Essay 2 Final Draft
The issue of gender roles is one of the central themes of this novel. All the main characters of the novel spend their whole lives trying to conform to the standards of masculinity and femininity expected of them by the society. The inability of the main character of the book to meet the expected stereotypical roles not only causes themit personal turmoil but also makes theirits social life miserable. They try tointo fit in the ascribed gender roles of their Dominican culture, but are simply incapable of doing that. However, the society does not understand their incapability and makes them pay for their nonconformity. It is not unusual given that societies, throughout history, always exhibited this behavior whenever something does not fit into its norm.
The highly masculine society of Dominican culture does overwhelm the female character of the novel. Lola described the stereotype of a Dominican female as, “what it’s like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave.” (Diaz 47) The Dominican culture is a highly male dominant society in which women are often abused physically and sexually, and they are expected to simply obey no matter what Testosterone filled Dominican culture treats woman no better than an object and the stereotypical role of a female in that culture is a little more than her objectification and submission. This gender role did make the lead female characters of the novel rebellious to the expected standards of the society, and on more than one occasion they intentionally behaved in a non-conforming way, and on other occasions they tried to be submissive but to no avail. For example, Lola is controlled by her mother, as it is an expected function of most parents in Dominican culture.
The truth is, both Lola and Beli find it extremely hard to follow such a submissive stereotype of femininity because they were dominantstrong women by disposition, and their independent nature made it extremely difficult for them to behave in the way of a typical Dominican female. The narrator of the story, Yunior, comments on the independent spirit of Lola in the following words, “:
Oscar’s sister, Lola, was a lot more practical she’d turned into one of those tough Jersey Dominicans, a long-distance runner who drove her own car, had her own check-book, called men bitches, and would eat a fat cat in front of you without a speck of vergüenza.”. (Diaz 25)
Lola’s lack of submission to the male dominant society was also quite evident from her dialogues throughout the story, e.g. “If a boy hit me, Lola said cockily, I would bite his face.””. (Diaz 22) This lack of conformity on the part of the female characters causedcosted them dearly in life. They were unable to maintain a stable relationship with men and their efforts to be in a normal relationship mostly ended in futility. It shows how difficult it is for an independent and non-submissive woman to live in a male dominant culture. However, the fact that Lola does find love is perhaps an illustration of what the author wants for non-submissive Dominican women,
The male characters of the story are not much different with regards to following the standards of the gender stereotypes of the Dominican Republic than their female counterparts. In Dominican culture males are expected to be oozing their masculinity, and have a rough and aggressive attitude. To quote Yunior, “[The demeanor is perhaps acquired in the process of growing up, watching the male dominance over women. To quote Yunior:
[Oscar] had none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn't have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn't play sports for shit, or dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, and threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most damning of all: no looks.”. (Diaz 23)
The most significant characteristics of a Dominican male, described by the author in the book are his strong sexuality, his extreme machismo attitude, physical attractiveness, and somewhat violent nature. To clearly define the masculine stereotype of Dominican culture, Diaz used the contrasting technique. He creates the character of Oscar Wao who is, in all respects, a complete opposite to the expected standards of Dominican masculinity. Yunior portrayed Oscar as a complete antithesis of the stereotypical Dominican male. Such stark deviation of Oscar from the stereotype of Dominican masculinity makes this easier for Diaz’s readers to comprehend the idea of extreme machismo attitude and oozing masculinity of the Dominican Republic.
The gender roles of Dominican society expect from their males to have some kind of playboy attitude, and to have a lot of relationships with women. But, our hero, Oscar, is a complete failure as far as girls are concerned. In the words of Yunior, “:
Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about—he wasn’t no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock. And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him).”). (Diaz 17)
The last comment “how very un-Dominican of him” is very revealing; it shows that the playboy personality is at the very core of a stereotypical Dominican male. A Dominican male is expected to express his sexuality as dominantly and as frequently as possible. Since our hero is unable to do so, he becomes a laughing stock for the people.
In addition to this, physical attractiveness is another essential part of the expected standards of masculinity in the Dominican culture. Unfortunately, our hero lacked in physical attractiveness as well. It was stated on page 22 of the book, “sophomore year Oscar found himself weighing in at a whopping 245”. (Diaz 22) Oscar’s looks, and the way he presents himself added into his problems. His physical looks are a great hurdle in his way to live up to the standards of the Dominican society. This obesity drives him even further away from the expectations of the society, making it even more difficult for our hero to fit in. In a simple word, Oscar is non-Dominican.
Furthermore, to be a real man in Dominican society a male has to depict an aggressive and rough attitude. Diaz makes the character of Oscar lack even this attribute of Dominican masculinity. It is mentioned on page 19, “It wasn’t just that he didn’t have no kind of father to show him the masculine ropes, he simply lacked all aggressive and martial tendencies Oscar had like a zero combat rating; Aggression and intimidation out of the question.”(.” (Diaz 19) Oscar is unable to display aggression and he is unable to treat women abusively. It is not that he just dislikes being aggressive; he is unable to conduct himself in this manner. So there is no point in expecting from him what he cannot go. The above lines show that our hero is not treading the path of nonconformity as a matter of choice; he is simply incapable of following the gender specific requirement of the Dominican society. Unfortunately, many societies got used to viewing men in terms of aggression or passivity, and ignore the individual preferences.
Consequently, the inability of our hero to conform to the Dominican standards of masculinity made his social life miserable. The following sentence depicts Oscar’s own feelings about how it feels to be an outsider among your own people, “Sucks to be left out of adolescence, sort of like getting locked in a closet on Venus when the sun appears for the first time in a hundred years.”(Diaz 22) Through Oscar’s character, Diaz doesn't only give us a picture of Dominican masculinity, but also telling us what happen to the people who fail to fit in. It is an expression of internal turmoil and pain Oscar had to go through only because he could not behave as other expected him to behave.
Diaz, J. (2007). The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.