The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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Setting

The story is set in two locales—New Jersey and the Dominican Republic. This dual setting captures how the characters always feel out of place. In the Dominican Republic, they witness the most radical extremes of poverty and brutality. One of the side stories of this novel is the political suppression and corruption of the successive dictatorships in the Dominican Republic. Another is the prejudice that these characters face in the United States.

Although the tropical atmosphere and beautiful landscape of the Dominican Republic is presented to the readers, it is offered only in short glimpses. It is as if the characters themselves barely see the beauty because of the hardships experienced by most Dominicans. Though life is somewhat easier in the States, the scenery is that of concrete, highways, and a cold darkness. Neither setting is very comfortable.

To embellish the sense of actually being in the Dominican Republic, or of being included in Dominican culture as it is found in New Jersey, Díaz intersperses Spanish phrases and slang throughout the story.

Ideas for Group Discussions

1. Miramax has bought the movie rights for Díaz’s novel. If you were the producer of this film, what actors would you choose to play the various characters? How would you describe the personalities of Díaz’s characters to the actors so they come across authentically and as true to the author’s intent?

2. Everyone tries to change Oscar’s attitude about himself, getting him to eat better, exercise more, and think better of himself. What would you have done differently if you were his mother, his sister, or one of his male friends?

3. Discuss the differences between Lola and Oscar. Why do you think they grew up to have such disparate personalities? Why was Lola’s self-image so much stronger than Oscar’s? Was Oscar’s weight to blame, or does it go deeper than that?

4. What do you think it was about Ybón that allowed her to see something special about Oscar? What did she see in him? Why did she need him? Why did she finally make love to him?

5. Discuss fate. What does fate mean to you? Do you think there are curses, such as the Fukú, that can haunt a person’s life or the lives of a whole family? Have you ever felt cursed? Have you known anyone who felt cursed?

6. Why do you think Beli was so hard on her children (Lola and Oscar)? Was she a bad mother? Was she just very strict? How did her constant harassment affect her children? Did it make them stronger, or did it weaken them?

7. Describe Lola and Oscar’s relationship. Was it based on love? Or did Lola resent having to take care of Oscar? How did Oscar feel about Lola? How did she affect him?

8. What is the main intent of the author with this story? Is it to expose the history of the Dominican Republic? Is it to show how the Dominican culture can affect its people even when they emigrate? Is it focused on the issue of obesity and the social restrictions it can place on an individual? Can it be summed up in general terms, such as the brutality one group can inflict on another? Or is there some deeper, more personal intent?

9. How would you sum up Yunior, who acts as narrator for parts of this book? Why is he unable to be faithful to Lola, whom he seems to love most of all? Does he have a personality defect, or do you think what he does is all right?

10. Compare La Inca with Beli. How do their mothering skills compare? Who do you think is more realistic? Who is more loving? Who is more successful?

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Díaz offers footnotes about the Dominican Republic and many of its political figures. Research the names and incidents that he offers. Are these facts or fiction? Write a brief historical account of the island nation. Who were its leaders and founders? What is the political and economic atmosphere today? Present your findings to your class.

2. Research Dominican Republic immigrants to the United States. How many are listed by the U.S. Census Bureau for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? Were there major waves of...

(The entire section is 1,530 words.)