How is the dialogue in “Fiesta, 1980” used to develop the characters? What are some examples?

In “Fiesta, 1980,” Junot Díaz uses dialogue primarily to develop the characters of Yunior, his parents, and his brother. Both the conversations they have with each other and Yunior’s reactions to what the others say offer insights into the problematic relationships in his family. While they are all bilingual in English and Spanish, they vary in their tendency to speak English or Spanish. Díaz also inserts the dialogue without using quotation marks, which contributes to the flow of the story.

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The story “Fiesta, 1980” features Yunior as both protagonist and first-person narrator. Author Junot Díaz situates the boy within his family through dialogue among the characters as well as his narration. Differing characteristics of the way that Yunior speaks with his mother, father, and older brother help the reader understand how Yunior relates to each of them. All four family members are bilingual in English and Spanish, but they show different tendencies to speak primarily one language or the other, while intermingling phrases and vocabulary from the other language. The author does not mark the dialogue with quotation marks, which helps make it seem like part of the natural flow of conversation.

Throughout the story, it becomes increasingly apparent that Yunior and his mother are close, but he has a terrible relationship with his father. Some of these problems stem from Papi being a bully, but also relate to Yunior’s deep anger over his having a mistress. Yunior and his brother Rafa tend to kid each other, but Yunior also seems to resent Rafa for teasing him and not sticking up for him.

Papi’s verbal and physical abuse of his younger son is shown when he threatens to hit him if he eats at the party. He speaks in English but uses the Spanish entiendes—“do you understand”—for emphasis.

He kept his voice nice and low so nobody else could hear him.

If you eat anything, I’m going to beat you. ¿Entiendes?

I nodded.

And if your brother gives you any food, I’ll beat him too. Right here in front of everybody. ¿Entiendes?

I nodded again. I wanted to kill him.

The strained relationship between Papi and Mami is also shown in their conversations. For example, before they leave for the party, they argue about Yunior having eaten already, for which he blames her. Díos mío means “my God.”

Have they eaten? He asked Mami.

She nodded. I made you something.

You didn’t let him eat, did you?

Ay, Díos mío, she said, letting her arms fall to her side.

Ay, Díos mío is right, Papi said.

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