Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1329
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
I’m not entirely sure Oscar would have liked this designation. Fukú story. He was a hardcore sci-fi and fantasy man, believed that that was the kind of story we were all living in. He'd ask: What more sci-fi than the Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?
But now that I know how it all turns out, I have to ask, in turn: What more fukú?
Yunior, Oscar’s best friend and college roommate, introduces the reader to Oscar and his story. Yunior explains the concept of fukú, which is a curse that is believed in the Dominican Republican. This curse allegedly comes to all Dominicans at one time or another, having been brought over from Europe by Christopher Columbus. The tragedy of the curse runs through the story of Oscar. Although he was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the island nation draws him repeatedly, as it had his mother and grandparents, whose lives are damaged or destroyed by the fukú. Oscar, however, is more of a believer in the promise of science fiction and fantasy. In fact, his whole life is based on fantasy narratives like The Lord of the Rings. Overweight and viewed as a “nerd,” Oscar lives a life of loneliness, always on the lookout for an opportunity for love. Yet the fukú curse follows him, betraying his love and his dreams.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 4
...Halloween he made the mistake of dressing up as Doctor Who, was real proud of his outfit too. When I saw him on Easton, with two other writing-section clowns, I couldn’t believe how much he looked like that fat homo Oscar Wilde, and I told him so. You look just like him, which was bad news for Oscar, because Melvin said, Oscar Wao, quién es Oscar Wao, and that was it, all of us started calling him that: Hey, Wao, what you doing? Wao, you want to get your feet off my chair?
As Oscar leaves the emotional torture of high school for the promise of happiness at college, he nevertheless continues to be isolated because of his obsession with works of science fiction and fantasy. Still overweight, Oscar remains the butt of many jokes, both for his appearance as well as for his fantasy fixation. Yunior becomes Oscar’s roommate as a favor to Oscar’s sister, Lola. Yunior has a strong but unrequited crush on Lola, and he vacillates between trying to protect Oscar and participating in the teasing. On Halloween, Oscar dresses up as the character Doctor Who from a long-running British television program, wearing a long topcoat and flamboyant bow tie. Instead of looking like Doctor Who, he resembles the British writer Oscar Wilde, who dressed flamboyantly and was considered a "notorious" homosexual. The physical similarity combined with the similarity of names leads others to call him “Oscar Wao,” a deliberate mispronunciation of “Oscar Wilde.” It is from this cruel teasing that Oscar gets the name in the novel’s title.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 4
...From what he would later recall, he stood on that bridge for a good long time. Watching the streaking lights of the traffic below. Reviewing his miserable life. Wishing he’d been born in a different body. Regretting all the books he would never write. Maybe trying to get himself to reconsider. And then the 4:12 express to Washington blew in the distance. By then he was barely able to stand. Closed his eyes (or maybe he didn’t) and when he opened them there was something straight out of Ursula Le Guin standing by his side. Later, when he would describe it, he would call it the Golden Mongoose, but even he knew that wasn’t what it was. It was very placid, very beautiful. Gold-limned eyes that reached through you, not so much in judgment or reproach but for something far scarier. They stared at each other—it serene as a Buddhist, he in total disbelief—and then the whistle blew again and his eyes snapped open (or closed) and it was gone.
Oscar has once again fallen in love with a girl who does not return his affections. Jenni, also known as “La Jablesse,” is a fellow student at Rutgers who befriends Oscar and she shares many of the same interests. Oscar is overcome when he catches her with another boy in her bedroom. He becomes violent, frightening Jenni and jeopardizing his place in his dorm. Forced to seek counseling for his violent tendencies, Oscar also loses Jenni as she is moved to another dorm and he is prevented from seeing her. In despair, Oscar decides to end his life. He climbs onto a railroad bridge that crosses over the highway below. As he stands on the bridge, he sees what he initially describes as a “Golden Mongoose,” an image that his mother had also seen in her youth in the Dominican Republic when she had been beaten by the police of the dictator Trujillo. Functioning as an animal spirit, the Golden Mongoose is unable to change Oscar’s intentions, and he jumps off the bridge. Fortunately, he misses the concrete dividers and lands on the grassy area between the lanes, breaking his legs and separating one shoulder, but still very much alive.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Oscar epitomizes the questing hero, yet he is a hero with a tragic outcome. His “brief, wondrous life,” however, has an aspect of redemption in that he positively affects those who love him. Through the story of Beli, Oscar’s mother, it is revealed that at the time of her assault, she had a vision of a mongoose, somewhat like a spirit guide in the Native American tradition, who told her that she would have a son and a daughter. Thus Oscar is made out to be a child of promise, with a sister who shares that promise, much like Luke and Leia in the Star Wars saga. The reappearance of the mongoose in Oscar’s suicide attempt reiterates the guardianship that some force in the universe has over Oscar, while still leaving him to make his own choices. The conflict he must face with his mother (instead of Luke Skywalker’s conflict with his father in the form of Darth Vader) is based on the notion of the fukú curse, the “Dark Side.” Although he initially chooses the dark side by attempting to take his own life, he “resurrects” to become a little bit wiser and more open to opportunities for love.
Oscar is also the misunderstood hero, exhibited by the constant torment he experiences at school. His nickname, “Oscar Wao,” symbolizes his failed attempts at significance by trying to dress up like Doctor Who and instead being taken for Oscar Wilde. Such rejection sets him apart to lead his own life of dreams, however inappropriate and unrealistic they might be. Only his companions, such as Yunior (reminiscent of Han Solo), have a full appreciation of Oscar during his lifetime.
It is in his goal to lose his virginity that Oscar fully discovers his true quest. Rather than simply having sex, however, he finally realizes that he seeks love. His realization of this takes his death out of the realm of tragedy and raises it to the level of the hero finding the Holy Grail. Unlike the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, Oscar is not able to bring full healing to his “kingdom,” the world of the Dominican Republic and its emigrants. His mother dies as the result of cancer; Yunior does not marry Lola. But there is a sense of completion, a sense that things have turned out as they should have in a fallen world. Rather than finding love for himself throughout his entire life, Oscar leaves behind a legacy of love in the hearts of his family and friends, most significantly Lola and Yunior. It is this legacy that gives posthumous meaning and significance to the “brief, wondrous life of Oscar Wao.”