to his old life outside of the hole. This culminates in one ultimate jailbreak, though it is an unsuccessful one that ends with his capture and return to the hole. But even after this failure, he still desires some semblance of his old life and requests of his captors that he be able to leave the hole once in a while to see the world outside. They agree to allow certain concessions if Niki will have sex with the woman he is stuck with while they watch. This is another main point of the text: when there is one group that is subjugated by another as harshly as Niki and the woman are in this utilitarian system, the elite group’s own authority causes them to see the subjugated group as subhuman, and the subjugated group loses its humanity; therefore, this type of human relationship is an unethical one. This is exemplified by page 230 of the text, in which Niki attempts to rape the woman at the whims of those above just so he will be able to leave the hole once in awhile.
After this final failure of attempted escape, more time passes, but without any attempts by Niki to get out of the hole. He still thinks of escaping, but these desires have become a sort of intangible dream; he has lost the fervor for freedom that he once possessed. At the end of the book, Niki is briefly allowed to leave the hole, but he is so used to his life in the dunes that the air above stings his throat, and the ocean appears unappealing to him (238-239). Despite this glance of freedom, all he can think about is returning back to his life in the hole. This is the final message of the text: when groups of humans are valued so little by another, they will eventually become complaisant and compliant and accept their lot in life as slaves.
Each of these three stories presents a different view of the relationship between society and the individual. Unfortunately, all of these relationships seem to present a clash between the two. One is left wondering if this theme, so prevalent in contemporary literature, is a sign of the times: is society today as immoral, destructive, and cruel to the individual as these texts make it seem?
From Sula to Oscar Wao: Interpreting Sex in Literature
Love is said to be blind, and sex impervious to reason. However, a person’s outlook on sex is incredibly telling of that person’s fundamental outlooks upon life itself. To some, it is a sacred act to be committed in marriage only, and to others it is an act of fun, to be committed upon any lighthearted whim of desire. It holds a different meaning for all people. In Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” sex is described as an instrument of power for women, as a tool to be used to empower and lift the self out of repression, imposed by both others and the self. Similarly, in her novel Sula, Toni Morrison illustrates sex as a tool that can be used to free women from the societal burden and constraint of stereotypes and expectations. However, she also depicts this attitude as something that can wound and alienate. In his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz portrays sex as a symptom and symbol of deeply rooted cultural ills. All three writers establish sex as a function of society used to perpetuate stereotypes, a function largely dependent upon women but belonging to men, and they work to encourage women to claim it as their right as well.
In “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Lorde challenges the Western masculinist characterization of the erotic as an element of human debasement, as well as its use as a tool of oppression. She argues that this framing of the erotic has ghettoized women’s sensuality, a means by which people know and orient themselves to the world, thereby erasing a significant form of women’s liberating power. To confront this erasure, Lorde offers a view of the erotic as a system of understanding which give shape to knowledge of a time, a critical mode through which women may attain excellence. Lorde’s position on the erotic has established itself as a political, social, and academic tool of deconstruction, subversion, and imagination. Although the liberating power of the erotic lies in its point of origin (the self), Lorde suggests that women have been taught to question the self as a source, “to suspect what is deepest in [them]selves,” which “has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information,” (Lorde 53). Oppression is a cyclical process that systematically suppresses various forms of power, and Lorde’s essay is a response to this suppression, particularly in regards to her assertion that the relationship between oppression and power is often marked by corruption and distortion: “In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change” (Lorde 53). An example of such distortion is the way the erotic itself has been misrepresented as pornography, a way of experiencing sensation, acquiring knowledge without feeling.
