The first epigraph is from the comic book Fantastic Four: “Of what import are brief, nameless lives… to Galactus??”
The second is a poem written by Derek Walcott, “The Schooner Flight.” The poem describes the poet’s mixed heritage and his upbringing on an island. The last two lines of the poem are, “I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, / and either I’m nobody or I’m a nation.”
The narrator introduces fukú americanus, or fukú for short. A fukú is a curse that came to Antilles when the Europeans arrived on the islands. The narrator asserts that fukú is “real as shit” and that the Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina had a direct relationship with fukú. A footnote says Trujillo was the dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930-1961. Trujillo was also known as El Jefe (the boss), the Failed Cattle Thief, and according to the narrator, Fuckface. The footnote states that Trujillo’s notable achievements as dictator include changing all of the names of all of the national landmarks to honor him, and of committing mass genocide against the Haitians and Haitian-Dominican community.
If anyone speaks or acts against Trujillo then that person will be cursed. The narrator uses John F. Kennedy, the former American President, as the prime example because JFK gave his approval for the CIA’s assistance in arming Trujillo’s assassins. Not only did JFK die in a horrible assassination, but his family also remained cursed. Then the narrator speaks to the reader, assuring him/her that it is fine if he/she does not believe in this curse because “fukú believes in you.”
The story that the narrator is about to tell is about Oscar de León, and how his family is cursed. The narrator believes that Oscar would not like the designation of “fukú story” because of Oscar’s preference for the genres science fiction and fantasy.
Finally, the narrator notes that one word can create a counterspell against the curse, Zafa. Saying zafa was more popular in the past than it is now, and was used more in the countryside than in the city. The narrator states that writing this story is his own counterspell to the curse.
The book's discourse between United States popular culture and Caribbean history is set up through the epigraphs. The comic book’s reference to nameless lives suggests that ordinary lives are not important to those in power. On the other hand, Walcott’s poem suggests that a nameless life is actually quite important because those lives form a nation. Thus the protagonist, Oscar, is both a nobody whose life takes place in the realm of the ordinary, AND a representation of the Dominican nation, creating a synecdoche that goes both ways.
The prologue’s focus on fukú provides the context for the book. Fukú is something that affects the nation and individuals. The discussion of fukú also introduces the supernatural element to the story. The author uses anthropomorphism to describe fukú, giving it qualities such as patience, saying it always eats first, and asserting that fukú is “tight” with the dictator Trujillo. In fact, the fukú is so much like a human character that one might even say that fukú is the true antagonist of the novel.
The historical context of the story comes in the prologue. The narrator gives the history of Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic via footnote. The tone of the footnote is extremely sarcastic, cynical, and bitter—qualities that the narrator will continue to demonstrate throughout the text.
The author alludes to other texts. Fukú is likened to Darkseid’s Omega Effect and Morgath’s bane. Darkseid, is a DC comic character and Morgoth’s bane is from Tolkein’s works—already Díaz draws similarities between Dominican aspects of his story and American pop culture.
Near the end of the prologue, the author briefly alludes to Gabriel García Márquez’s novel 100 Years of Solitude. The narrator mentions Macondo, the town featured in that text. The text and the town are closely associated with magical realism, thus hinting that Oscar Wao will incorporate some magical elements. The prologue associate Macondo with old school ideology (i.e. that zafa works to counter fukú); but on the other hand there is McOndo, which is a literary movement that focused on the urban Latino/a experience. In the novel Díaz explores the discourse between the two.
The prologue is an exposition on what the novel will focus on, and how and why it is important to the characters in the novel as well as to the narrator. The narrator is characterized by his constant use of slang and his insertion of Spanish words without explaining their meaning. Coming out of the prologue, the reader should be prepared for an experience with the narrator’s stylized and potentially unreliable interpretation of events.