The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Study Guide

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008. The book took Junot Díaz eleven years to write, and was his first novel. The story is set both in the United States and in the Dominican Republic. The narrative relates the characters experience of being Dominican in both places. It also relates the characters personal experience of the dictator Trujillo’s regime, and explores the oppression and violence they experience as a result.

Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was the dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930 – 1961. During that time, Trujillo maintained complete control of the military and he appointed his relatives and friends to important offices within the government, and political opponents during elections were secretly murdered. There were strict censorship laws. Trujillo garnered control over almost every aspect of Dominican society and the economy at the time. While Trujillo was able to bring the country to a point of economic and political stability, he was unable to help all people under his rule, and many remained in poverty. Because of the country’s stability, other countries, including the United States, invested in the Dominican Republic and ignored the horrors of the regime. Trujillo promoted an anti-Haitian attitude, and in 1937, Trujillo had Haitian migrants massacred. Opposition against Trujillo rose in the 1950s. During this time, a large numbers of dissidents were jailed and tortured. In addition, other countries withdrew their support. When Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, his heirs and followers tried to continue where Trujillo left off, but were not able to maintain the same level of control.

Yunior, the narrator of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, references Trujillo throughout the narration. His discussions of Trujillo are colloquial and full of contempt, and all with a tone of authority. Yunior specifically focuses on Trujillo’s rampant sexual desire, his egotistical personality, his orders to assassinate dissenters and opponents, and Trujillo’s close relationship with fukú.

Yunior's character was drawn from the same character that narrates the stories in Drown. The Yunior of Drown is a semi-autobiographical character—he parallels Díaz’s immigration to the United States at a young age, and Díaz drew on many other details from his own life to characterize Yunior’s adolescence. In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Díaz gives us the same Yunior, but more grown-up. In an interview with Tiphanie Yanique, Díaz says he used Yunior as a narrator because Oscar’s story needed an indirect approach. Even though Yunior participates in action, the book does not deal with many of his issues because the story is not necessarily about him.

The novel has been described as a bildungsroman, or a coming of age story. However, it is more than just a story of Oscar's journey into adulthood. The novel explores the rich history of the Dominican Republic and its diaspora by detailing the curse that has plagued Oscar’s family for three generations. The book focuses on Oscar’s quest for love and sex, and more deeply, his quest to find somewhere he feels at home. Lola and Belicia are on a similar quest for a place where they feel comfortable, thus raising the larger question of where does an immigrant call home? Through Oscar’s story, the narrator delves into the history of the Cabral/de Leóns, exposing the many ways in which the curse of the new world has manifested itself so deeply that it travels with the family from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey and back again.