The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Masks Unveiled
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz narrates the life of a Dominican-American overweight nerd, Oscar de Leon. As it follows Oscar till his death, it also recounts the experiences of living under Trujillo’s dictatorship. However, what also takes the shape of a dictator is the narrator of the novel, Yunior de la Casas, Oscar’s college roommate. As he creates the identity of the Dominican diaspora through many of the characters and their stories, it makes it nearly impossible for Oscar to contend to it.. Nevertheless, it is through his narration that clues readers to believe that this identity becomes unclear to Yunior himself. As the narrator, the death of Oscar Wao becomes inevitable as it is used to protect the true identity of Yunior that otherwise would have been threatened should his life had continued. With Oscar’s death, Yunior’s secret dies with him.
The Dominican-American diaspora identity is first noted on the very first page of chapter one, of course as it compares to the lack thereof it from Oscar’s part. Yunior writes, “And except for one period early in his life, dude never had much luck with the females (how very un-Dominican of him)” (Diaz, 11). As it continues, “…it had become clear to everybody, especially his family, that he’d become the neighborhood pariguayo. 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, 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, 19-20). Throughout the novel, the identity of the typical Dominican man becomes clear that it is one of a machismo no less. It is also an expectation that family and friends anticipate a male to meet. As the novel goes, it recounts the countless cheating scandals, children almost born out of wedlock and the violence that transpired under Trujillo’s dictatorship. As a result, it uses stories of Oscar Wao to depict his failed duty as a Dominican man.
In a peer-reviewed article, Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Life Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” as Foundational Romance, written by Elena Machado Saez, Saez analyzes the novel to support her argument that with Yunior as narrator, the novel “establishes a link between storytelling and dictatorship” (Saez, 527). In addition, she takes a stance that there is a fear of otherness that stems from Yunior’s romantic feelings with Oscar. Saez writes, “Oscar’s sentimentality and sexuality frustrate Yunior’s narrative and become prominent themes within the narrator’s descriptions of Oscar. The sentimentality that contributes to Oscar’s inauthenticity as a Dominican male is intimately connected to his thwarted heterosexuality. Unable to find a willing partner with whom to engage in sex, Oscar’s virginity delegitimizes his masculinity and his identity. (Saez, 535). The idea of sentimentality is highly rejected with heterosexuality. Yunior recounts when Oscar once cried over Maritza, his mother said, “Tú ta llorando por una muchacha? She hauled Oscar to his feet by his ear…She threw him to the floor. Dale un galletazo, she panted, then see if the little puta respects you” (Diaz, 14). The ideology that some kind of violence must exist in an heterosexual relationship was quite common as it relates to the power dynamic of genders. Nevertheless, this is exactly why Beli uses it to “console” her son.
In addition to Oscar’s highly uncontrollable emotions for women, Saez also introduces the idea that his virginity was also a “product of his sentimentality, and together these factors invalidate his claim to Dominican masculine identity” (Saez, 537). Yunior notes, “…when it came to the mujeres my roommate was like no one on the planet. On the one hand, he had the worst case of no-toto-itis I’d ever seen” (Diaz, 173). Nonetheless, as predicted for any dictator, it is Yunior’s personal agenda to serve as a zafa for Oscar that causes him to end the novel with Oscar’s confession of his succession with long awaited sexual intimacy. As readers, we take a great deal of pride that despite the tough road Oscar endured, he regardless triumphs the fuku that had shadowed over his family and himself.
It is this very same agenda that speaks volumes on Yunior’s own matters that otherwise would clash with the identity of the Domincan diaspora that is so plainly described throughout the text. Saez points out, “Yunior is ‘the Higher Power’ who inserts Ybón into the story as a ‘last-ditch attempt to put [Oscar] back on the proper path of Dominican male-itude.’ How Yunior explains things, how he chooses the Truth he will tell, is shaped by his own agenda. His involvement in Project Oscar has more to do with his own issues with sexuality, especially as his infidelity and addiction to sex become tied to the political context of the Dominican nation. Through Yunior, the personal becomes political” (Diaz, 541). What confuses Yunior is what becomes rather clear to the readers. As he wonders why he cannot be faithful to the one woman he desires, Lola, the idea of hypersexuality begins to reveal itself as mask for perhaps homosexuality. Yunior recalls the conversation he had with Oscar,
“She loves you.
I know that.
Why do you cheat on her, then?
If I knew that, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Maybe you should try to find out” (Diaz, 313).
It is due to Yunior’s indenial and fear of being outcasted from the “Dominican male-itude” as Saez puts it, that causes him to not to admit the possiblity of unsatisfaction of woman and sex. The fear of this originates in how he sees Oscar is treated due to his queerness ways. Scared of being labeled as an Other, he keeps confusion with his sexuality to himself. Therefore, he continues to search for a glimpse of completeness in other woman through infidelity, unbeknown to him that he will never find it for as long as he does not commit himself to his true self.
The question also surfaces behind why Yunior was so envious of Oscar once he began to pull girls that Yunior claimed he so desperately wanted him to do. Yunior writes, “Oh, but you should have seen the O. He was like I’d never seen him, love the transformer…I should have been happy for the Wao. I mean honestly, who was I to begrudge Oscar a little action? Me who was fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped at the parties and the clubs; me who had pussy coming out of my ears? But of course I begrudged the motherfucker” (Diaz, 185). These are the subtle hints that scholars such as Saez, suggests there is some sort of jealousy due to the intimate feelings Yunior had towards Oscar. Yunior himself also faces some confusion behind why he feels the way he does towards Oscar.
The mask that circulates the novel takes root in many forms, mostly surrounding Yunior de la Casas. As he hides behind narrator, dictator, zafa, sex addict and friend, he is able to conceal his own secrets with his sexuality by diving into it of Oscar. This notion can be supported by another one of Yunior’s subtle hints, a short statement made by Lola to Yunior. She claims, “Ten million Trujillos is all we are” (Diaz, 324). As Yunior poses the novel to be about the struggles of Oscar belonging to the Domincan diaspora identity, it in fact frames the narrative of how Yunior sees himself in the same predicament. This is the power of storytelling that Yunior used to his advantage. However, as it goes without saying, the narrative represented more about Yunior than it did about Oscar.
- Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books, 2008.
- Saez, Elena Machado. “Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Díaz’s ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ as Foundational Romance.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 52, no. 3, 2011, pp. 522–555. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41472506.
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