The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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Oscar is surprisingly absent for most of the novel. What can we learn from that?

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The author tells the story of Oscar’s life through the observations of other characters. Because Oscar does not speak for himself or describe events from his own point of view, we, as readers, feel as if we are being kept at a distance, unable to truly connect with the character. This narrative distance parallels the cultural and emotional distance Oscar himself experiences.

Oscar’s interests and world view distance him from his community. A child of Dominican immigrants, Oscar grows up in a working class neighborhood where his friends and teachers look down on his whimsical pursuits. He loves science fiction and video games and dreams of publishing a novel. Because he uses specialized terminology in everyday speech, he is often dismissed as a “ghetto nerd.”

Oscar knows little of his cultural heritage until Yunior describes the brutal history of dictatorship in the Domincan Republic. His sister Lola believes he is doomed to failure because of the legendary curse Christopher Columbus brought to the indigenous peoples of the New World. For these reasons, Oscar distances himself from both his past and present, preferring to spend his time living in an imaginary world of his own creation.

When Oscar leaves the comfort of his fantasy world to try to find true love, his lack of physical attraction and social awkwardness distance him from potential romantic partners. These difficulties also distance Oscar from Yunior. Oscar envies his friend’s ability to effortlessly attract the attention of women and conduct multiple affairs, yet he hopes for a deeper, purer love for himself. Unable to accept reality or attain his goals, Oscar falls deeply into depression.

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