“What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?”
Science fiction and fantasy become reality in the novel, and Oscar’s love for genre fiction stems from this awareness. The quote hints at the fact sci-fi and fantasy references abound in the novel. Díaz parallels Dominican history with a variety of science fiction and fantasy texts. Oscar is starkly aware of how the supernatural events that occur in his favorite books (and comic books) are eerily similar to the historical and current events that have happened in the Dominican Republic and in his family’s history.
“[Belicia], like her yet to be born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres.”
Both Belicia and Lola desire escape—but that desire is “inextinguishable.” So even when they are able to escape (as both of them are on a few occasions), they are still not satisfied. The narrator describes this feeling as being “particularly Jersey” in reference to the state of New Jersey, where Belicia and Lola spend most of their lives. Describing the malaise as “Jersey” universalizes it, presuming that Lola and Belicia are not the only ones in New Jersey who feel this way. Malaise means an uneasiness or discomfort whose exact cause is hard to identify; no matter where each woman is, she feels this discomfort, and neither character understands why she longs for other places. This feeling correlates with the theme of being an outsider/immigrant who does not feel she belongs anywhere.
“There it was, the Decision that Changed Everything. Or as she broke it down to Lola in her Last Days: All I wanted was to dance. What I got instead was esto, she said, opening her arms to encompass the hospital, her children, her cancer, America.”
Yunior illustrates Belicia’s decision to go dancing with Constantina as a decision of enormous proportion—it is the decision that propelled her into the life she has today. It also was the decision that indirectly allowed Lola and Oscar to exist. Díaz’s use of capitalization here (and throughout the novel) helps to enforce the heroic elements of the story. Belicia is so important to the story, and to the characters that propel the story, that her dying days become her Last Days. The imagery here is reminiscent of that of a queen, emphasizing Belicia’s status as the matriarch of the story. Here she appears grandiose in her gesture of opening her arms to implicate all of her surroundings, as if the hospital, her children, her cancer, and America are all part of a dysfunctional kingdom, one that she never imagined for herself.
“Dude had been waiting his whole life for something just like this to happen to him, had always wanted to live in a world of magic and mystery, but instead of taking note of the vision and changing his ways, the fuck just shook his swollen head.”
This excerpt is during Yunior’s description of Oscar’s suicide attempt, when he sees the Mongoose right before he jumps off the train bridge in New Brunswick. Yunior’s abrasive and colloquial style of narration is demonstrated here when he refers to Oscar as “Dude” and “the fuck.” His tone and diction expresses annoyance with Oscar. On the surface, Yunior is annoyed with Oscar for choosing to ignore the Mongoose when Oscar has been longing to live in a world of “magic and mystery” all of his life. On a deeper level, Yunior is annoyed that Oscar wants to die and that he has lost all hopes and desires, even ones that he has been dreaming of his entire life. Without directly saying so, Yunior’s words express his love for Oscar. He wants Oscar to live and to conquer the fukú.
“… if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.
And that’s what I guess these stories are all about.”
Lola’s words here refer back to the idea that she has the constant desire to escape, also known as a “Jersey malaise.” Lola comes to realize that her uneasiness in her surroundings does not have as much to do with her surroundings as it does with her—the malaise comes from the internal, not the external. For Lola, the internal encompasses more than just her individual self. The internal also includes her identity as part of the Cabral de Leóns, and as a Dominican. Even though Lola never acknowledges her belief in fukú, here she acknowledges the importance of telling “these stories” as “the only way out.” Notably, she makes this acknowledgment in an off-handed way by using the phrase “I guess.” Her guessing is a reminder that there are no definite answers.
“So, which is it? you ask. An accident, conspiracy or fukú? The only answer I can give you is the least satisfying: you’ll have to decide for yourself. What’s certain is that nothing is certain. We are trawling in silences here.”
