Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995
Yunior, the first-person narrator, is a student at Rutgers University, along with Oscar. One night, as he is walking the streets alone, he is beaten severely. Practically incapable of caring for himself, Lola comes to his rescue. He falls for her, they have a short-term relationship, but she ends it out of guilt over her boyfriend. Yet Yunior’s feelings do not change.
Lola is going to Spain, as her “big chance” has come. Because of Oscar’s despondent state, she worries about leaving him alone. He is the only important thing in her life. She asks Yunior to take care of Oscar and to make sure he does not do anything drastic. Yunior is aware of Oscar, having seen him around campus, and is not too impressed. Oscar is part of the campus writing group, making him one of the “resident geeks.” However, since he wants to get in Lola’s good graces, Yunior agrees. The two become roommates. Yunior is puzzled yet intrigued by Oscar’s obviously high intelligence, but his quirky ways and “geeky” interests cause Yunior to wonder what goes on in Oscar’s head.
Oscar still is obsessed with girls. Yunior, extremely sexually active and quite popular with women, thinks that Oscar is even more into girls than he himself is. When Yunior is caught by his girlfriend with another woman, he decides to do something that will benefit someone else as a means of karmic restitution. Thus he takes on Oscar as a “project.” He encourages Oscar to go running with him in order to lose weight. Oscar does so, though it involves great persuasion on the part of Yunior. One day Oscar flatly refuses to go running. In the disagreement, Yunior shoves Oscar. This causes a wall to fall between the two roommates, and Lola is exceedingly upset with Yunior.
On Halloween, Oscar dresses up as Doctor Who (a character from a British science fiction television series). Yunior thinks he looks like the gay British writer Oscar Wilde. Melvin, another Dominican student, begins to call Oscar by the name “Oscar Wao.” The name sticks to the point that Oscar even answers to it.
In his junior year Oscar falls for Jenni, known as “La Jablesse,” a Puerto Rican goth girl. The unlikely duo begins to hang out, and Oscar of course falls in love with her, a feeling that Jenni does not necessarily reciprocate. The feeling that Oscar has at last found a kindred spirit comes to an end as Jenni moves on and Oscar catches her with another boy. Oscar is heartbroken and even becomes violent. He is forced to go into counseling by the university, or else lose his spot in the dormitory.
Oscar falls into the very pit of depression, which Yunior is not able to pull him out of. Eventually, Oscar gets very drunk and decides to commit suicide. He jumps off a bridge, but instead of landing on the pavement, he lands on the soft divider. Rather than dying, he suffers two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder. Lola returns from Madrid to take care of him.
As he recovers, Oscar regains his spirit, vowing to become the “Dominican Tolkien.” When Oscar returns to Rutgers in the spring, he and Yunior once again become roommates. Yunior approaches Oscar and speaks the word “Mellon.” This is the Elvish word for “friend,” used in the inscription over the door to Moria in Lord of the Rings: “Speak, Friend, and Enter.”
The introduction of the character Yunior provides at once a biased and an objective observer of both Lola and Oscar. Yunior can function almost as a Greek Chorus, commenting on the actions and choices of the characters. Though his personal feelings concerning both Lola and Oscar make him an unreliable narrator, we still see them in a more revealing light than the first-person or even the third-person point of view can supply.
Shadowed references provide only a partial glimpse of the progress of the lives of Oscar and Lola so far. Lola has achieved her “big break,” going to Madrid, Spain, but for what purpose is not revealed. She has become her own person, acquiring an unnamed fiancé, and seems more at peace with her life as it is. There is not conflict with her mother, though her mother tries to start a fight with her on Lola’s return from Spain following Oscar’s suicide attempt. It is possible that Lola has achieved her “Grail” of “pure, uncut, unadulterated love” through her engagement. Her exile in Spain has distanced her from the fukú curse, at least temporarily. Yet Oscar, whom she loves most of all, is still trapped by the curse. It is her duty, she believes, to see that Oscar is protected. If she cannot be there in person to do so, she can delegate the responsibility to Yunior.
Yunior functions as the archetypal warrior. Not specifically connected with the hero’s quest, he nevertheless joins in, for his own benefit at first, but in the end for a greater good (in this case, Oscar’s salvation).
Though having a relatively small part in this chapter, Beli (Oscar and Lola’s mother) is fully established as the “evil sorceress” that must be destroyed. Fate seems to be taking a hand in the form of cancer, but both Oscar and Lola must break free of her power over them to fulfill their own destinies. Lola, more than Oscar, has achieved this.
Oscar continues to retain the role of the tragic hero. His failure to reach his goal of having a successful, meaningful relationship with a woman leads to his descent into the valley of the shadow of death, or into the “belly of the whale.” It is this journey that he must conquer to come out the other side stronger and surer of his purpose. Oscar does so, appearing to be more confident in himself and in his writing abilities at least.