The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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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?

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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...

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margaritarosa | Student

In Dominican mythology, Fukú is a curse that haunts the family line. Therefore, any attempt to counteract the effects of Fukú has to do with distancing oneself from a perpetually-occurring family fate. In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, we read about various attempts to escape the effects of Fukú, yet there are a number of ways that Fukú is made manifest in the lives of Díaz's characters: 1. Through the prevalence of blackness in the family line, 2. Through (seemingly inescapable) intergenerational trauma, 3. Through the threat of an early death, usually at the hands of the state.

Díaz explains the power of Fukú by way of examples, such as the genesis of Fukú with the arrival of Columbus or the transport of Fukú onto Americans after various invasions. In Dominican mythology, however, Fukú is something than is intergenerational, that affects you and your children, too.

One of the most prevalent signs of Fukú in Oscar's family is race. Díaz illustrates this most pervasively through the story of Beli (Hypatía), Oscar's mom. He describes her as the last child born of a well-to-do Dominican family whose patriarch is arrested soon after the girl is concevied. The rest of the family members later die an early death at the hands of the regime. When Beli is born, it is said that the first sign of Fukú in the family came when "Abelard's third and final daughter...was born black. And not just any kind of black. But black black--kongoblack, shangoblack, lakiblack, zapoteblack, rekhablack...That's the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child's black complexion as an ill omen" (p. 248, 2007 ed.). Beli's blackness is clearly indicated here as what brought Fukú into the family (or alternately, the first effect of Fukú on the Cabrals). Beli constantly aims to defy her identity as a black woman by insisting on being called india instead of morena (p. 115, 2007 ed.) and by refusing to affirm "her own despised black skin" (p. 80, 2007 ed.)

Both Lola and Oscar then become examples of intergenerational Fukú. This is made manifest in the novel by way of intergenerational trauma. Lola is in many ways affected by this more than her brother, Oscar. Throughout the novel, Beli transfers her self-hatred onto Lola. "Figurín de mierda, she called me. You think you're someone but you ain't nada" (p. 60, 2007 ed. "Figurín de mierda," roughly translates to "Worthless piece of shit" and "nada" translates to "nothing"). Lola later narrates in the novel that, "...we Dominicans, we lose a daughter and we might not even cancel our appointment at the salon" (p.66, 2007 ed.). Lola fights against the identity that her mother has prescribed on her (or that Fukú has transferred onto her) by dressing like anything but what a Dominican woman is supposed to dress like. It is not until she goes to DR that she is forced to dress like a "real Dominican girl" (p. 71, 2007 ed.)

Lola and Oscar, like their mother, also suffer from the intergeneration Fukú of of perpetual heartbreak. The three characters go through great pains for the romantic partners, all ascribing an eery normality to their behavior. While the characters do not try to counteract this part of their identity, they do have hopes that they will be the ones to achieve true love.

Finally, the threat of an early death is present throughout the entire novel. This prevalent manifestation of Fukú wiped away Beli's entire family, almost killed Beli herself (in the sugarcane fields), ultimately killed Oscar as well (unsurprisingly, again, in the sugarcane fields), and threatens Lola during her trip to DR and when she runs away from home. While all three characters try to avoid an early death, it threatens them all through the intergenerational power of Fukú.

Fukú, as your question suggests, is deeply tied to identity since it is a curse that follows one's family line. The main characters of the novel try to fight against its effects by fighting against the intergenerational struggles that appear in their lives and that are transferred from others' lives to theirs. This might explain why our narrator, Junior, ultimately writes this novel: perhaps to try to stop Fukú in its tracks before it reaches him, and inevitably, his kin.

zbridge3 | Student

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao "fuku" can be seen as a kind of cosmic bad luck, a curse that won't leave the main characters of the book alone. Seen in a less mysterious light, "fuku" is simply the bad things in life that are wont to happen. The characters try to escape fuku in various ways. Abelard tries to escape it by writing a book about Trujillo. Yunior tries to escape it by telling Oscar's story. Oscar himself tries to escape it through sheer defiance, by telling Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grod at the end that no one, even Trujillo, can defeat the power of his love for Ybon. To Oscar, no amount of physical violence or death can overcome the power of love, and even if they remove him from the world, his love, or "zafa," will remain regardless (in part through Yunior, though he does not know this). One character who does seem to escape "fuku" and live happily is Lola, perhaps because her mother and brother experienced the brunt of the "fuku" for the family on their own.