Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1013
Beli, the mother of Oscar and Lola, was raised in the Dominican Republic by her foster-mother (La Inca), who expected great things of her. La Inca sent Beli to one of the better private schools in order to put her in an environment more fitting for the daughter of a famous surgeon. Beli, however, hated school, except for the boys there. She became somewhat boy-crazy despite the teacher informing her mother of the problem. As far as friends, the closest Beli came to having a female friend was Dorca, the daughter of their cleaning woman. Dorca worshipped the ground Beli walked on, and Beli allowed her to.
Things change when Beli at last matures physically. She attracts a lot of attention, not just from the boys at school, but from adult men as well. A local dentist tries to proposition her, and although Beli is flattered and intrigued, she does not follow through.
Beli instead is obsessed with Jack, a European boy in her school. Even after her development, he pays little attention to her, despite her best efforts. However, after he has broken up with his girlfriend, the two become secret lovers. When they are later caught in the act, Jack states that she seduced him because (as the son of a famous general) it would not be acceptable for him to be with someone of a lower class.
In a search for some measure of independence, Beli gets a job as a waitress in a local restaurant. When Beli participates in the club life of Bani, La Inca is disappointed in her, and a rift develops between the two.
Beli becomes involved with a man known as “The Gangster.” The affair becomes a local scandal. La Inca is horrified, and Beli is fired from her waitressing job. While Beli is on vacation with him, he is summoned by the police. He promises to send a car for her to return her to her home, but the ride never materializes. Having stolen money from the Gangster while he slept, she manages to procure a ride back home. On her return, she discovers that she is pregnant. She is ecstatic, but the Gangster turns out to be married to the sister of Trujillo, the Dominican dictator. The Gangster’s wife confronts her, taking her by force to get an abortion, but Beli manages to escape. However, the Secret Police come for her and take her out to the country, where she is beaten unmercifully, causing a miscarriage.
While lying in the cane field where the Secret Police left her, Beli imagines she is visited by an animal spirit, who tells her she must survive in order to bear the daughter and son that will come later. She is rescued by a musical band driving by. That same night the dictator Trujillo is assassinated.
To protect Beli from further harm, La Inca decides to send Beli to New York. Only by leaving the country can her safety be assured.
The point of view returns to that of the biased narrator of Chapter 1. The focus is on Beli, the mother of Lola and Oscar. Though the reader has developed a negative opinion of Beli up to this point, the cause of her hatred of people and of life in general is seen to have some justification. As a Dominican woman, she is subject to the same objectification that is common in the male-dominated world. She exists only to provide sex, and it is in that light that she sees her power.
However, despite her attempted manipulation of Jack and the Gangster, the narrator states that, like Oscar, she is a victim of the fukú, the curse that lies on all Dominicans. She is portrayed as a female Grail knight, the Grail being “pure, uncut, unadulterated love.” This will also be the goal of her children. Each seeks the healing of the land by achieving that love. Up to this point, it is seen how each has failed to reach the Grail.
Continuing the theme of the tragic hero, Beli is revealed to be not the biological daughter of La Inca but rather her foster daughter. Her real parents, a physician and a nurse, are held up to Beli as proof that she is destined and deserving of a better life. It is for that that La Inca sends her to a private school, albeit as a scholarship student. Though Beli does not appreciate the opportunity, she manages to recognize that she deserves better than she has. Unfortunately, she goes looking for it (as do the majority of the female characters of the novel) in the wrong places by the wrong means.
The narrator returns to using historical footnotes to explain the background of the setting. The historical characters and events are integral to the setting, as they intersect directly with Beli, particularly in the character of the Gangster, the brother-in-law of the dictator Trujillo. This gives the reader an insight into the lives of small, ordinary people as they are caught up into national events. The sense of futility, despair, and fatalism pervades the work, as each character tries to break free of the fukú, though with little success. It is only in the “zarda” (luck or kharma) that Trujillo is assassinated the same night that Beli is beaten. This gives a small glimmer of hope that the fukú can be broken, that the Grail can be achieved, and that the Waste Land can be healed.
But first, Beli must go into a type of exile, away from her home, to America. It is only by leaving home that a return, with redemption, can be possible. Though Beli herself might not be able to achieve this, she regularly sends her children back to the Dominican Republic. This is their real homeland, despite their birth in the United States. Similar to the return of Odysseus to Ithaca in the Odyssey, to purge the land of those who would take his place, Beli, through Oscar and Lola, seeks to return home to the Dominican Republic.