The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a novel written by Junot Diaz, which deals with the romantic quest of its protagonist Oscar, a Dominican immigrant living in the US. The story is strewn with a multitude of themes like racism, otherness, autocracy, violence, sex obsession, and Dominic Diaspora. This essay is an attempt to explore the theme of gender roles as depicted by the story, and analyze how the different characters of the story are affected by the gender stereotyping of the society.
Junot Diaz, first burst into the literary scene, with his short story collection titled ‘Drown’ in the year 1996. The collection garnered rave reviews, but Diaz disappeared for almost a decade before coming up with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2007. It is widely believed that Yunior’s character, which appears in both the collection and the main narrator of Oscar Wao, is modeled on Diaz himself. Diaz was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year 2008 for this novel, and it received many positive reviews.
The novel is about Oscar Wao, a Dominican immigrant living in Paterson, New Jersey. He is an obese, fantasy loving, lonely boy, who has trouble finding romance in his life. The story goes on to show his quest for finding love and the rejections he suffers in the process. Oscar’s story is balanced by glances at his home country Dominican Republic, and its political turmoil under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.
“Had none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a girl if his life depended on it.”
Throughout the narration, it is difficult to pinpoint from where the curse of the family derives from whether cosmic or personal. Oscar does not help his cause by blaming his inability to get in relationships on his obesity, when the real problem is his obsession with the nice guy syndrome and the shell he creates around himself, through his dedication to nerd-dom. However, the stereotypes prevalent in the society about a Dominican male further accentuate the otherness of Oscar.
If Oscar is polar opposite, of the image society has about a Dominican male, Yunior embodies all the stereotypes associated with his gender. He is attractive, a repentant playboy, and has the ability to attract women. He has a multitude of girl friends and is hyper masculine in a Dominican way. He is big, well built, and a person who cares for nothing or anyone, at least that’s what he thinks about himself.
“Me, a guy who could bench 340 pounds, who used to call Demarest Homo Hall like it was nothing. Who never met a little white artist freak he didn’t want to smack around”
Yunior is Oscar’s roommate and best friend, and for a while has a romantic relationship with his sister, Lola. He has a lot of friends, as he is more accepted in the society because he conforms to the image the society has about a Latino man. On, the other hand Oscar is avoided by most people, simply because he is different. He is a doubly marginalized figure, as he neither fits the group of immigrants because of his otherness nor to the White society because of his ethnicity.
Yunior tries to help Oscar in his quest for love, and all his advices are basically aimed at one thing, transforming Oscar’s personality to align with the stereotypes related with his gender roles.
“Did I try to help him with his girl situation? Share some of my playerly wisdom? Of course I did. Problem was, when it came to the mujeres my roommate was like no one on the planet.”
Yunior has a set of qualities, which he thinks any man of his ethnicity should possess, and he like many other immigrants do not want to step out of their assigned roles.
“But if you thought I was going to do that, then you don’t know Dominican men.”
Yunior is portrayed as a mentor to Oscar, and he explains that it is almost a crime for a Dominican man to be a virgin. Since Oscar did not possess the characteristics, such as physique, looks, aggression, social skills, which are perceived to be common traits of men of Dominican ethnicity, his confidence deteriorates which contributes to his continual failure in love.
Machismo, which is considered as an integral part of the Domino culture, contributes to the trivialization and abuse of women, in the Dominican society and families. Women are seen by this culture, as possessions rather than human beings, who are used and discarded. The plights of Oscar’s mother and sister throw light on the unfair nature of the gender roles in a Dominican society.
Both Lola and Beli are physically and emotionally abused. Beli as a young girl of nine is subjected to abuse and she bears scars in her body caused by hot oil thrown at her back. She is treated as a social outcast during her earlier years in school and is made fun of. Only when she physically transforms into an attractive woman in her teen years, Jack Pujols, a boy on whom she has a crush, takes notice of her. When she is married her husband ditches her after three years, and she has to take care of her children alone. This depicts how women are seen as sexual objects and nothing more.
Many girls Oscar meets in the novel have some sort of encounter with physical abuse. For example, Ana Obregón, whom Oscar meets in senior year of the high school, is regularly beaten up by her boyfriend, Manny, and Ybón Pimentel, the prostitute Oscar meets in Dominican Republic, has her life controlled by the Captain.
Familial relationships too are strained by the gender roles imposed on women. Lola has a troubled relationship with her over protective Dominican mother. In the old world Dominican culture, a daughter has to completely surrender to the will of her parents.
“What it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave”
This dispute between them affects not just their lives, but also Oscar’s. She cooked, looked after the house, bought groceries and did everything in a young age, when her mother was out working on her job. She felt crushed under the heels of her mother and utterly hated the way she lives.
Lola at one point of time literally runs away from home. She is forced to play mother to Oscar, and is subjected to the whims of her mother against her wishes, often at the cost of her own dreams. She too is sexually exploited on many stages of her life. She is raped by a neighbor at the age of eight, and Yunior, who is the typical Dominican guy proud of his many affairs, cheats on her one times too many which ends their relationship. .
The atrocities committed against the women under the autocratic rule of Trujillo, are well documented in the novel. When Beli, antagonizes the Trujillo family she is subjected to physical violence. Abelard, Beli’s father is imprisoned because he would not allow Trujillo to have his oldest daughter, and as a result the entire family is torn apart. Trujillo is also portrayed as having sexual desire for young girls, and forcing many families to give away their daughters for his sexual pleasure.
Thus, we see throughout the novel the characters’ lives are dictated by their gender roles. While a man from Dominican Republic is expected to be a hit with the ladies and a play boy, a woman is expected to be a sexual object. When the characters differ from this accepted role, their lives are thrown off balance. While, some like Lola handle the situation better, some other characters like Oscar, fail miserably.
Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. 2007. Web. 20 April 2014.
Ermelino, Louisa. "The World According to Yunior." Publishers Weekly Vol. 259, Issue 39, (2012): 16-17. Web.