Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, is a short story about a lonely, overweight, sci-fi nerd named Oscar Wao who comes from a family of immigrants from the Domincan Republic. Throughout the novel, Oscar attempts to find love and find his own identity but never does within his community. He blames the fuku which we learn through flashbacks of Beli, his moms. life and his grandpa's life. We also get a glimpse of Lola, Oscars sister, life. In Diaz portrayal of the characters Oscar, Lola and Beli, we are able to see the patriarchy society deeply ingrained in the Domincan Republic culture and the negative effect that results from this.
First, it's important to understand an element of the novel that was brought up very often and that is the “fuku” or what Diaz refers to as the “curse or doom of some kind”(Diaz1). In the beginning of the novel, Diaz mentions the history of the Domincan Republic and believes that “the arrival of the Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fuku on the world”(Diaz).This means that when the colonization of the Domincan Republic began, so did the curse of the “fuku”. When thinking about what colonization really is, it can be seen as a way to conquer, dominate, and control land. Colonization could be a representation of the Domincan Republic trying to conquer, dominate, and control women. This patriarchy could be seen as a curse due to all the negative effects it has on some characters. When mentioning the history of the Domincan Republic and the fuku as well, this can demonstrate the deep-rooted patriary structure that's clearly evident in the Domincan culture.
Throughout the novel, we are able to see Oscar struggle in this patriarchal society. Based on the history and the dictatorship of Trujillo, the idea of a “machismo” in the DR is accompanied with someone who not only is powerful but abusive towards women. We see this with Oscars friend Yunior who is also Domincan. He described himself as “a guy who could bench 340 pounds” and who constantly had women around”(Diaz170). Another time we see this domincan stereotype with Belis boyfriends, The Gangster. He was described as having “piimpdaddy style” and who allows Beli to get beaten up when pregnant. (Diaz 121). One more time we see this is with Oscars ex girlfriends Ana and Ybon. They are both abused and mistreated by their boyfriends, yet they don’t leave them, showing the power men have on women. Oscar is always surrounded by these gender expectations that he must fulfill . He is fully aware that he is not a typical Dominalecan male since “couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it...couldn't play sports for shit “.(Diaz19). When college came, Oscar was still struggling with the same issues. College is supposed to be a place to get girls, and serious relationships with serious feelings come after college. Oscar is not able to find a girl to hook up with, let alone love and even his friend Yunior said that “At college you’re not suppose to care about anything- your just suppose to fuck around…”(168 Diaz). He cannot fit in with the people he is supposed to identity with most- his own race. The stereotypes of Dominicans damages all those who do not fall under those stereotypes. Oscars inability to conform into a stereotypical Domincan leads him towards depression and suicide. Oscar is shunned for his differences. He is cast aside from those who fit into the stereotype.
Another time we are able to see societal expectations is through Lola. For a moment in the novel, we are able to see Lola appear weak and belittled due to the abuse and neglect she gets from her mother, Beli. She also talks about the beatings she got, as the boyfriends that bullied her. While she was going through this, the community she lived in did nothing about it since it was a Dominican community in New Jersey. Although Lola does struggle for a time due to these harsh expectations of her, she begins to rebel against all these stereotypes. As we continue reading we learn that Lola is not what is expected of a female because she is athletic, powerful, dressed in all black, and even “shaves her head down to the bone, Sinead-style”(37 Diaz) which can be seen as things men are supposed to do and be. Lola is also a very stubborn and strong girl and we see this through her relationship with Yunior. Lola was the one who “put an end to” (331 Diaz) the relationship instead of letting herself be controlled by a man. She challenged the idea of what a female is in her culture. Lola begins to live in a way that is not accepted by society. In a Domincan’s eyes she is viewed as a disappointment.
Through Beli we are able to see the effect the objection of women has on her. At first, we are able to see Beli stay away from the abuse masculinity when she goes through education. Beli has dreams to become “a doctor with her own hospital”(Diaz 97) but as she grows up she realized that her “desirability...was, in its own way, Power”( Diaz94). Beli uses her sexuality as a weapon against men and to get ahead, even using it to land a job at the Palacio Peking(104-105 Diaz). She also does this with her crush Jack Pujols and with the Gangster. These typical Domincan men view women as purely sexual objects, but Beli did not want to admit this since she believed that using her sexuality as a weapon was her only way out. Soon she realizes that there are consequences for this since she gets pregnant by the Gangster and gets beaten up by his wife in a way “that breaks people...utterly”(14). As a result from this, Beli takes up the aggressive role of a typical Domincan male by abandoning her housework, becoming an “absentee parent” and by scaring her children more than “the dark or el cuco”(54). Beli after escaping to the United States starts “working three jobs” and “slaps grown men”(59). Although her role was more masculine, she still expected her daughter Lola to follow the typical female expectations. The stereotype that has been ingrained into Beli ultimately leads to her abusing Lola emotionally and physically. As usually a male would do, Beli ignores Lolas sexual assault and tells her to “shut her mouth and stop crying (56) What we can see through Beli is that her worith is based only on her ability to attract men.
Through this novel, we are able to see the three characters not only struggle with the effect of the patriarchy but also fight it off. Going back to the fuku, the curse, we see these three characters breaking the curse. Oscar not only doesn’t physically represent a Domincan male but also “spend time gaining “some knowledge of self and women” instead of looking for only sexual desires with women. (Diaz 41). Since he goes against the male norms, he is fighting the fuku curse. Lola also fights against the fuku curse since she goes against the female norms. As she becomes stronger, she is able to overcome the curse since she doesn’t conform to what society wants. We see her overcoming this fuku when she finds happiness with her family of her own. Beli also fights these social norms but not in the way that her kids did. They all experienced the effect of the expectations and stereotypes but Lola and Oscar were the ones who challenged the fuku and overcame those expectations.
To wrap this up, in the novel The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz is able to show us the negative effects that patriarchy system has through Oscar, Lola, and Beli. The fuku plays a big role in representing this male dominant society in this novel in order to show us that as long as the stereotype of gender roles and expectations are present, then they are here to haunt us. Gender issues need to be addressed more since it can lead to negative affects. This novel helps the viewer open up their eyes to this system in order to make a change to these expectations because if not this curse or fuku is us here to haunt us forever. If things don't change, this curse is the “end of the world” , as narrator says.
- Díaz, Junot, 1968-. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York :Riverhead Books, 2007.