Overcoming Trauma: Lola’s Life and Experiences
In the novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, the character Lola experiences a traumatic event that changes the way she perceives herself in a strict Dominican society. At a young age, Lola discovers a tumor in her mother’s breast, signifying that her mother, Beli, has breast cancer. This realization of death alters Lola’s perception of life by forcing her to become the person she has always wanted to be and live the life closest to her dreams. Thus, this experience starts her journey of self-discovery. The novel presents Lola as a figure who learns to protect herself from the painful experiences in life through her unyielding determination to change herself. From embracing the scary changes in her life and using these changes to create a better self, Diaz uses Lola as a character who motivates contemporary readers to take charge of their own life regardless of the negative experiences they have faced. Lola is a symbol of positive change. Through her mixed emotions of fear and hate towards her mother, the lingering feeling inside of her which forces her to change, and her inability to let go of her desire to become a better version of herself, Lola teaches middle class North Americans that it is possible to overcome one’s deepest scars to create the life you want.
Lola’s determination to change her life comes from her problematic relationship with her mother, Beli. Throughout her childhood, Lola was unable to express her true self due to her mother having specific views of the way a daughter should be in a Dominican home. This is explained when Lola says, “from the ages two to thirteen… I was the one cooking, cleaning, doing the wash… writing letters to the bank… I had the best grades in my class. I never caused trouble… I stayed home and made sure Oscar was fed and that everything ran right… I raised him and I raised me” (Diaz 56). From doing countless chores and taking care of her brother, Oscar, Lola did not have a normal childhood where she could play with her friends or learn more about herself since she was too busy trying to be a good daughter. Lola was forced to be her mother’s “perfect hija” (Diaz 56) meaning the perfect child, because in her mother’s eyes, “that’s what you’re supposed to be doing” (Diaz 56). As a result of all this pressure, Lola grew up to have mixed emotions towards Beli. Now, Lola both fears and hates her for all the physical and emotional pain she has put her through. However, Lola chooses to use this pain to motivate her into becoming a stronger person. This is shown when Lola says, “she dug hard, looking for my seams, wanting me to tear like always, but I didn’t weaken, I wasn’t going to” (Diaz 60). Beli constantly tries to tear Lola away from her dreams by forcing her to be the perfect Dominican daughter in which Lola is unable to do what she wants such as cut her hair short or dress like “a punk chick” (Diaz 54). Since Lola has felt enough pain from her past, she forces herself to not give in to her mother’s demands and strive to be the person she always wanted to be. For Lola, this process of change is not easy due to her innate fear of her mother. This fear is expressed when Lola explains how she feels when she first leaves home. “The next morning I was on the bus bound for the Shore… I was so scared. I couldn’t stop shaking. The whole ride down I was expecting the sky to split open and my mother to reach down and shake me” (Diaz 63). Even though Lola feels fear, she does not let this emotion hold her back from moving forward. The complicated feelings Lola has towards Beli motivates her to change her life situation.
The lingering feeling inside of Lola forces her to change the way she sees herself and the world she lives in. When Lola feels the knot in her mother’s chest, her perspective on life immediately changes. From this traumatic event, Lola realizes how death can happen to any person and at any time. This realization starts the uncontrollable feeling Lola has towards changing her life. This moment is described by Lola when she says, “a knot just beneath her skin, tight and secretive as a plot. And at that moment, for reasons you will never quite understand, you are overcome by the feeling, the premonition, that something in your life is about to change” (Diaz 53). This premonition that Lola experiences after discovering her mother’s cancer, tells her that change is coming. She does not understand exactly what the feeling is, all she knows is that “it cannot be doubted” (Diaz 53). Lola chooses to use this inevitable change and apply it to the way she views herself. One physical change brought about by this feeling is described when Lola says, “one day I was walking home with Karen Cepeda… and out of nowhere I said, Karen, I want you to cut my hair. As soon as I said it I knew. The feeling in my blood, the rattle, came over me again” (Diaz 58). With this lingering feeling inside Lola, she decides to change the way she looks by cutting her hair. Lola undergoes many physical and emotional changes throughout her life due to this dominating feeling. Even though some of these changes are negative like Lola being miserable while living with her first boyfriend, Aldo, ultimately, each change brings Lola closer to understanding the life that she wants. From these experiences, Lola learns more about herself and what she deserves which allows her to be the person she wants to be and live the life she desires.
Lola’s inability to let go of her desire to become a better person allows her to change into the person she has always wanted to be. In the beginning of her life, Lola was not her true self. This is shown when Lola says, “I looked at the girl in the mirror for a long time. All I knew was that I didn’t want to see her ever again” (Diaz 59). Whenever Lola looked at her reflection, she felt as if who she was did not match up with her ideal self since she was not in full control of herself. This lack of control was a result of her inability to escape her mother’s perception of how a perfect hija should look like and behave. However, since Lola is unable to get rid of her longing to be a better version of herself, she forces herself to go through many physical and emotional changes. These changes include moving to Santo Domingo, getting into a serious relationship with Max Sanchez, and letting her friend, Rosio, dress her up like a ““real Dominican girl”” (Diaz 71). These situations created from Lola’s dedication to finding her true self, allows her to discover the person she wants to be. It is in Santo Domingo where Lola realizes that she is finally happy. Furthermore, through these life changing experiences, Lola learns an important lesson. She explains this lesson when she says, “if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in” (Diaz 209). Ultimately, Lola realizes that in order to become a better person and finally feel free from the pain of her past, she must look inside herself to understand her own wants and needs. Due to these changes caused by her willingness to be a different person, Lola is able to see the world in a different and promising way.
In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the character Lola symbolizes positive change through her journey of self-discovery. From Lola’s traumatic experience faced with her mother, she learns that living a life true to oneself is what’s most important. Through Lola’s difficult relationship with her mother, she learns how to be a stronger person. Similarly, due to the lingering feeling inside of Lola that would never go away, she is able to physically change the way she looks like and how she behaves. Furthermore, because of her inability to let go of her ideal self, Lola transforms into the version of herself that she has always desired. Overall, Lola is a figure who overcomes a rough experience in a positive way. She uses the pain from her past to help her see a brighter future for herself in which she has full control. Diaz uses Lola as a character who motivates middle class North American readers to change their lives for the better. Since Lola faces many emotional scars throughout her life, contemporary readers can understand and relate to her character because they too have faced a challenging experience. Lola’s role in the novel is important to middle class North American readers because she allows them to see first-hand, an example of someone going through an experience in which they can identify with since Lola herself is a middle class North American. This helps them overcome their own battles in life and changes the way they see themselves in the world. Diaz leaves readers with the impression that if Lola can do it, they can do it too.
Diaz, Junot. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Random House LLC, 2007.
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