What are some literary terms and themes used in Junot Diaz's "Fiesta, 1980"?

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Two of the most prominent devices Diaz uses in “Fiesta, 1980” are diction and similes. Diaz also uses a specific symbol—the Volkswagen van—to represent Papi and Yunior’s relationship. Through the uses of these devices, he weaves several themes.

Diction refers to the word choices the author makes when...

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Two of the most prominent devices Diaz uses in “Fiesta, 1980” are diction and similes. Diaz also uses a specific symbol—the Volkswagen van—to represent Papi and Yunior’s relationship. Through the uses of these devices, he weaves several themes.

Diction refers to the word choices the author makes when telling a story. From the very start of the story, Diaz speaks in a colloquial voice, meaning in this case that the story is told using words and phrases that might be spoken in a household where English is not the first language. Although the story is told in English, familiar Spanish words are interspersed to give the reader a sense of the environment and mood of the story. Spanglish, swearing, and slang are also used to show what the characters are like. Here are a few examples:

Actually, my pops decided, but everybody—meaning Mami, tía Yrma, tío Miguel and their neighbors—thought it a dope idea . . .

He didn't say nothing to nobody, not even my moms . . .

. . . she was no longer the same flaca who had arrived here three years before . . .

Papi turned to me. Coño, muchacho, why did you eat? . . .

. . . an expression of askho on his face . . .

The diction chosen by Diaz also affirms the types of relationships the characters have with one another. As you read through the story, see how Papi talks and acts toward his wife and children, or how Yunior and his brother spar with one another, in the context of specific diction. What can you tell about these relationships based on the word choices Diaz uses?

Diaz also uses similes to paint images in the readers’ minds. A few of these similes are described below, but there are more. See how each creates an image that describes how Yunior—the speaker—feels about his circumstances.

Yunior says his Mami smells “like the wind through a tree.” Given the context of what you know about Mami and Papi’s relationship, what does the wind represent? What about the tree?

In the next paragraph, Diaz says the sun is sliding out of the sky “like spit off the wall.” Why does he use such a derogatory image of a sunset within the context of this paragraph?

While at the party, Yunior looks around his Aunt and Uncle’s home as describes the stucco ceilings as looking “like stalactite heaven.” Do you really think he sees an image of heaven in this setting?

Repeated throughout the story are descriptions of how Yunior feels when traveling with his Papi in Papi’s new van. The van is used as a symbol throughout the story to represent the type of relationship Papi and Yunior have, but also how Yunior feels about Papi having an affair with a Puerto Rican woman. He gets carsick almost every time Papi takes him for a ride in his precious new van. Even his pleasant rides in the van lead to Yunior having a sickly feeling, because it transports him to a place where he does not want to be (the other woman’s house). Papi loathes the idea of Yunior vomiting in his new van and seems to treasure the van more than his son. In what other ways do you see the van as a symbol? What else does it represent?

The use of diction, similes, and symbolism help Diaz develop several themes throughout the book. One is the theme of coming of age. Yunior is learning what it must take to become a man in a household with an abusive father. Other themes could be one’s desire to escape or a feeling of isolation. How do you see these themes represented in Diaz’s story?

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Some literary terms in Junot Diaz's Fiesta 1980:

1) Colloquial (everyday, street speech) and vernacular speech (language or dialect of a particular country).

There are quite a few examples of street speech in this short story:

...she was no longer the same flaca who had arrived here three years before...

She had cut her hair short and was wearing tons of cheap-ass jewelry which on her didn't look too lousy.

Coño, compa'i, ¿como va todo? they said to each other.

She gave everybody kisses, told me and Rafa how guapo we were...

2) Metonymy (replacing an actual word with a related word). Below, the Mexican grape Brandy is referred to as Presidente.

Wilquins's pop came into the living room a second later, a bottle of Presidente in hand.

3) Hyperbole (exaggeration for the purposes of emphasis or heightened effect).

Earlier that year I'd written an essay in school called "My Father the Torturer," but the teacher made me write a new one. She thought I was kidding.

4) Connotation (this is implied meaning as opposed to literal meaning.) Below, sucia directly translates to dirty or unwashed. It is also an implied reference to Papi's mistress.

What the hell was I going to say? Hey, Yunior, guess what happened yesterday? I met Papi's sucia!

5) Simile (an explicit comparison which equates two very different elements). 

The affair was like a hole in our living room floor, one we'd gotten so used to circumnavigating that we sometimes forgot it was there.

Two major literary themes in Fiesta 1980 :

1) This is a coming of age story, a sort of bildungsroman in all its glory. In the short story, Junot Diaz relates how Yunior navigates his difficult growing up years in his family. His parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Yunior's characteristic car-sickness is a symptom of his inability to reconcile the pain caused by his father's affair with a Puerto Rican woman.

2) The immigrant experience is described with both honesty and humor. Yunior's childhood conflict with his brother, Rafa, is characteristic of two brothers jostling for room in the Latino family patriarchal hierarchy. Yunior's family is divided along traditional gender boundaries. Papi is unquestionably the head of the household; everybody differs to him and he is viewed as a figure to be appeased and to be catered to. Mami is the compassionate and long-suffering wife. She seems to not know what everybody else already knows: that her husband is having an affair behind her back.

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