The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz
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I need to write an argumentative essay on what Junot Diaz was trying to convey about the human experience. Some of the options are: Love, mother-daughter relationships, ethnic identity, effect of male dominance on women, and unleashed dictatorship.

The story is about how Oscar goes through a lot of hard times with his family and friends. The author Junot Diaz, uses a lot of symbolism in this book to get this point across. He also uses figurative language to make the book more enjoyable to read. This book is very complicated and involves a lot of different characters so it can be difficult for some people to understand but there are a lot of reviews that can help you understand the story better.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a 2007 novel written by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz.

The fictional narrative is a tour de force in the exploration of gender roles and the idea of hypermasculinity, specifically through the characters of Oscar and Yunior, who are foils of each other.

Oscar does not embody hypermasculine traits. He is overweight, unattractive, and nerdy. He prefers to spend his time lost in science fiction. His biggest obsession is falling in love, and his biggest fear is that he will die a virgin. Oscar is a sympathetic character and the reader finds himself or herself rooting for Oscar.

On the other hand, Yunior is described as an attractive, strong athlete who has no trouble hooking up with women. He is, however, unable to truly love women at the start of the narrative. He is the quintessential manifestation of the hypermasculine male. He does not love women because he objectifies them and values them only for the physical gratification of sex, and the reader does not think Oscar is capable of objectifying women.

Since the foils are unable to find love, it’s interesting to examine the role of Dominican American culture and how that culture treats women. The objectification of women is shown in the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, who exhibits a violent and lustful nature. This theme speaks to the need for a cultural reckoning with the way Dominicans and Dominican Americans treat and value women.

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Although there are many fantastic elements in Junot Diaz’s novel, the author also demonstrates great concern for issues of central importance to all human beings. In Oscar Wao, Diaz has created a paradox: physically, the teenager is literally larger than life, but his experiences are universal. He is a kind of Everyman with whom the readers can empathize. Oscar is also a Christ symbol whose suffering and sacrifices represent those of his fellow Dominicans and, by extension, of all oppressed people. Oscar himself suffers from the pains of unrequited love, but his compassion and generosity of spirit elevate him not only above those within evil in their hearts but also the ordinary men around him.

While the emotional relationships between the female characters are significant, including mother to daughter, the love between the siblings and between men and women dominates the novel. The themes of ethnic identity, as experienced by the Dominicans in New York, and the political situation in the Dominican Republic are subsidiary to the emotional dimensions of the story. Oscar finds life more painful and challenging because of the strong traditions of male dominance, but he experiences those challenges in New York as well as on the island.

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One thing to write about would be that Junot Diaz was trying to convey that conflict in mother-daughter relationships comes from unrealized aspirations as well as the fear that the daughter will repeat her mother's mistakes.

Lola and Beli have a lot in common with each other. They're both beautiful, independent, wild, headstrong, and full of anger. They have features that attract them. This similarity is one thing that causes them to clash with each other. There are ways that Beli could use her past to connect to Lola but instead, she disregards and rejects her. Beli is also abusive to Lola and kills her daughter's sympathy and love for her.

Lola represents the mistakes that Beli made. When Beli was young, her beauty attracted men to her who hurt and abandoned her; this led to her being almost killed and later to having to raise children on her own. Beli can see the mistakes she made represented in the choices her daughter makes. Ultimately Beli even has to send Lola to La Inca to try to get help to keep her on the right track. Beli is falling back on her relationship with her mother to save her daughter from making the wrong choices. She promises herself she won't do what La Inca wants and will only serve herself—but in the end still needs her mother to guide her own daughter.

There may also be conflict between Lola and Beli because Lola is still young, attractive, and has a chance to change things. Beli feels both envy for the chances her daughter has and desire to help her not fall victim to the curse. This also creates conflict in their relationship that might be similar to conflicts that other mothers and daughters experience; they want what's best for their child but also envy them the clean slate and youth. This is another reason that Beli sends Lola to La Inca; she can't cope with the rage and jealousy she feels toward her daughter.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is full of dualities, of character, place, time, theme, and motif.  For every literary element in one chapter, there is a contrasting element in another.  Diaz performs a balancing act, using the following dualities to write his post-modern coming-of-age immigrant novel:

  • Love vs. Violence
  • Family vs. Alienation
  • Fantasy vs. Brutal realization
  • Wondrous vs. Brief
  • Past vs. Present
  • Middle Earth vs. Third World

In the first half of the novel, Oscar lands on the left side of these dualities.  In America, his comic books, and his fantasy fiction, Oscar is the romantic quester who dreams of only one goal: love.  But, when he is touched by his family's curse (the fuku, Trujillo, and the machismo sexist culture of the D.R.), Oscar changes to become a kind of tragic martyr who dies for both sides of the chart: fantasy AND reality, love AND violence.  Although Oscar cannot achieve his dreams, his death allows Junior vicariously to achieve them, a kind of antidote to the fuku.

A good quote to begin your paper is found at the beginning of Chapter 5:

“Men are not indispensable. But Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. His is…a cosmic force…Those who try to compare him to his ordinary contemporaries are mistaken. He belongs to…the category of those born to a special destiny.”

Use this quote as a teaser or from which to glean some ideas.  Good luck...

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