This distortion of the erotic’s power reinforces docility, obedience, and external definition, all of which contribute to the cycle of oppression through the process of dehumanization. Morality and equality are irrelevant in the face of a man’s libido, and it is this farce of societal understanding that Morrison emphasizes through her portrayal of sex in Sula. The titular character operates beneath the understanding of sex as “pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable,” (Morrison 44). However, this is an understanding of sex not widely shared by the women in the community in which Sula lives. The entire town is aware that this is an attitude Sula inherited from her mother, who in turn inherited it from her mother; “manlove” is the most valued heirloom belonging to the Peace family. However, this thinking is what causes the community of the Bottom to regard Sula as an instrument of evil, as doing the devil’s bidding; she is different, and immune to their judgments that come constantly and without understanding, and thus she is alienated from all others. The tragedy and travesty of this outlook on sex is that is far from being equally applied. The men of the Bottom are more than enthusiastic participants in the sex that Sula is made an outcast for, and yet they face no reprimands, no punishment. Just as boys will be boys, men will be men –– this is both the definition and the justification for their behavior. This outlook on sex prevents human connection in Sula; much of the community hinges upon it, and yet no one understands it, or even attempts to.
Díaz illustrates sex in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as being representative of deeply problematic gender stereotypes. Masculinity in the novel is measured by the timeless method of notches in the belt; the more women a man sleeps with the more he is considered a man. Men are the main villains in the novel, portrayed mainly through their treatment of women; over and over again, men treat women like objects, use them to satisfy themselves and toss them aside like trash when they are done. Women are inherently involved in sex, but not appreciated. Sex is not theirs to be enjoyed, only to be taken from them, with or without their consent. Communities in the novel love sex, take great pride in it, but it also prevents human connection. Sex in the novel very clearly draws a line, between gender equality among men and women, but also among the single side of men; throughout the novel, Oscar is mocked and ridiculed for being less of a man and less of a Dominican for his lack of sex. In his final letter, Oscar reveals that he has finally had sex, and of the experience he writes “So this is what everybody [is] always talking about! Diablo! If only [he had] known. The beauty! The beauty!” (Díaz 353). Díaz spends a majority of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao documenting the forces of evil in this world—despair, loneliness, colonialism, Trujillo—but he ends it all with this passage. He ends it all with a letter that affirms life and beauty and sex, but only with the woman involved being a loving, willing participant enjoying the sex.
Sex is often misunderstood and mis-characterized, both in spite of and because of its prevalence in society. It literally creates life, and it serves as a definition of life for some, but often for the wrong reasons. It is something often taken by men, with or without the permission of women, and in this it becomes a tool used to perpetuate inequality, to oppress women. Lorde, Morrison, and Díaz all take less than common stances on the topic of sex, and proclaim it as something that needs to be claimed and redefined by women, for their empowerment and betterment, and ultimately for the empowerment and betterment of society as a whole.
Joycean Parallels in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“And out of this disillusionment and turmoil sprang Beli’s first adult oath, one that would follow her to the states and beyond. I will not serve. Never again would she follow any lead other than her own. Not the rector’s, not the nuns’, not La Inca’s, not her poor dead parents’. Only me, she whispered. Me” (Diaz 103).
Caught halfway into a romantic encounter in a school broom closet, young Hypatía Belícia “Belí” Cabral is expelled. Due to the high standing of her partner, and partly due to her own low social class and ill-regarded skin tone, Belí is given sole blame for the incident, and leaves El Redentor in shame. Heartbroken and unsure of the future, Belí is at a metaphorical crossroads. Will she continue to do the will of her guardian, La Inca, and return to education? Or will she utilize the newfound agency afforded by her emerging womanhood and take control of her own life? In the passage above, the reader will see that she chooses the latter.
Belí makes what the narrator calls an oath, and the technique employed in his narration contributes to this idea. The alliteration of “Not the rector’s, not the nuns’, not La Inca, not her poor dead parents” supports the narrator’s denoting this passage as an oath; as a sacred vow. The repetition of “not” and later “me” in “Only me, she whispered. Me.” again evokes a chant-like, holy quality. However, the most significant and illuminating device in this passage comes in the form of an intertextual reference: The sentence, “I will not serve”. This quote matches verbatim a line uttered by a similarly disillusioned Stephen Daedalus in James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is through the lens of Joyce and this Stephen Daedalus that a reader can best understand this section—this oath—as one that highlights Belí’s growing dissatisfaction of her life with La Inca, highlights her emerging independence and foreshadows the violent tragedy that necessitates a departure from her homeland.