Yunior speaks directly to the reader here, pushing the reader to question the cause of Abelard’s misfortune. Although Yunior often tells the story with authority, he also takes opportunities such as this to remind the reader that the story is ours for interpretation and that there is no absolute truth, no conclusive answers. The story he tells is merely the vehicle of the zafa he is trying to create; the story is an open-ended discussion, and the reader’s interpretation of the story is part of that discussion. To demonstrate this uncertainty, there is a poignant image here of “trawling in silences”: Yunior, and the readers, are sifting through silences and searching for answers, but the lack of words by definition makes it difficult to find any answers.
“Tarde venientibus ossa.
To the latecomers are left the bones.”
This Latin phrase appears three times in the Chapter 5. The first time it appears (as noted above), Abelard’s daughter Jacquelyn is said to write the phrase out on a piece of paper every morning before her studies. The quote appears again after Trujillo has pointedly invited Abelard, his wife and Jacquelyn to a party, and Abelard is again unsure of what to do (p. 230). Yunior suggests at that point that perhaps Abelard should have listened to his daughter’s philosophy. On the next page (p. 231) the phrase appears again as its own paragraph.
Jacquelyn’s use of the phrase to start her mornings simply shows her willingness to work toward her goal to become a doctor, and of her status as the “Golden Child.” When the phrase is used in reference to Abelard, it has a more ominous tone. Yunior implies that had Abelard decided to fix the problem before it occurred (i.e. before Trujillo had invited them to the party) then Abelard would not be in this conundrum. When the phrase appears alone in its own paragraph, it is no longer a philosophy or a suggested way of living, but a verdict. Abelard did not act in a timely manner to save himself and his family, and now he is left the proverbial bones. The bones, in this case, are the ensuing bad luck.
“… they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he’d be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hands up) you can be.”
Oscar’s speech here is indicative of his status as a hero and, in many ways, as a martyr. Oscar’s death is an inevitable part of the fukú, as the climax of the novel and as the completion of what Oscar has been striving for—to transcend his life as a fat nerd that has never been loved. In death, Oscar is able to be on the “other side” where all of his dreams are fulfilled. For Oscar, death is the only way to go there. The gesture he makes, putting his hands up, is an act of surrender as well as a gesture of power. His surrender to his own death is what gives him the power to be a hero.
“This [the second package] contains everything I’ve written on this journey. Everything I think you will need. You’ll understand when you read my conclusions. (It’s the cure to what ails us, he scribbled in the margins. The Cosmo DNA.)”
Oscar’s dying gift to his sister is the manuscript that he worked on for the twenty-seven days that he spent in Santo Domingo before his death. Although the manuscript never reaches her, his love for her is apparent here in his desire to give Lola “everything” she needs. Oscar’s voice in the letter seems to be aware that he will never return New Jersey, hence the reason he is sending the manuscript via mail. Lola is the one who needs the manuscript because she is the one who will carry on the family line. Oscar seems to believe that he has decoded the DNA of the “Cosmo”— in reference to the family’s ill fate. Oscar also says he has written the “cure to what ails us,” the ailment being the fukú. Yunior includes the detail that Oscar scribbled this last part in the margins, and is thus filling up the thematic blank page. However, because the manuscript does not reach them, the “cure” remains a mystery, and the pages remain blank.
“So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!”
The book closes with these words, leaving the reader with a positive exclamation despite all of the curse and thematic negative space that fill the novel. Oscar’s quote echoes Joseph Conrad’s character Krautz in The Heart of Darkness, who exclaims, “The horror! The horror!” Oscar’s claim has the opposite emotion—instead of horror at all of the awful things that have occurred in his family and his nation’s history, Oscar relishes the beauty of love despite all of the violence. Love has been the driving force throughout the novel—it is the means and the end for almost every character.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The novel begins with the narrator's description of the curse, called fukú americanus—a curse of doom, specifically that of the New World. It was brought over to the islands of Antilles when the Europeans came, and has stayed ever...
Fuku is the curse of bad luck which is dumped upon those who make bad decisions. It is a kind of dictatorship in the lives of families like that of Oscar Wao parallelling the life of people under the dictatorship of Trujillo.