The tyrannical rule of Trujillo wreaked havoc on the lives of the citizens in the Dominican Republic and set a precedent of male superiority. The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz takes place in a deleterious atmosphere of patriarchy and emphasizes the disconnect between the female and male Latino identity. This disconnect extends to and is emphasized with sexuality. Cultural expectations of both men and women, which are detrimental to society as a whole, are highlighted throughout this book.
The main character, whom is the common thread, is Oscar. Oscar is a Dominican male, this aspect of his identity is portrayed as the most pressing matter in his life. A Dominican male or female is expected to act in a certain way, and when this expectation isn’t fulfilled, that male risks punishment by being outcasted. Being a Dominican male means being a player and abusing their power while being a Dominican female means accepting that men hold the power. This strict societal schema gave Oscar an intense pressure that chipped away at his mental health and drove him to a complete meltdown. The feelings of inadequacy often lead Oscar to withdraw from society, even his sister, whom he had an intimate and essential relationship with.
Oscar knew early on that he had “no kind of father to show him the masculine ropes” (Diaz 15) and that “he simply lacked all aggressive and male tendencies.” (Diaz 15). He was well aware that he had no positive mentor in his life, let alone a masculine figure. His mother was far from a good source of judgement, but she was someone who could show him how to climb the Dominican social hierarchy and fail. His relationship with his mother, which will be elaborated later on in the essay, lead him to failure time and time again.
The absence of his father left trails of emotional mayhem from his early pubescence on. His desperation and emptiness was so evident that most people would take his gentleness for misery and lack of character. The brutality of his social rejection was displayed by the daily pace of life, as daily events such as “walking into school every day like the fat lonely nerdy kid he was, and… think(ing)… about was the day of his manumission, when he would at last be set free from his unending horror.”(Diaz 22) was enough to suggest that Oscar alone and secluded. The world of girls and social interaction was elusive, which amplified his craving for attention from the other gender. He had been in his own fantasy world for so long he no longer belonged to this world.
Throughout the book Oscar’s appearance was described as nerdy and disconnected from his life, which was so painful he seeked refuge in his fantasy books and games. In his mind he wasn’t good enough for his Dominican heritage, he was never going to get a woman and he was never going to fit in. He lives in a fantasy world created by books and the characters in them. In the beginning, Oscar is described as a young boy chasing all the girls around. This behavior Oscar exhibited was not only encouraged by his peers, it was expected. Eventually his fate caught up with him and ripped his masculinity form him. He would rather be a fragment of a page from a novel or a character in Dungeons and Dragons.
The prominence of Dominican culture reflects in the “fuku” inflicted on Abelard when Trujillo used his power as a strong male character to take anything he wants, especially girls, like every male in the D.R. If someone was to challenge or defy the order, social pressure and grim circumstances would arise. Oscar thinks about his family’s “fuku” in a counterproductive and unpleasant way due to his family’s history. From a young age, Oscar’s grandma convinced him how only bad things happen to their family. After Abelard’s wife gets hit by a truck, and all his daughters die except one, and the curse seems realistic. This “fuku” left Beli, his illegitimate daughter alone making her find her own way in the world.
Oscar, spends his whole life trying to fit in. He could never find his place amongst his own culture or even his community. Once he finally felt like he was a part of his culture with Ybon ( a prostitute dating a man in trujillos police), everything was ripped away from him. There was a recurring theme that showed Oscar to stay at the bottom of the social dominance hierarchy Oscar tried to be true to his identity, which lead to his social rejection and failure; he tried to climb up with Ybon, which lead to his demise. Oscar goes through major phases of depression brought on by plentiful expectations of his social circle and his repeated failures in his life due to these pressures. Oscar had a short life and unfortunately it was spent trying to convince himself, his family and peers that he was good enough. He was good enough, but he wanted to be Dominican enough.
Oscar knew he was different. He didn’t belong in society and he don’t even belong in his family. His sister lola was beautiful and independent while he was awkward and fat. Oscar is trying to thrive in a society of “ten million trujillo’s” when he’s more than looks and power. (Diaz 43). In one of Oscar’s depressed state, “He cried often for his love of some girl or another. He cried in the bathroom where no one else could hear him.” (Diaz 25) He had to repress all those feelings. Lola, tried to push him throughout the book to be his true self; to be better. He could never get past his issues with women.
Throughout the book, Oscar transitions in and out of stages of grief. Oscar took up writing, usually romance including real girls, which was a great outlet to express his emotions he had been holding in so tightly. Oscar finally “falls in love” for the first time with the girl in his SAT prep class. Her name is Ana and hse has an older abusive boyfriend. He started to act more Dominican around her. Oscar even had a bit of a confidence now with a girl in his life. When she rejects him, he feels lost again. The nice guy lost. In typical dominican fashion, the girl falls for the strong but abusive male. Oscar was a nice guy, and in a Dominican culture, female attention was deterred by sympathy.
In his first year of college, his depression cycled again. He returned to being fat, dormant, and reclusive. Oscar started to feel like he was back in high school again all alone. After high school Oscar meets Yunior, the narrator of the book, who says he will change his life. Yunior is the Dominican male oscar has always wanted to be. Yunior is oscars foil because oscar will never be as “Dominican” as Yunior and yunior will never be as kind as Oscar. Yunior would be an unattainable model for Dominican manlihood, and in contrast, Oscar felt at an all time low.
Even though Yunior was deprived from true intimacy and love, Oscar felt miserable and made ‘Dominican-ness’ his sole measure for happiness. Oscar’s depression peaked whenever he adopted this measure as his sole purpose. Oscar had one thing in common with everyone; he needed to feel and be loved. No matter how hard he buried the intensity of this feeling, his misdirection was self-evident. When Oscar finds out that Yunior is going to be staying in a different apartment, he feels abandoned. With abandoning situations like this and with serious social failures, his suicide attempts followed.
Oscar couldn’t escape the Dominican lifestyle and expectations throughout his life. He was stuck in a pitiful life of shame. “No girls who loved him. No girls anywhere in his life?” (Diaz 268). It seemed like the more he tried to fall in love the more he hated himself. “Some mornings he would wake up and not be able to get out of bed. Like he head a ten-ton weight on his chest.” (Diaz 268). At times he thought his lack of male guidance was a scapegoat for his failure and that he was biologically incapable of getting any female affection, friendship, or respect from his peers.
When Oscar meets Ybon ( a prostitute dating a man on the police), his life is altered in a remarkable manner. He believed he had found real love with her. This lead him to start a primarily sexual relationship with a woman who he knew was dating a dangerous man. The risks Oscar took showed the extent to which his mental deterioration pushed him to seeking love. Oscar’s last days of his life were ones that summed up his entire life.
Oscar’s last days felt like a bittersweet victory, as he had finally reached his goal. Oscar finally felt love and became familiar with the feeling. For the first time since his childhood, he could pass as a respectable individual and as a Dominican man. Oscar dies a very cruel death in the cane fields, but in his eyes he doesn’t die in vain. He died in pursuing the acceptance of his peers, an extrinsic motive while finding love, an intrinsic and strong drive that haunted him in a chronic manner.
Oscar was dying being the Dominican man he always wanted to become to prove his masculinity, and lastly he was dying for the sake of true love which in the end is all Oscar truly wanted. Oscar gave his entire life trying to be the true Dominican man.