The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Summary and Analysis
by Junot Diaz
Section I, Chapter 3: The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral 1955-1962
The point of view in this chapter returns to the original narrator, whose identity is still unrevealed.
LOOK AT THE PRINCESS
Before the American story of Oscar and Lola, came the story of Hypatía Belicia Cabral, described as tall, dark, and with the same “Jersey malaise” as Lola: like Lola, her mother has a constant desire to be elsewhere.
UNDER THE SEA
The narrative begins in 1951 when Beli lives in Baní in the Dominican Republic with her aunt-mother La Inca. Before this, Beli lived an awful life with an adoptive family, but the two do not discuss that time. Now, mother and daughter run bakeries together. The narrator refers to these as the Beautiful Days. Beli wants something other than the happy life she is living with her mother, but she is not sure exactly what it is that she wants. However, since they live under the Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, it is almost impossible for Beli to escape from the Dominican Republic due to Trujillo’s “Plátano Curtain.” La Inca does not want Beli to escape because she sees her as the only hope for continuing their ruined family. La Inca constantly reminds Beli that she comes from a good family and that her father was a doctor, but Beli does not listen. She looks toward the future.
LA CHICA DE MI ESCUELA (The girl from my school)
At age thirteen Beli gets a scholarship to El Redentor, the best private school in Baní. Even though Beli is from an upper class family, she grew up in Outer Azua, one of the worst parts of the island and she is tough. She does not make friends because she is defensive and overreacts, and everyone shuns her, even the losers. During the Lost Years of Beli’s youth, she had not been in school, and now that she is in school, she cannot concentrate; Beli prefers to look at the handsome Jack Pujols rather than take tests.
Beli’s only friend is Dorca, the daughter of La Inca’s cleaning lady. Beli tells Dorca grandiose stories of her adventures at El Redentor and lies about how popular she is. La Inca continues to dream big for Beli, encouraging her to become a doctor like her father. When La Inca gets news that Beli stares at boys at school, she scolds her. Still, Beli is boycrazy.
Then a boy happened.
The boy was Jack Pujols, a handsome white boy whose father was a colonel for the dictator Trujillo. Jack would also later end up involved with Balaguer, Trujillo’s successor. Beli tries to get him to notice her by bumping into him, but she has no luck until she hits puberty over the summer and develops womanly curves that are likened those of an exaggerated comic book character named Luba. At first Beli is ashamed, and then she realizes that men like her, which gives her power.
When Beli returns to school in the fall she has the mission of getting Jack to like her, and she does not go about it subtly. Still, by the end of September he had not fallen for her. Meanwhile, Beli is doing well at school, especially in English. The teacher asks them to write about what they envision for the new decade. A boy named Mauricio Ledesme writes that he would like to have a democracy and not a dictator, and that he believes Trujillo killed Galíndez. A footnote informs the reader that a Spaniard named Jesús de Galíndez wrote his Columbia University doctoral dissertation as an exposé on Trujillo’s dictatorship. Trujillo then hired people to kidnap Galindez from New York and kill him in La Capital. After the incident in English class, both Mauricio and the English teacher were gone the next day. In another footnote, the narrator likens this incident to that of Rafael Yepez, another teacher who made a similar mistake in the 1930s and was killed. Beli’s desire for the future is less controversial, as she wants to be married to a rich man and to be a doctor. In October, Beli hears news that Jack Pujols has broken up with his girlfriend. Two days later, he notices Beli for the first time.
Beli begins to have sex with Jack in the broom closet at school. He does not treat her with respect and the sex is painful for Beli. Their relationship is secret until they are caught in the act, which causes a huge scandal. Pujols blames Beli, but Beli claims that he promised her he would marry her and that she did nothing wrong. Pujols is sent away to military school in Puerto Rico. La Inca is mad at Beli but she does not hit Beli even though the narrator makes the claim that that is exactly what any other parent would have done.
Beli decides that from then on she will serve only herself, and does not go back to school. Instead, she goes and gets a job at a Chinese restaurant called Palacio Peking. Two brothers named Juan Then and José Then own the restaurant. She is fourteen when she gets the job, and will later make the claim that she came of age in the restaurant. Beli works alongside two other servers, Lillian and Indian Benny, as well as the one-armed, no-ear cook Marco Antonio.
Beli has two suitors during this time, an older bald car dealer, the fiat dealer, who is obsessed with baseball, and a young college student-for-life named Archimedes, or Archie, who is a political dissident against Trujillo. Beli never sleeps with either of them but always keeps them begging.
When Lillian the waitress has to leave the restaurant to take care of her mother, a new young waitress named Constantina is hired. Constantina and Beli buy matching dresses, and Constantina encourages Beli to go out dancing with her at El Hollywood. Beli goes, and the narrator calls this the Decision that Changed Everything.
