The Power of Good and Evil
The Cabrals, like many other Dominican families claim to be “victim[s] of a high-level fukú” (p. 154). They are constantly plagued by bad luck, so frequently, in fact that it does not seem to be just luck, making them helpless to their circumstances. The only explanation is a curse: fukú. By blaming bad luck on super natural energy, magic realism becomes a solution to where the curse may have come from and how the characters can rid themselves of it. In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Juno Díaz, references to Fukú and Zafa, through Galactus and the Mongoose explain power and powerlessness in the Cabral family line.
Right from the beginning of the novel, the idea of power is a contemplated topic within the Epigraph from Fantastic Four. It reads, “Of what import are brief, nameless lives… to Galactus?” (first epigraph). Galactus is a god-like figure that uses his power mercilessly. When applying the epigraph to characters in the book, it can safely be assumed that Trujillo is Galactus, and Oscar is the “brief, nameless” life. By comparing Oscar’s seemingly unproductive life, to that of Trujillo, the man who is “famous for changing all the landmarks in the Dominican Republic to honor himself,” one can’t help but wonder about the worth of Oscar’s life, comparatively (p. 2). The epigraph to the second section of the book reads, “Men are not indispensable. But Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. He is… a cosmic force… Those who try to compare him to his ordinary contemporaries are mistakes. He belongs to … the category of those born to a special destiny” (p. 204). This, too, forces the reader to not only consider Oscar, but all the members of the Cabral family line. They are not as powerful as Galactus. The claims that compare “[Trujillo’s] almost supernatural abilities” to that of a comic book character must also recognize that this is not possible without the component of Magical Realism (p. 3). The novel becomes infused with magical realism when magical qualities are applied to real characters to explain power dynamics.
Because Trujillo may have an unearthly amount of power, humans like those in the Cabral family line cannot claim the ability to combat his influences, forcing them to accept his super natural cursing capabilities – the fukú. The distressed Abelard is the first to understand the situation, exclaiming, “I’m the father of my household! I’m the one who says what goes!” His friend, Marcus, replies, what can you do? … Trujillo’s the president and you’re just the doctor. If he wants your daughter at the party you can do nothing but obey.” Abelard objects, “But this isn’t human!” (p. 229). In this interaction Marcus understands Trujillo’s evil power, and tries to impart his knowledge, but Abelard is enraged and refuses to listen. Abelard understanding the supernatural powers that Trujillo utilizes in his interactions with his civilians, and exclaims, “But this isn’t human.” Abelard fights the power structure. Because he does not apply his friend’s advice regarding the situation, Trujillo curses the family. When his lineage talk about the curse, two generations later, they “always begin in the same place: with Abelard and the Bad Thing he said about Trujillo” (p. 211) This shows that the familial fuku has a traceable beginning to a singular event in which the Galactus-Trujillo inflicts his supernatural power on the Cabral family and forces them to endure the curse. The Cabrals were previously part of “the Fortunate People,” previously unaffected by the reign of Trujillo (p. 213). As soon as the family line is affected, however, every bad event becomes a testimony of the fuku imposed upon them because of the interrupted power structure.
The fuku has a ripple affects. First, all the members of the immediate Cabral family are plagued with death. These sudden deaths are tragic and numerous. Then, even Beli, youngest daughter and the only one to live, “was sold to complete strangers in another part of Azura” (p.253). Because there are so many horrors, it becomes so unlikely to be pure chance; of course the fukú is to blame. Trujillo’s evil power overruns the family. She is affected by the curse, the curse then affects her children, particularly though Oscar through depression. The curse has a linear pattern.