For author Junot Díaz, whose vast repertoire of textual references and allusions in Oscar Wao ranges from those to Homer and Ovid to King and Kirby, this Joycean parallel can only be read as intentional. At the end of his university days, Stephen Daedalus, bitter from a youth characterized by a lack of love, poverty and an oppressively religious culture makes this exact remark. During a conversation with a friend, Stephen makes his oath, stating plainly “I will not serve” (Joyce 239). He later elaborates on this assertion, “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church” (Joyce 247). Stephen refuses the demands or his home of Ireland, his family of paupers, and of the Catholic Church. Belí’s determination embodies similar rejections. The young Dominican rejects the pressures of her family; of the overbearing La Inca and the respected legacy of her parents. She rejects the pressures of religion; of the rectors and nuns that managed her school and later saw her expelled. Finally, in her determination to serve only herself, Belí begins on a journey that will see her torn from her fatherland. Belí, like Stephen, aims to create a future with an outcome determined by only her own choices. Leaving school, she begins to seek out her own fortune as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant, where her good looks and fiery personality earn her a valued place among the staff and customers. This prosperity, however, is not to last, and while Stephen makes his future pursuing the arts in France, Belí meets a different, unpleasant fate resultant from her own self-assured decisions.
“I will not serve” does not only signify a budding disillusionment with power and a strive for independence: It foreshadows a fall into despair. Belí’s oath is both her awakening and ruin. The line, “I will not serve” carries a religious significance that was touched upon by Joyce through a church official present in Stephen’s youth, Father Arnall. In a fiery sermon, Arnall attributes the refusal to serve God to the fall of man; that it was Adam’s vainglorious denial to obey God that led to humanity’s expulsion from Paradise. Arnall states, “Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful thought conceived in an instant: non serviam: I will not serve. That instant was [Adam’s] ruin” (Joyce 117). Although readers do not see consequences for Stephen’s non serviam until he returns in Joyce’s Ulysses, Belí experiences a downfall similar to Arnall’s vision of Man in that its cause can be traced directly back to her “oath”. Through her ambition to serve only her own ends, Belí meets a character known as the Gangster, and through him Belí’s life makes a turn towards violence and further heartbreak. On an evening she was expected at dinner with La Inca, Belí meets this imposing figure and engages in a torrential affair with him soon after. This relationship leaves the young girl with child, and later, after refusing to terminate the pregnancy, beaten to near-death in a cane field.
Facing further violence, Belí is forced to leave the D.R., and spends the rest of her years raising children as a single mother in the poverty of the Patterson ghetto. Her bold assertion, “I will not serve”, while initially empowering, only serves in essence to make Belí a political refugee. In a hospital bed, succumbing to cancer and close to the end of her life, Belí seems to reflect on how her hardheaded independence led to her sad decline, remarking, “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” (Diaz 113). Belí’s empowerment and subsequent fall shares in the double meaning of Joyce’s non serviam as both the call to the individual awakening and the omen of individual ruin.
Díaz, Junot. The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead books, 2007, New York. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Viking, 1916, New York.
The Power of Good and Evil
The Cabrals, like many other Dominican families claim to be “victim[s] of a high-level fukú” (p. 154). They are constantly plagued by bad luck, so frequently, in fact that it does not seem to be just luck, making them helpless to their circumstances. The only explanation is a curse: fukú. By blaming bad luck on super natural energy, magic realism becomes a solution to where the curse may have come from and how the characters can rid themselves of it. In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Juno Díaz, references to Fukú and Zafa, through Galactus and the Mongoose explain power and powerlessness in the Cabral family line.