At the club, Beli dances all night. Towards the end of the night, Beli is waiting at the bar for Constantina, exhausted. “He” (the Gangster) approaches her: an older handsome man, relaxed, with an air of importance. He offers to buy Beli a drink, she turns away, he grabs her arm, and she screams “No me toques” (Don’t touch me). She throws her drink, her glass, and her purse at him, as well as anything else in sight. When Beli gets home, La Inca is angry with her for being late, but still does not hit her.
After Beli’s run in with the Gangster, she cannot stop talking about it. Constantina points this out to her. The next week Beli goes back to El Hollywood, finds the Gangster, and asks him to dance.
THE GANGSTER WE'RE ALL LOOKING FOR
The narrator states it is unclear what Beli knew about the Gangster. The narrator tells the readers that the Gangster works for Trujillo as an assassin. He committed his first murder at the age of fourteen for the communist Felix Bernardino (a historical figure described in a footnote as a man who was also closely involved in defending Trujillo’s name). He has traveled to many places, including Cuba, and killed many people in the name of Trujillo. The Gangster became an alguien, or a somebody. The Gangster is especially good at the sex trade, and he operates a string of brothels. He is also very fond of Cuba and spent much of his time there until the revolution on New Year’s Eve in 1958. He meets Beli soon after.
The Gangster adores Beli and treats her to the best restaurants and clubs in the city, and buys her lots of gifts. Beli comforts the Gangster when his crimes torment him psychologically, and she realizes she loves him, since no man has ever appreciated her so much before in her life. People in the town begin to gossip about them, and soon Beli is fired from her job at the Chinese restaurant, but is rehired when the Gangster has the Then brothers threatened. However, the brothers treat her coldly, so she stops showing up for work.
The Gangster has a habit of disappearing for days or weeks on end without notice. Beli dislikes his disappearances and feels they make her look bad, and makes him make it up to her by treating her to meals and by pestering him about weddings and where he has been. During one of the absences, Beli goes and visits her old suitors and tells them about the Gangster. The fiat dealer throws a whiskey bottle at her, and she retaliates by hitting him on the head with it and running. When she visits Archimedes, he is hiding in a closet, fearful of the secret police, and his only response to the news is a sob from inside the closet.
The Gangster takes Beli on a vacation to Samaná where they relax, eat, and drink, and Beli is very happy. A footnote reminds us that the narrator has taken creative license with this part because he does not know the real details of the trip. The Gangster confides in Beli that to him not having a family means he is free, and Beli tells him she wants to be free like him. Their trip ends abruptly when the Gangster has to leave to fulfill duties at the Palacio, and Beli must get home on her own. During her trip is when she first sees the Man with No Face. When she gets home, she realizes she is pregnant.
Beli is ecstatic. She tells her friends Dorca, who leaks the word to the town. When the Gangster returns, Beli tells him the news.
UPON FURTHER REFLECTION
Beli does not remember him telling her to get rid of it, but later in life when she lives in the Bronx she recalls that he did. Nevertheless, she heard what she wanted to hear.
Beli hopes the baby is a boy and wants to name him after her father Abelard. The Gangster wants to name him after his grandfather Manuel. Beli reminds him that he said he had no family, and he gets mad.
TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES 1
It turns out the Gangster is married to a Trujillo. The narrator tells us we should have guessed, since the Gangster is Dominican.
TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES 2
The Gangster is married to Trujillo’s sister, known as La Fea (the Ugly). The Gangster most likely married her to increase his reputation. In May, she finds out about Beli and her pregnancy.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE JACARANDA
While Beli is wandering in a park thinking about a fight she had with the Gangster, she is grabbed by two men and brought to an old lady under a jacaranda tree. She says she is Dionisio’s wife (the Gangster). She tells Beli that she will not be having his baby or marrying him, and that the two men, Elvis One and Elvis Two, who grabbed her will take her to the doctor to end her pregnancy. They drag her toward a car where another cop is waiting, a man who does not have a face. Just then, Beli sees José and Juan Then. They come to her rescue and she runs home.
Beli runs home to La Inca, crying that she wants the Gangster and refusing to explain why she is upset. A few hours later, a neighbor calls to say that the “novio” (boyfriend) is outside, and Beli goes running out only to find the Elvises, who handcuff her and take her.
LA INCA, THE DIVINE
La Inca feels her husband’s spirit telling her she must save Beli. La Inca begins to pray, and the women from the neighborhood join her, creating a powerful force.
