The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

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The main character of this story is Oscar, though most of what readers know about Oscar is provided from outside sources, such as Oscar’s sister, Lola, and Lola’s friend Yunior. This keeps Oscar at some distance from readers, much as Oscar himself seems always at a distance from the people around him. Portrayed as a lovable young man, Oscar is intelligent and creative, but he has a very low opinion of himself, which makes him constantly stumble in society. He is also prone to depression. At one point in the story, Yunior rooms with him at college because Lola is afraid that Oscar will try to kill himself. Although he is tremendously overweight, it is not his obesity alone that thwarts him socially. Because he is so lost in the world of science fiction (both as a reader and diligent writer of novels and stories), and because his other favorite pastime is video games, his vocabulary is awkward or, as Yunior puts it, “geeky.” But Oscar loves girls, and he will do anything to meet them—though usually he tries silly things that frighten the girls away. Yunior, who is extremely adept at getting women and has more than he can handle, has told Oscar that Dominican men are known for their sexual prowess. He says this to encourage Oscar, but Oscar takes it a different way and develops a fear of dying a virgin. Throughout much of the story, Oscar has two desires that drive him: having one of his stories published and having sex.

Yunior is one of the narrators of the novel. He is in love with Lola (Oscar’s sister), but he constantly ruins their relationship by cheating on her. Yunior says he cannot help it, because he cannot resist a woman. Yunior befriends Oscar, more to impress Lola than for any genuine sense of friendship he might feel for Oscar. He also tries to turn Oscar around by changing the boy’s eating habits and making him exercise, but Yunior can push Oscar only so far. It is Yunior who provides the political history of the Dominican Republic. He is very cynical and critical of his home country. He is also disparaging of the United States, especially in reference to what the government has done, or not done, in the Dominican Republic. Yunior is also the one who explains the Fukú and thus foreshadows the tragedies that will befall Oscar’s family.

Lola, in many ways, is a combination of her mother and her aunt La Inca. She is strong and beautiful and loving. She calls Oscar “Mister,” a term of endearment that gets Oscar’s attention when Lola needs to deliver an important message. Lola is ambitious, works hard in college, and travels outside the States after graduation—and thus is missing at critical times in Oscar’s development. But she caters to him and returns when Oscar really needs her.

Beli, Oscar’s mother, was once strong. But life has beaten her down. She has had to work several jobs simultaneously to raise two children on her own and send them to college. By the end of the novel, Beli discovers a cancerous growth and slowly withers away. When Beli finds she can no longer control her children despite her harsh treatment of them and her unforgiving discipline, she sends them to her aunt La Inca.

La Inca is an enterprising widow who finds a way to make a substantial amount of money in a country that is riddled with poverty. La Inca is also a religious woman who strongly believes in the power of prayer. She counts on these beliefs to heal those around her. She tries to instill moral strength in Beli and in Oscar, wanting them to use the intelligence that they inherited from her brother (Beli’s father). But as Yunior sees it, the Fukú is too overwhelming, and the family is doomed to suffer tragedy after tragedy.

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