Right from the beginning of the novel, the idea of power is a contemplated topic within the Epigraph from Fantastic Four. It reads, “Of what import are brief, nameless lives… to Galactus?” (first epigraph). Galactus is a god-like figure that uses his power mercilessly. When applying the epigraph to characters in the book, it can safely be assumed that Trujillo is Galactus, and Oscar is the “brief, nameless” life. By comparing Oscar’s seemingly unproductive life, to that of Trujillo, the man who is “famous for changing all the landmarks in the Dominican Republic to honor himself,” one can’t help but wonder about the worth of Oscar’s life, comparatively (p. 2). The epigraph to the second section of the book reads, “Men are not indispensable. But Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. He is… a cosmic force… Those who try to compare him to his ordinary contemporaries are mistakes. He belongs to … the category of those born to a special destiny” (p. 204). This, too, forces the reader to not only consider Oscar, but all the members of the Cabral family line. They are not as powerful as Galactus. The claims that compare “[Trujillo’s] almost supernatural abilities” to that of a comic book character must also recognize that this is not possible without the component of Magical Realism (p. 3). The novel becomes infused with magical realism when magical qualities are applied to real characters to explain power dynamics.
Because Trujillo may have an unearthly amount of power, humans like those in the Cabral family line cannot claim the ability to combat his influences, forcing them to accept his super natural cursing capabilities – the fukú. The distressed Abelard is the first to understand the situation, exclaiming, “I’m the father of my household! I’m the one who says what goes!” His friend, Marcus, replies, what can you do? … Trujillo’s the president and you’re just the doctor. If he wants your daughter at the party you can do nothing but obey.” Abelard objects, “But this isn’t human!” (p. 229). In this interaction Marcus understands Trujillo’s evil power, and tries to impart his knowledge, but Abelard is enraged and refuses to listen. Abelard understanding the supernatural powers that Trujillo utilizes in his interactions with his civilians, and exclaims, “But this isn’t human.” Abelard fights the power structure. Because he does not apply his friend’s advice regarding the situation, Trujillo curses the family. When his lineage talk about the curse, two generations later, they “always begin in the same place: with Abelard and the Bad Thing he said about Trujillo” (p. 211) This shows that the familial fuku has a traceable beginning to a singular event in which the Galactus-Trujillo inflicts his supernatural power on the Cabral family and forces them to endure the curse. The Cabrals were previously part of “the Fortunate People,” previously unaffected by the reign of Trujillo (p. 213). As soon as the family line is affected, however, every bad event becomes a testimony of the fuku imposed upon them because of the interrupted power structure.
The fuku has a ripple affects. First, all the members of the immediate Cabral family are plagued with death. These sudden deaths are tragic and numerous. Then, even Beli, youngest daughter and the only one to live, “was sold to complete strangers in another part of Azura” (p.253). Because there are so many horrors, it becomes so unlikely to be pure chance; of course the fukú is to blame. Trujillo’s evil power overruns the family. She is affected by the curse, the curse then affects her children, particularly though Oscar through depression. The curse has a linear pattern.
Because of the helplessness that has been instilled in the culture, when something good does happen, it is nearly impossible to understand. After the Elvises beat up Beli, the whole town debates the situation: “Fukú vs. Zafa” they argue. Some saw her second interference with the evil dictator as a curse, but others saw her survival as a blessing. “To [La Inca’s] dying day she believed that Beli had met not a curse but God out in that canfield. I met something, Beli would say, guardedly” (p. 152). Accepting that good things do happen spontaneously would force them to accept that bad things happen spontaneously as well, discrediting their theory of the fukú. Rather than accepting this, explanations are conjured. Some seek solace in the idea of a counter-curse, while others believe in God. This interaction shows their common belief in something bigger. La Inca could not just believe that Beli was strong enough to make it out on her own, so she believes that the religious higher power intervened. Beli is hesitant to accept this manifestation of God, made clear by her language. Beli is cautious about explaining her interaction with magic because admitting that the Mongoose was a magical counter-curse, or a zafa, would also, consequently, admit that there was a fukú. This would reaffirm the helplessness of the human condition and the need for a higher-power, magical solution.