CHOICE AND CONSEQUENCE
The Elvises drive her to a cane field. On the way, they beat her, but she does not cry because she does not want to give them the satisfaction. When they get to the cane field, they beat her almost to the point of death. At the brink of death, Beli uses her “Cabral magis,” her anger, to pull herself back into life. Beli then sees a creature, an amiable mongoose with golden lion eyes, who says her baby is dead but that she will have two more, a son and a daughter. The creature leads her out of the cane while singing, in Spanish. When she makes it out of the cane a truck of musicians happens to be driving by, and they stop and pick her up. She whispers that Trujillo did this to her, and they fear the curse, but take her anyway.
FUKU OR ZAFA?
Was the beating part of the Cabral curse? Or was it a zafa because she survived? What about the dead son? There is no definite explanation.
BACK AMONG THE LIVING
Five days later Beli comes to in complete pain, despite the fact that La Inca has had the best doctors working on her. La Inca sits by Beli’s side as she recovers. Beli feels guilt over the death of her unborn child, and she feels very alone. She also finds out that the night she was kidnapped Trujillo was assassinated. A footnote gives the details of his death.
LA INCA, IN DECLINE
The narrator makes the claim that La Inca’s prayer saved Beli’s life and created a zafa, but that it took all the strength out of her and she declined after Beli left the country. The narrator makes a comparison of the end of Trujillo’s regime to the end of the antagonist Sauron’s rule in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, with the difference being that Trujillo left more lasting effects that were not simply swept away by the wind, as in The Lord of the Rings. However, the zafa did seem to protect Beli from being killed before she left the country. La Inca tells Beli she has to leave, and Beli laughs because she is not convinced of the necessity of it.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE REPUBLIC
Beli is bound to leave the country. She sees the Elvises everywhere but they never attempt to kill her, perhaps because of the zafa by La Inca. Beli sees the Gangster once more but it is not the same. She tells him she is going to New York and he does not protest. Beli expects to see him at the airport and try to prevent her from leaving, but he does not appear. La Inca kisses her goodbye and reminds her once again that she is the third daughter of a doctor and a nurse. She gets on the plane and sits next to the man who will become the father of Oscar and Lola. She sleeps and when she wakes up the man next to her tells her to look out the window. She sees the lights of New York City.
This chapter takes on the structure of chapter one; throughout the chapter there are titled sub-sections detailing Belicia’s adventures. Her role as the matriarch is emphasized at the beginning of the chapter, reminding the reader that without Belicia, Oscar and Lola would not exist. As a the matriarch, Beli can be likened to a Fantastic Four character
Before Beli lived with La Inca, she lived with an abusive adoptive family, but the narrator glosses over this period lightly by saying that the pair never discuss that time, and calls it “their very own página en blanco.” The narrator refers to the time as a dark period. Thus, no light is shed on those blank pages and the silences remain silent for the readers and for the characters. The pain of remembering such awful events does not seem worth it to the characters, so instead they chose not to talk about it. In this way, they may be continuing the fukú through their desire to choose ignorance over painful knowledge.
Beli’s power is recognized in her Cabral magis and in the symbol of the broom in the closet that Beli and Jack have sex in. A broom is a symbol of female power because it is the vehicle of the witch, or bruja. While Beli does not have the same bruja qualities that Lola possesses, she does have the power of her sex appeal, which lures Jack Pujols into the closet.
The theme of the individual and the nation appears here when Beli’s love life intersects with Trujillo when she has an affair with the Gangster. Although Beli’s life is seemingly mundane, she ends up involved with the higher ups in the dictatorship. The theme of love and violence is also relevant here—Beli has to suffer the pain of a beating and of miscarrying her child because of the love she shares with the Gangster. Beli is an outsider at school and she continues to be an outsider when she dates the Gangster. Beli’s outsider status could be a parallel to her role as hero; her adventures lead her through hardships that she overcomes and makes it out alive. Her power is her Cabral magis, the anger that helps her to live after the beating.
In one discussion Beli has with the Gangster while they vacation, the Gangster makes the claim that he is free because he does not have a family. There is a lot of irony to this statement given the fact that he is married, and that he gets Beli pregnant during their trip. Beli's response is also ironic, because she decides she wants to be free like him, but in order to be free she would have to separate herself from him and from the future family that she longs to have.
This chapter marks the first appearance of the no face man. This ominous figure appears throughout the novel as a harbinger of the fukú—his presence announces when another part of the family’s curse will manifest.
The supernatural elements in this chapter include La Inca’s prayer, and the Mongoose. La Inca’s prayer functions as a way of saving Belicia from dying after her beating—La Inca is almost a divine character, whose prayer is a form of zafa. The Mongoose is also a zafa of sorts, as he gives Beli the ability to find her way out of the canefield. Was it a curse or a zafa that Beli survived? The fukú demonstrates its patience in making its way through the generations.
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