The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: a Specific And Interesting Novel
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Brutal Narrative or another Fairy Tale?
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, is, not coincidentally, a novel which follows the life of a boy named Oscar Wao, his family, and best friend (who is also the narrator). Throughout the story, the narrator details how Oscar and his family transform into their older, adapted selves, and how a Dominican curse called fukú deeply affects (or so they think) the outcome of many of the events that transpire throughout each of their lives. Taken at face value, TBWLOOW can be seen as the story of an overweight, nerdy boy living a particularly odd life in a society driven by sex and the oppression of a man with the power of “fukú.” However, Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, contends there are underlying common themes that enables novels to appeal to a broader audience, and rightly so. Arguably the most prevalent underlying theme in TBWLOOW is the use of fairy tales and children’s’ literature, which Foster delineates in his novel in the chapter titled “Hanseldee and Greteldum.” The three shining examples of this theme are the Peter Pan; refusing to mature while also having a girl nurturer, the Snow White; a foul woman who delivers death to an “innocent,” but is rescued by a hero of sorts, and the Wizard of Oz; entering a world that follows dissimilar rules and works aberrantly.
Peter Pan, the boy who never matured on his adventures throughout the small island of Neverland and who had a nurturing mother that wanted only the best for him, is a prevalent character in TBWLOOW whether the reader realizes it or not. That character’s name is Oscar Wao; the boy content living his early life inside his bedroom with only his nerdy distractions to keep him comfort. The Dominican boy afraid of change, of not living up to expectations, and of being hurt by the nefarious real-world; whose sister looked after him in his teenage years when their abusive mother would not. One can easily understand why Oscar chooses to stow away inside his house with his creatures comforts, considering all the heartbreak and rejection he has endured as a child. The narrator mentions a shining example of this immaturity in the first chapter: “One of those nerds who was always hiding out in the library, who adored Tolkien and later the Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman novels (his favorite character was of course Raistlin), and who, as the eighties marched on, developed a growing obsession with the End of the World” (Díaz 23). This is but a glimpse at the many manias Oscar has throughout his childhood and even adult life. For Oscar to survive childhood, he needs the sage guidance and nurturing from his sister, Lola. Advice such as, “Cut the hair, lose the glasses, exercise. And get rid of those porn magazines. They’re disgusting, they bother Mami, and they’ll never get you a date” (Díaz 25). Lola is invariably there for Oscar when things are awry, like the time he stands in front of a guy’s house with a Colt .44 and Lola makes him promise he’ll never pull anything like that again. Clearly, Díaz envisions Oscar as Peter Pan while crafting this tale, or possibly, the two stories became synonymous with each other in the recesses of his mind. As Thomas Foster said, it is possible the author unintentionally included these masked themes as a side effect of being well read and so subconsciously continues the stories he has been reading his whole life. It is also very likely Junot Díaz wanted to make the unfamiliar and bizarre territory of his novel more familiar and relatable to the reader. Being capable of inadvertently connecting the dots between an already understood story and new literature allows the reader to follow along and appreciate the story set forth by the author.
The tale of Snow White is one of an evil woman ridden with jealousy and of a prince set on saving a woman he loves. Again, it is hard to ignore the similarities between the narrative of Snow White and Beli, Lola and Oscar’s mom, as she advances through her teenage years. In the story of Beli, the Gangster’s wife embodies the characteristics of the evil woman in Snow White. The gangster’s wife threatens Beli, “These two very large and capable officers are going to take you to a doctor, and after he’s cleaned out that toto podrido of yours there won’t be any baby left to talk about,” (Díaz 141). The wife ruins Beli more than that, though; she has those two officers beat her senseless in a cane field, too. “How she survived I’ll never know. They beat her like she was a slave. Like she was a dog,” (Díaz 147). Now for the prince in this peculiar take on the story of Snow White; a merengue band that just happens to be driving near the cane fields, or more specifically, the lead singer; an “accidental prince” of sorts. Without the kindness of the lead singer, Beli most certainly would have died alone on the outskirts of a cane field. Again, without Junot’s frequent violence and intricately woven Dominican storyline, his novel would be yet another generic fairy tale. However, without the fantasy aspects such as Snow White, the witch, and the prince, the reader would be left reading a incredibly grotesque tale of a woman cursed with affliction and be left wondering: why? The prince gives the reader hope and reason to continue the story, and reminds them the literature is not exactly founded on unfamiliar grounds.
The Wizard of Oz is the final fairy tale theme from which TBWLOOW takes many cues from throughout the story. It is hard to pinpoint an exact point in which this theme is implied, because it is apparent throughout the whole novel. From the moment the story starts, Díaz paints a picture for the reader of a society driven by a catastrophic, wicked force known as fúku and a ridiculous amount of Dominican sex. “Fúku americanus, or more colloquially, fúku-generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World,” (Díaz 1). Díaz explains in the early chapters of TBWLOOW the many instances in which fúku supposedly affects historical events, such as the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Hurricanes, and the list goes on. The emphasis on sexual intercourse and the libido of Dominicans never lets up throughout the story of Oscar’s brief life. From the moment Oscar was in elementary school, till the time he entered college, he is obsessed with the idea of losing his virginity and becoming a true Dominican. His sister, Lola, lives her life almost the opposite of Oscar. Instead of worrying about being a “true Dominican,” the coition is more or less forced upon her, especially with the desirable “assets” she was blessed with early on. “One thing you can count on in Santo Domingo. Not the lights, not the law. Sex. That never goes away” (Díaz 206). One would be hard-pressed to argue that a society powered by such abstract and anomalous ideas is a “normal” one. Díaz certainly crafted a “Wizard of Oz society” of sorts, which lends a hand to the already prevalent fairy tale theme in his novel. This idea also helps the reader comprehend why the lives of those in TBWLOOW are so unfortunate and bizarre compared to other individuals. Another positive aspect of including Wizard of Oz themes is the ability to provoke the reader’s mind to contemplate the characteristics of the various personas in TBWLOOW. Both stories emphasized peace has to be found in oneself, which in TBWLOOW’s case, assisted the reader in better comprehending the characters and their purpose in facilitating the individual aspect of the novel’s theme.
After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, one might discover they read an oddly satisfying tale of an eccentric Dominican boy and the people he cares about the most. Why is this story so highly acclaimed with all of its quirks and abnormalities though? Well upon analyzing the characters and their personal traits, it is easy to see how TBWLOOW is really just an extension of stories many readers encounter their whole lives: fairy tales. This small, or sometimes large, hidden theme can often times make or break a book. The furtiveness of a novel’s underlying, simplistic theme allows for the execution of a somehow familiar, but gratifyingly divergent story. The reader is not always conscious of what draws them into the book, but that uncertain allure is what allows literature to advance along its course of infinite possibilities. TBWLOOW perfectly executes this abstraction using old fairy tales such as the stories of Peter Pan, Snow White, and the Wizard of Oz. Although the reader is unaware, the familiarity of these tales weave through the background of Oscar’s story and speak to us like an old friend.
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