Despite Beli’s resistance in admitting it to others, for her, the Mongoose was the zafa that guided her out of the cane fields, providing the hope she needed. When stumbling out the of cane, “she saw the creature’s chabine eyes flashing through the stalks. Yo me llamo sueño de la madrugada. The cane didn’t want her to leave, of course; it slashed at her palms, jabbed into her flank and clawed her thighs” (p. 150). The cane is described as slashing and clawing, giving it animal-like characteristics. The Mongoose, on the other hand, calls itself, “the dream of dawn,” in Spanish. Dawn symbolizes a newness, and freedom to start over. Beli interrupts this as hope for a better tomorrow. She clings to “the faces of her promised future – her promised children – and from that obtained strength she needed to continue” (p. 151). The different descriptions inform the reader that the Mongoose is not an ordinary animal, because it has power. The Mongoose, as “an ally of Man,” utilizes it to bring hope to those in need, against Trujillo’s non-human power (p. 151). This is similar to La Inca’s understanding of God. The Mongoose is the manifestation of the zafa, bringing power to the “brief, nameless lives,” that Trujillo’s power has been suppressing.
When Oscar meets the Mongoose in his time of desperation, standing above the train tracks, he does not believe in the Mongoose because the Trujillo’s fukú has been too engrained in him. After seeing “the Golden Mongoose,” “instead of taking note of the vision and changing his ways [Oscar] just shook his swollen head” (p. 190). When questioned, he claims, “It was the curse that made me do it” (p. 194). He has no capacity for hope anymore. Contrary to Beli’s experience, the Mongoose arrived “before Beli lost hope” (p. 149). The second time Oscar meets the Mongoose, however, he has already met Ybón. The Mongoose brings him the ultimatum, “What will it be, muchacho?… More or less?” (p. 301). The magic is converted into hope, changing the helpless attitude of the fukú –inflicted to one of new life. He considers all his blessings, and he is able to pull himself out of the deathly curse. He gains hope and with it the will to survive. Hope is power.
The Mongoose’s momentary hope enables the character move toward a more permanent solution to rid themselves of their fukú. In his final days, Oscar writes a novel and the conclusion is about “everything [he] thinks [Lola] will need… (It’s the cure to what ails [them]…)” (p. 333). After the Mongoose’s ultimatum about “more or less,” Oscar gains motivation to live. He starts to follow his love. He returns to the Dominican full of vigor, no longer plagued by the fukú. By writing a novel, he is making his hope a permanent zafa for the fukú, hopefully destroying Trujillo’s devastating curse. “The only problem [is], the fucking thing never arrived!” (p. 334). This is the fukú preventing its own demise. As it had taken two generations to understand the power of hope that the Mongoose conveyed, it may take another two for the hope to be transferred into the power of applicable action – a working zafa – and for the Oscar’s niece to “put an end to [the fukú]” (p.331). These actions would restore the power to humans, which Trujillo’s super natural power evicted.
The battle between Trujillo’s curse and the Mongoose’s reprieve are the manifestation of the fukú and the zafa. The Cabral family line believes in them so full-heartedly because it relieves them of self-blame for their own misfortune. As most Dominican families believe in the fukú because most of them had family whom lived in the Trujillo reign. It is a cycle of oppression. Oscar is “Wondrous” because he found provides a disruption in the cycle. Through his nerdy fascination with comic books, he applied Galactus’s power to Trujillo and the magical qualities of the Mongoose, which balances the system of power. It is his cure for the fukú for the Cabral family line and for all Dominicans with heritage in the Trujillo regime.