The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss the differences and similarities between being an immigrant, an outsider, and a hero.


    In the novel, the characters often embody all three descriptions in one way or another—Belicia and Yunior have immigrated to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic, Oscar and Belicia are outsiders at school, and Lola has the constant desire to be outside of wherever or whatever she is doing. The role of immigrant, outsider or hero are related because they are all roles that make the character different from the whole. The immigrant is literally outside of his/her country of origin, while at the same time he/she differs from his/her new environment. The immigrant also is symbolizes escape. The outsider, in a broad sense, is someone who does not fit into whatever whole to which they want to belong. The hero, on the other hand, often differs from the rest of the population because he/she has power and strength that others do not have. Therefore, while the immigrant and outsider often have negative connotations, the hero has positive connotations. When combined, they provide a multifaceted view of a character.

  2. 2

    In Oscar Wao, the characters are often confronted with overwhelming love as well as with unspeakable violence. Both serve as fuel that keeps the characters going. Which one is more powerful? Do love and violence work for each other or against each other?


    As stated in the prologue, the novel’s self-proclaimed subject is the curse of the Cabral de León family—a curse that is characterized by violence. Yet, at the same time, the novel’s driving force is love: Abelard’s love for his family, Belicia’s three heartbreaks, Oscar’s search for a romantic relationship, and Yunior’s dysfunctional love for Lola. At first glance, love and violence work against each other. However, love and violence really combine to relieve the family of the curse.

  3. 3

    Describe how magical realism works in Oscar Wao and in Yunior’s style of narration. What does magical realism bring to the story? What, if anything, does it take away?


    Magical realism allows Díaz to bring supernatural elements to the story. In some ways, the supernatural helps to lighten the political undertones of the story, which could take away from the story by decreasing the potency of the reality of Trujillo’s regime and the effect it had on the people of the Dominican Republic. However, the use of the magical elements also allows Díaz to construct a story that uses the power of imagination to construct a reality that realism cannot adequately describe. Magical realism also holds significance in that it is a primarily Latino/a form of writing, and Díaz has used it unconventionally to tell a story that bridges Latino/a with Latino/a American.

  4. 4

    How do the four main characters—Oscar, Lola, Belicia and Abelard—parallel comic book heroes? How does Trujillo fit into the comparison? What is the significance of these parallels and how does it add to the story?


    Díaz loosely parallels his characters to fit the model of the comic book Fantastic Four. The four main characters fit into the paradigm of the Fantastic Four: Abelard is Mr. Fantastic, Belicia is the Invisible Woman, Lola is the Human Torch, Oscar is the Thing. Yunior is the Watcher, and Trujillo is their enemy Galactus. The Fantastic Four were often portrayed as a dysfunctional family, whose family feuds deterred them from getting their jobs done efficiently. Keep in mind that the parallel is loose, but it does allow for some valuable insight into the character’s abilities as “heroes” and their powers to overcome the fukú.

  5. 5

    Writers versus Dictators: “What is it with Dictators and Writers anyway?” (97). Discuss how this motif is prevalent in the novel.


    Yunior, Oscar and Abelard are characterized by their role as writers. Abelard’s writings have the most direct confrontation with the dictator Trujillo, but Oscar and Yunior write to counter the fukú that is closely associated with the dictator. Díaz frames the pen as a valuable weapon for fighting oppression, supernatural forces, and most importantly, silence and ignorance.

  6. 6

    Discuss how Diaz uses popular culture to create a discourse with Dominican history.


    Díaz makes intertextual references to science fiction and comic books in virtually every chapter of the novel. He also references popular TV shows and actors from the time in which Oscar and Yunior live. Díaz often uses these references to frame Dominican history, thus creating a dialogue between Yunior’s expertises in both areas; Yunior gives the point-of-view of diaspora by US pop culture to expand outside of the “Plátano Curtain” erected by Trujillo to insulate the island.

  7. 7

    What is the significance of the Mongoose and of the No Face Man? How does their presence influence the story?


    Each appearance of either of these symbolic characters is loaded with meaning; they often appear at times when a monumental event is occurring or is about to occur. The Mongoose acts as a sort of guardian angel to Beli and later to Oscar; his presence relates to “zafa” or the counterspell against the curse. The No Face Man is the harbinger of fukú, and his presence indicates that the curse is active and that ensuing events will be cursed.

  8. 8

    Dominican masculinity is a central theme in the novel. Why is it so important, and how does it influence the unfolding of the plot?


    Oscar’s plight throughout the story is his inability to embody the role of the Dominican male both physically and mentally. Oscar’s sole ambition is to find a woman who returns his love but he does not have the necessary masculine qualities to achieve his goal. Yunior’s plight, on the other hand, is his overachieved masculinity, i.e. his role as a ladies’ man that cannot turn off his charm, to the point that he is unable to maintain a relationship with Lola because he cannot be faithful. Oscar and Yunior are opposites when it comes to Dominican masculinity and thus act as foils to one another.

  9. 9

    The dictator Trujillo is a real historical figure that Díaz inserts into his novel. How does Díaz characterize Trujillo using “Genre”? In what ways is Trujillo’s character able to affect the fictional characters of the story?


    The story of Oscar de León is inextricable from the fukú that is associated with Trujillo in the novel. Trujillo plays the role of antagonist, and Díaz uses various references to comic book characters, such as Darkseid and Galactus, as well as to science-fiction antagonists like Sauron of the Lord of the Rings. He is also symbolic of the Official life of the nation, while the Cabral de Leóns embody the quotidian. However, the nation cannot exist without the people that live in it. By giving the details of the Cabral de León’s stories, Díaz shows how the quotidian is essential to the existence of the official nation.

  10. 10

    Examine the author's portrayal of female sexuality as a form of power.


    Belicia and Lola find ways to use their physical assets to assert power over others. Belicia is concerned mainly with freedom, namely, the freedom to do as she pleases be it working to prove her independence from La Inca, loving a dangerous man, or making her way unabashedly through the hardships of life. Lola desires escape, and she uses her sexuality to propel her into new places.