The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

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Discussion Topic

The role and impact of the fuku in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Summary:

The fuku, or curse, in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao symbolizes the inherited misfortunes and historical traumas that affect the characters' lives. It represents the cultural and familial burdens that are passed down through generations, impacting their decisions and destinies. The fuku's pervasive presence highlights themes of fate, history, and the struggle to break free from cyclical suffering.

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Where is Fuku shown in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and how does it affect Oscar?

According to Yunior, the narrator of much of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the whole story itself is an account of fuku, the curse that has plagued the De Leon and Cabral families for so many years. In telling the story, Yunior believes that he is invoking the power of zafa, a supernatural force that is somehow meant to ward off the destructive counterforce of fuku.

The concept of fuku, or to give it its full name, fuku americanus, is intimately linked not just to misfortune in general but specifically to misfortune that leads to violence. It is apparently a traditional element in Dominican folklore, one that conveys a sense of fatalism among those who fall under its unbreakable spell. Throughout the story, this supernatural understanding of cosmic fate manifests itself not just in relation to the heritage of violence bequeathed by the Trujillo regime but in specific acts of violence carried out by individuals.

We see this point illustrated most strongly by the effect that fuku has upon Oscar. His vivid imagination, combined with his cultural background, encourages him to believe that he is cursed to die a virgin as he persistently fails to attract girls. After one particularly humiliating rebuff from a girl at college, he attempts suicide, an act of violence against the self. A subsequent attempt by Oscar to take his own life by jumping from a bridge merely serves to emphasize the tight, unrelenting grip that fuku appears to have upon him. Then, finally and tragically, there is the brutal beating and eventual death that Oscar receives at the hands of Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grod.

But in both these examples, it might be helpful to look at fuku not so much as a supernatural concept but more as a thoroughly natural one. For in a sense, Oscar finds himself trapped by his cultural heritage, one that imposes upon him certain expectations of how a Dominican male should behave. His failed attempts at finding love, for example, are really more concerned with proving his machismo than expressing a genuine desire to settle down with the right girl.

Moreover, the imposition of cultural norms lurking behind the whole notion of fuku encourages Oscar not to take responsibility for his own destructive actions. The same principle applies to other characters in the book; no matter how selfish, violent or harmful their behavior, they can always blame the unfathomable, mystical forces unleashed by the great fuku curse.

It could be possible then to see the character of Oscar as a symbol of the Dominican culture by whose norms he lives and ultimately dies: a culture in the vice-like grip of a curse all of its own making.

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Where is Fuku shown in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and how does it affect Oscar?

Rember that the fuku is presentes as a kind of curse, and has been with Oscar's family since his grandfather's time in the Dominican republic.  So a good way to find places where the fuku is shown in the novel would be to find the ways in which Trujillo, his regime, and the after-effects of his regime have affected the family.  I would focus on the grandfather, Beli, and Oscar first (because they're the easiest/most obvious) and then move on to Lola.

As for the second question, is Oscar really "hesitant" with love?  It seems to me that he jumps in with both feet, even when he knows that the objects of his affection are bad news!

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What is the purpose of the fuku in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao?

I think the purpose of fuku as intended by the author of the story is to help build on the element of the supernatural and to foster the reader’s belief in fuku. Fuku americanas is a curse believed to have originated from the New World and was shipped to the Caribbean Islands by Europeans. According to the narrator, an autocratic leader, Rafael Trujillo also has a hand in the curse that has overwhelmed the inhabitants of the island for many years. In fact, every family has been afflicted by fuku and in Oscar Wao’s family, the misfortunes of fuku follow them through until his demise in adulthood. There is a series of supernatural occurrences throughout the book. The author is trying to state that our lives are controlled by supernatural forces for which we have no control over except supernaturally. The concept of zafa is brought out as a way of attempting to ward off fuku’s misfortunes like in the case of La Inca when she prayed for her girl’s life. Therefore, the purpose of fuku is to help bring out the concept of the supernatural and to strengthen the reader’s belief in the curse.

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What is the purpose of the fuku in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao?

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "purpose".  The fuku itself can be defined most closely as a curse, so I guess the purpose of a fuku would simply be to doom a person/family/country to death or bad fortune.

The purpose of the fuku in the text of Oscar Wao, however, is a whole different matter.  The fuku is present in the actual history of the Dominican Republic, as well as in the history of Oscar's family. 

If you are doing a longer assignment and want to identify/support the purpose of the fuku in the text, examine the ways in which it affects individual characters.  How does the fuku influence the character's lives (and by extension the novel's plot)?  Ultimately, what does the fuku add to the story? What message might Diaz be conveying to the reader through his discussion of the fuku?

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