What is the significance of the footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao?

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The extensive use of footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waois certainly one of the more unusual parts of the narrative. In a 2008 interview, author Junot Diaz explained why he included these footnotes as part of the storytelling. Diaz says that the footnotes serve as a...

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The extensive use of footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is certainly one of the more unusual parts of the narrative. In a 2008 interview, author Junot Diaz explained why he included these footnotes as part of the storytelling. Diaz says that the footnotes serve as a second narrational voice used to contest the main voice of the story in order to remind the reader that a story can not be fully understood if it is heard from just a single source. This is a complex achievement in this book considering that the narrator of both the main text and the footnotes is the character of Yunior. This shows that even a single character can have multiple viewpoints. Yunior continues his narration in the footnotes to provide extra information that, while important to the story, stands apart from the general narrative. A large portion of the footnotes are dedicated to providing historical background, particularly about the Trujillo dictatorship. This background informs the reader about the source of the intergenerational trauma that is at the heart of the story. The footnotes also further develop the characters by providing the reader with additional information about their pasts and characteristics.

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When asked about the importance and role of the footnotes in his book, author Junot Diaz said that he first wanted to create a double narrative, meaning two stories carried on simultaneously. The main text is considered the higher narrative, and the footnotes are considered the lower narrative; the footnotes challenge and inform the main text. They also provide a bit of historical and cultural background to help the reader understand the legacy of pain and suffering that was left to the Dominican people as a result of the dictatorship. The footnotes provide a platform for the character of the "jester," a humorous voice created by Diaz which contests the statements made by the king. Diaz claims that his purpose for doing this was to use a literary device to prove his assertions about the dangers of not only dictatorships, but of presenting a single voice, a single viewpoint. 

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