The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz
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How do the characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao try to control their identity against the power of the fuku?

The characters try to control their own identities in many different ways, but ultimately it is Yunior who tells the story of Oscar's family. There are a few possible interpretations of his actions. One might be that he is trying to manipulate people's perceptions of the family by writing an account full of stereotypes, which would undermine the power of fukú. Another might be that he is just trying to write a good story, but he is aware that if enough people read it and some of them believe it, they will start looking at the Waos in a new way. If they see them as being more human than monster, then perhaps they will stop discriminating against them and treat them like people again.

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The book ends with the narrator, Yunior, hoping that Isis (Oscar's niece) will grow up and start asking questions about her family, shining light in every dark corner. He says, "if she's smart and as brave as I'm expecting she'll be, she'll take all we've done and all we've learned...

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The book ends with the narrator, Yunior, hoping that Isis (Oscar's niece) will grow up and start asking questions about her family, shining light in every dark corner. He says, "if she's smart and as brave as I'm expecting she'll be, she'll take all we've done and all we've learned and add her own insights and she'll put an end to it [the fukú]" (331). So, in a way, just telling the story of Oscar's family is Yunior attempting on some level to control how they are presented in order to eventually defeat their fukú.

During the height of a terrifying regime, Abelard, Oscar's grandfather and a wealthy doctor, controls his personality by forcing himself to hide. He does not allow his daughters to be too pretty or noticeable, and he does not ask questions of the injured who come to his door asking for help. Keeping his head down and doing the bare social minimum required of his family is how Abelard keeps himself and his daughters safe. For a while, it works, and Abelard is able to escape the destructive power of fukú.

Beli attempts to control her rebellious spirit and obey La Inca to stay away from the forces of fukú. Her parents were bourgeoisie, and although her spirit chafes at the boarding school where she is taunted for her dark skin, she tries to fit in to the stereotype so she can escape poverty and the fate that led to her father's imprisonment and her mother's death. La Inca cannot allow the fukú that orphaned Beli to follow her for her entire life, so in a way, it is Beli's control of herself and La Inca's dominating hand that controls Beli's personality enough to get her out of the Dominican Republic.

Ironically enough, Beli ends up with a daughter with an even more rebellious spirit than her own. Lola's alternative style and eventual runaway status can be read as attempts to control her identity against the power of fukú by becoming more American than Dominican, erasing the part of her that is controlled by old and evil spirits.

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The importance of fuku in this text, or the bad luck that Yunior writes about in the opening of the text, is shown through the way that it is explained as some impersonal force that is much bigger and stronger than any of the characters and which cannot be resisted. Fuku becomes the explanation for any bad luck and is normally linked to some kind of curse or ill will stretching back into the past. However, as the opening section makes clear, there is something that a character can do to try and prevent the fuku from ruining their lives completely:

...there was only one way to prevent disaster from coiling around you, only one surefire counterspell that would keep you and your family safe. Not surprisingly, it was a word. A simple word (followed usually by a vigorous crossing of index fingers).

Zafa.

This word, "zafa," is used by Yunior when he explores his own motives for writing the story and setting down to paper what happened to Oscar. He says that this book is a "zafa of sorts," and goes on to describe it as his "own counterspell." Yunior thus hopes to maintain his identity and protect himself from fuku through telling the story of Oscar, his friend who suffered (according to Junior) because of fuku.

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