Because of the helplessness that has been instilled in the culture, when something good does happen, it is nearly impossible to understand. After the Elvises beat up Beli, the whole town debates the situation: “Fukú vs. Zafa” they argue. Some saw her second interference with the evil dictator as a curse, but others saw her survival as a blessing. “To [La Inca’s] dying day she believed that Beli had met not a curse but God out in that canfield. I met something, Beli would say, guardedly” (p. 152). Accepting that good things do happen spontaneously would force them to accept that bad things happen spontaneously as well, discrediting their theory of the fukú. Rather than accepting this, explanations are conjured. Some seek solace in the idea of a counter-curse, while others believe in God. This interaction shows their common belief in something bigger. La Inca could not just believe that Beli was strong enough to make it out on her own, so she believes that the religious higher power intervened. Beli is hesitant to accept this manifestation of God, made clear by her language. Beli is cautious about explaining her interaction with magic because admitting that the Mongoose was a magical counter-curse, or a zafa, would also, consequently, admit that there was a fukú. This would reaffirm the helplessness of the human condition and the need for a higher-power, magical solution.
Despite Beli’s resistance in admitting it to others, for her, the Mongoose was the zafa that guided her out of the cane fields, providing the hope she needed. When stumbling out the of cane, “she saw the creature’s chabine eyes flashing through the stalks. Yo me llamo sueño de la madrugada. The cane didn’t want her to leave, of course; it slashed at her palms, jabbed into her flank and clawed her thighs” (p. 150). The cane is described as slashing and clawing, giving it animal-like characteristics. The Mongoose, on the other hand, calls itself, “the dream of dawn,” in Spanish. Dawn symbolizes a newness, and freedom to start over. Beli interrupts this as hope for a better tomorrow. She clings to “the faces of her promised future – her promised children – and from that obtained strength she needed to continue” (p. 151). The different descriptions inform the reader that the Mongoose is not an ordinary animal, because it has power. The Mongoose, as “an ally of Man,” utilizes it to bring hope to those in need, against Trujillo’s non-human power (p. 151). This is similar to La Inca’s understanding of God. The Mongoose is the manifestation of the zafa, bringing power to the “brief, nameless lives,” that Trujillo’s power has been suppressing.
When Oscar meets the Mongoose in his time of desperation, standing above the train tracks, he does not believe in the Mongoose because the Trujillo’s fukú has been too engrained in him. After seeing “the Golden Mongoose,” “instead of taking note of the vision and changing his ways [Oscar] just shook his swollen head” (p. 190). When questioned, he claims, “It was the curse that made me do it” (p. 194). He has no capacity for hope anymore. Contrary to Beli’s experience, the Mongoose arrived “before Beli lost hope” (p. 149). The second time Oscar meets the Mongoose, however, he has already met Ybón. The Mongoose brings him the ultimatum, “What will it be, muchacho?… More or less?” (p. 301). The magic is converted into hope, changing the helpless attitude of the fukú –inflicted to one of new life. He considers all his blessings, and he is able to pull himself out of the deathly curse. He gains hope and with it the will to survive. Hope is power.
The Mongoose’s momentary hope enables the character move toward a more permanent solution to rid themselves of their fukú. In his final days, Oscar writes a novel and the conclusion is about “everything [he] thinks [Lola] will need… (It’s the cure to what ails [them]…)” (p. 333). After the Mongoose’s ultimatum about “more or less,” Oscar gains motivation to live. He starts to follow his love. He returns to the Dominican full of vigor, no longer plagued by the fukú. By writing a novel, he is making his hope a permanent zafa for the fukú, hopefully destroying Trujillo’s devastating curse. “The only problem [is], the fucking thing never arrived!” (p. 334). This is the fukú preventing its own demise. As it had taken two generations to understand the power of hope that the Mongoose conveyed, it may take another two for the hope to be transferred into the power of applicable action – a working zafa – and for the Oscar’s niece to “put an end to [the fukú]” (p.331). These actions would restore the power to humans, which Trujillo’s super natural power evicted.
The battle between Trujillo’s curse and the Mongoose’s reprieve are the manifestation of the fukú and the zafa. The Cabral family line believes in them so full-heartedly because it relieves them of self-blame for their own misfortune. As most Dominican families believe in the fukú because most of them had family whom lived in the Trujillo reign. It is a cycle of oppression. Oscar is “Wondrous” because he found provides a disruption in the cycle. Through his nerdy fascination with comic books, he applied Galactus’s power to Trujillo and the magical qualities of the Mongoose, which balances the system of power. It is his cure for the fukú for the Cabral family line and for all Dominicans with heritage in the Trujillo regime.
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