The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Major Themes

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The Individual and the Nation

The novel focuses on the viewpoint of diaspora from the Dominican Republic. Yunior, the narrator, provides the eyes through which the readers see. His narration is a mix of United States popular culture and Dominican history. For Yunior, the two are intertwined. Although the characters living in the United States are physically separated from their country of origin, they still feel a strong connection to it. The nation is sometimes represented in the individual; the epigraph emphasizes this with Derrick Walcott’s words “Either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.”

The importance of the individual is stressed as well. Some of the characters’ lives (Belicia, Abelard, La Inca) operate within Trujillo’s regime, parallel with it and usually involved in it, politically, romantically or sexually. Even Oscar becomes involved in the personal life of a member of the Policía Nacional, and is thus symbolically involved with the state, much the same way that his mother and his grandfather were involved. The individual and the nation can also be looked at as the quotidian versus the official. The prescribed content of the novel is the daily lives of the characters with a focus on their love lives; but the undercurrent of the novel is the role the official/state plays in the characters lives via political control as well as supernatural influence.

The Outsider/ The Immigrant

Oscar is the outsider in the novel mostly due to his nerdiness, his intelligence, and his grotesque physical appearance. Like the theme of the individual and the nation, Oscar as the outsider parallels the immigrant as the outsider. An immigrant is an outsider of his own country as well as in the new country. He is no longer in his country, yet is also not a part of the new country. In the story, the matriarch Belicia is the immigrant that bridges the Dominican Republic with the United States in the novel. However, her children feel the effect of the diasporic movement as well. Belicia, Oscar and Lola all seem to be on a quest to find where they belong.

Dominican Masculinity

Díaz emphasizes sex as a key ingredient in being a Dominican male. The Dominican male is characterized as having power and charm, and is physically attractive, sexually active, and violent. Oscar’s lack of “G” is central to the novel; his goal throughout the novel is to have a woman return his affection. Oscar also lacks the ability and the desire to fight or commit violence of any nature. Without the necessary masculinity, Oscar fails to reach his goal of finding requited love until the end of the novel. Yunior, on the other hand, is the epitome of Dominican Masculinity; he is muscular and sexual, and is always sleeping with more than one girl at any given time. Tîo Rudolfo also embodies the masculinity that Oscar seems to lack, and both Yunior and Rudolfo attempt to give Oscar pointers on how to have more “G” and attract more women. Oscar, however, fails to heed their advice.

Feminine Sexuality and Power

Both Belicia and Lola are portrayed as sexually desirable in the novel; their sexuality is a form of power for them. For Belicia the power is emphasized by her breasts, reportedly 35DDDs and described in hyperbolic terms. For Beli, the onset of puberty and becoming a woman marked the beginning of her power; she realized she could control men with her sexuality. However, she also soon realized that the control was only to a certain extent; Beli falls in love three times, but never remains in a lasting relationship.

Lola’s legs and hips are the source of her power. She can reportedly stop traffic when she wears shorts; when Yunior describes Lola he usually focuses on the amount of leg she has showing or, he'll focus on her butt, often using hyperbolic descriptions. Lola recognizes her power and uses it in a more directed fashion than Beli. While Beli used her physical attractiveness to seek love, Lola uses hers to seek escape.

Silence /Páginas en blanco

On many occasions the narrator points out that there are gaps in the story, or what he refers to as páginas en blanco (blank pages). There are a few reasons for these literary silences; one is to let the reader figure out his/her own interpretation of the story. Another is that the Trujillo dictatorship did not allow for record keeping. Also, the voluntary amnesia of the characters allows them not to feel the pain caused by death and loss. By writing this book the narrator is attempting to fill the páginas en blanco that Oscar left in his death, and the silences that were left in the story of the fukú of the Cabral de Leóns. Also, both Abelard and Oscar’s manuscripts go missing after their deaths, thus leaving silences. Díaz uses dashes in place of words in order to emphasize blank space and missing words.

The image of the blank page also appears in the last section of the book, when Oscar dreams of a man holding a blank book. In the end, Yunior has a similar dream of Oscar holding a blank book, and it is this dream that eventually prompts him to write down Oscar’s story.

Love and Violence

In Oscar Wao, love often has a direct connection to violence. This theme ranges from domestic violence to extreme gut wrenching violence that occurs as retaliation for loving too much and/or loving the wrong person. Beli experiences the violence when she loves the Gangster, Oscar experiences it when he loves Ybón, and Abelard experiences it when he protects his daughter out of love. Lola has a difference experience of love and violence—she cannot separate her mother’s love from her mother’s violent behavior towards her. Love is a strong emotion in the novel, and it is countered by anger and revenge that fuel violence. The author leads us to question, which is more powerful. Both serve as fuel that keep the characters going; both anger and love influence the rash decisions the characters make.

The Supernatural and Genre Fiction

The novel is infused with a variety of supernatural elements. The most obvious is a fukú that provides the undercurrent for the entire narrative, leading the reader to wonder if the events are all a result of fukú. Another supernatural element in the book is the mongoose that appears to both Belicia and Oscar in their time of need. The power of La Inca’s prayer to save her daughter is portrayed as a force beyond the natural. Trujillo’s power is also likened to the supernatural, and the narrator and other characters often challenge the reader to believe that perhaps Trujillo is of supernatural origin.

Genre plays a related role in the novel, as the author uses forms of these genres throughout the novel, emphasizing the “sci-fi” and “fantasy” nature of life in the Dominican Republic by comparing Trujillo to Sauron of Lord of the Rings and to an episode of the TV show Twilight Zone, amongst other references. The narrator refers often to Oscar’s love of Genre (capitalized). The genres in reference are fantasy, science fiction, and comic books. Genre is associated with Oscar’s outsider status as a nerd. The novel’s characters loosely parallel characters from the Fantastic Four and thus liken the outsider to the hero.