The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Summary and Analysis of Section I, Chapter 1: Ghetto Nerd at the End of the World, 1974 - 1987

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THE GOLDEN AGE

Oscar is not the average Dominican male, mostly because he has bad luck with women. The only time he was ever a “Casanova” is at the age of seven, when he dances the merengue and the perrito, two overtly sexual dances. His relatives encourage his behavior.

At this time, Oscar has two girlfriends, Maritza Chacón and Olga Polanco. Maritza is beautiful, and Olga is a Puerto Rican from a bad family. Oscar likes them both; Maritza because she is pretty, and Olga because she is interested in his Star Trek dolls and likes to wrestle. For one week, he convinces both girls to date him at the same time-- until Maritza gives him an ultimatum. Oscar cries over his girl trouble; Oscar’s mother tells him to "dale un galletazo"—in other words, she directs him to slap Maritza around so she will respect him. However, Oscar is not aggressive. Oscar decides to dump Olga, and is dumped by Maritza a week later. Oscar cries, and is made fun of for being a maricón (gay).

From this point on Oscar’s life deteriorates: he gets fat and has acne, and is seen as a dork because of his interest in “Genres,” like science fiction, comic books, and fantasy novels. Both Maritza and Olga also have bad luck in love after this incident. Olga grows to be big, intimidating, and strange. Maritza is still beautiful but she dates men who mistreat her.

THE MORONIC INFERNO

Oscar’s difficulties continue through high school at Don Bosco Tech. He is a paraguayo, or a party watcher. He weighs 245 pounds, wears huge glasses, has a trace of a mustache, and has close-set eyes and an afro. His only friends are Al and Miggs. Oscar’s interest in Genres continues, as well as his interest in other “nerdy” literature and TV shows. Oscar also enjoys role-playing games, and uses large words at inappropriate times.

Even though Oscar is not lucky in love, he secretly falls in love all the time. His family and friends encourage him to change his ways and his appearance in order to attract women. His uncle Rudolfo advises Oscar to grab a girl and “méteselo,” or stick it in her. Al and Miggs tell him he is fat. His sister gives him more sound advice on how to lose weight and get a girl. However, Oscar does not heed any of it. Still, Oscar falls in love every chance he gets.

OSCAR IS BRAVE

Al and Miggs get girlfriends their senior year of high school, and Oscar feels left out because they did not included him in their scheme. This prompts Oscar to change. When he visits his Nena Inca in Santo Domingo that summer, he brings notebooks and attempts to become a writer. When he returns his friendship is not the same with Al and Miggs, and they call him “Mr. Collegeboy” because of all the writing he does.

OSCAR COMES CLOSE

Oscar falls in love with a girl from his SAT prep class, Ana Obregón. She is an intellectual and sexy girl, a mix between a little girl and bad girl. Ana tells Oscar about her ex-boyfriend, an older man named Manny who just joined the army. Oscar finds Ana’s history shocking, and consults his sister Lola on her opinion. Lola agrees, and asserts her opinion that even though “colored” parents say they love their children, they do not.

AMOR DE PENDEJO

Ana and Oscar become very close friends and spend a lot of time together. One day Ana shows up at his door and wants to go to a movie with him. Oscar is in disbelief that he is on his first date. Afterwards, Ana drives them home. She seems sad and Oscar does not make any moves.

OSCAR IN LOVE

Ana and Oscar’s movie dates become a weekly ritual. They continue to talk, and Oscar learns more about Ana’s life. Still, they never kiss or become intimate. In the meantime, Oscar is accepted to Rutgers and Ana is accepted to Penn State.

Ana’s ex-boyfriend Manny returns from the army because he got in trouble for drugs. Ana stops spending as much time with Oscar, and she no longer returns his phone calls promptly. Still, Oscar lets Ana vent about Manny whenever she needs to, although he refuses to let her talk about Manny’s “big cock.” Ana’s relationship with Manny is rocky; he is controlling and abusive. Oscar continues to endure his friendship with Ana because he is hopelessly in love (which is a tradition and a curse in his family).

Oscar is so in love that he begins to act out. Once, he punches his friend Miggs during a role-playing argument. Another time, he takes his tío Rudolfo’s gun and waits for Manny outside of his building. Lola worries about him and begs him never to do anything like that again.

Finally, Oscar meets up with Ana at a mall and admits he is in love with her. While Ana thinks it is sweet, she does not admit to loving him back.

Oscar graduates from high school in June and starts college in September. After the initial excitement of being free at college wears off, Oscar realizes he is still considered weird. Other kids of color often taunt him, saying, “You’re not Dominican.” Oscar’s life in college is eerily similar to his life in high school.

Analysis

The theme of Dominican masculinity is immediately introduced in the first sentences of the chapter. Oscar’s bad luck with women, his lack of aggressiveness, and his obsession with Genre characterize him as an outsider—he does not fit in anywhere. Oscar is teased in college with “you’re not Dominican”; he is specifically told he is not the individual who represents the nation. Yet, for this reason, Oscar does represent the nation-- he represents the immigrant as outsider and the overall experience of Dominican diaspora.

The relationship between love and violence is demonstrated in this chapter as well. Oscar cannot maintain control over his two girlfriends, but refuses to use the traditional method of control where he would be required to smack the girls around to gain their respect. Even as a child, Oscar is taught that love cannot be maintained without an aspect of violence. His tío Rudolfo reinforces this by suggesting that Oscar grabs a girl and “metéselo”—i.e. stick it in her (in the euphemistic sense). However, Rudolfo’s technique would require Oscar to be aggressive, which is seemingly impossible for him.

Oscar’s nerdiness is associated with his interest in genres—science fiction, fantasy and comic books—and the narrator provides a full list of titles and authors that Oscar enjoys. This list provides both a cultural context as well as the beginning of a repeated motif—the comparison between the story of Oscar’s family and Dominican history with the nerdy texts that Oscar reads. Oscar’s enjoyment of these texts goes beyond being a nerd—these genres allow Oscar to escape into a completely different world, one where outsiders are the heroes, as is often the case in comic books.

This first chapter also adopts a structure that is maintained throughout the novel, where the chapters are divided into titled sub-sections (minus the sections that Lola narrates). The titles of the sub-sections give the impression that the story is of epic proportions, as if we are following the path of a hero rather than the mundane life of an ordinary kid.

Oscar’s relationship with Ana Obregón is the first of many unrequited loves that Oscar will have in his life. Only when Oscar is in love does he display any violent or self-destructive tendencies, as demonstrated by the incident where he takes the gun and waits for Manny. His behavior here foreshadows the way Oscar behaves each time he is in love.

Fukú is only touched on lightly in this chapter, when in a parenthetical aside the narrator explains that Oscar does not include the family curse in any of the writings he does because he does not think it is “worth it” given that most Latino/a families believe themselves cursed. Nevertheless, in the prologue, the narrator warns the reader that fukú is in fact real, even when one does not believe in it or think it important. Thus, Oscar’s initial rejection of fukú foreshadows Oscar’s future, which is seemingly full of fukú.