Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1366
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
Poor Oscar. Without even realizing it he’d fallen into one of those Let’s-Be-Friends Vortexes, the bane of nerdboys everywhere. These relationships were love’s version of a stay in the stocks, in you go, plenty of misery guaranteed and what you got out of it besides bitterness and heartbreak nobody knows. Perhaps some knowledge of self and of women.
When Oscar was a child, he was considered cute; by the age of seven, he was even fairly successful at attracting girls. Forced to choose between two of them—Maritza, who was beautiful, and Olga, who shared his interests—he cruelly dumped Olga and chose the lovely Maritza. Quickly after this fateful choice, however, he saw Maritza with another boy. Heartbroken, Oscar began to gain weight until in high school he averaged three hundred pounds. When he later befriends Ana, he begins to gain self-confidence. But Ana has a boyfriend and is only interested in friendship. Willing to settle for friendship (at least for the moment), Oscar continues to see Ana as much as he can, all the while resenting her boyfriend. Because his intense interest in science fiction and role-playing games makes Oscar an outcast, it is rare that Oscar has even a friendship with a girl, so he is not about to relinquish it with Anna. He hopes that it might possibly blossom into something more.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 7
In the middle of the street he told her how it was. He told her that he was in love with her and that he’d been hurt but now he was all right and if he could just have a week alone with her, one short week, then everything would be fine in him and he would be able to face what he had to face and she said I don’t understand and so he said it again, that he loved her more than the Universe and it wasn’t something that he could shake so please come away with me for a little while, lend me your strength and then it be over if she wanted.
On a trip to the Dominican Republic, Oscar falls in love with a prostitute named Ybón, who is not only several years older than Oscar, but is also the girlfriend of a Dominican police officer attached to the Trujillo regime. Because Oscar will not leave Ybón alone (who accepts Oscar as a friend only), he is beaten severely by some of Trujillo’s henchmen. Taken back home to New Jersey to recover by his family, Oscar eventually returns to the Dominican Republic for a final time to find Ybón and explain to her how much he loves her. Yet she rejects his love, mainly because of the danger it would put both herself and Oscar in. Oscar begs to have just one week with her. If she can give him that, he can truly be healed of his physical and emotional injuries. Ybón does have some level of affection for him beyond friendship, but she still insists that he leave or else she will call her policeman boyfriend. Reluctantly, Oscar leaves.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 7
They walked him into the cane and then turned him around. He tried to stand bravely. (Clives they left tied up in the cab and while they had their backs turned he slipped into the cane, and he would be the one who would deliver Oscar to the family.) They looked at Oscar and he looked at them and then he started to speak. The words coming out like they belonged to someone else, his Spanish good for once. He told them that what they were doing was wrong, that they were going to take a great love out of the world. Love was a rare thing, easily confused with a million other things, and if anybody knew this to be true it was him. He told them about Ybón and the way he loved her and how much they had risked and that they’d started to dream the same dreams and say the same words. He told them that it was only because of her love that he’d been able to do the thing that he had done, the thing they could no longer stop, told them if they killed him they would probably feel nothing and their children would probably feel nothing either, not until they were old and weak or about to be struck by a car and then they would sense him waiting for them on the other side and over there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl ever loved; over there he’d be a hero, an avenger. Because anything you can dream (he put his hand up) you can be. They waited respectfully for him to finish and then they said, their faces slowly disappearing in the gloom, Listen, we’ll let you go if you tell us what fuego means in English. Fire, he blurted out, unable to help himself.
Oscar has returned to the Dominican Republic for one last time to convince Ybón of his love. Oscar puts himself and Ybón in danger. Ybón is forced to tell her boyfriend, a policeman known as the capitán, and he sends some of his henchmen once more to take care of Oscar. Along with a Dominican friend, Clive, Oscar is taken out to a cornfield, just as his mother was. Oscar pleads for his life—not for himself as an individual human being, but for himself as the vessel of a great love. With his death, love itself will depart from the world. Oscar presents himself to his murderers as the epitome of love on earth. Although this murderous act will make no difference to such amoral characters, Oscar points out that even their children will feel nothing until they are old and weak or until they face death themselves. The men trick Oscar in giving the order, "fire," for his own execution.
Analysis of Essential Passages
The focus of the “brief wondrous life” of Oscar is love—or, in Oscar's words, the loss of virginity. It is held that no man from the Dominican Republic ever died a virgin, and Oscar is in danger of being the first. Oscar repeatedly falls in love with pretty yet unobtainable women. Although they warm to him as friends, a true love affair is not something that seems to enter their minds. In fact, the girls Oscar falls in love with are already involved with someone else. These men do not treat Oscar's love interests the way he believes they ought be treated. The thread of violence runs through all relationships, overpowering love and even lust. Oscar views himself, through his fascination with role-playing, as the hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Yet he is routinely overcome by the stronger forces of the violent lovers. In despair, he believes that he will most likely not be able to find someone to love and who will love him in return; he decides to commit suicide. However, even in this he fails. The attempt only makes him more precious in the eyes of his family and friends, particularly to Lola and Yunior. While not openly expressed, the love those characters have for Oscar provides some means of support and protection for him, yet he is intent to find a woman to love.
Oscar initially looks for sex, and his unhappiness is caused by his blindness to the true nature of love, something that he is fully capable of giving. In the prostitute Ybón, Oscar finds his final love. It is for her that he dies. Whether or not Oscar indeed lost his virginity to Ybón, she is the one he chooses to love even under the threat of death. As he pleads with his attackers, Oscar recognizes himself as one who loves deeply; such a love is rare on earth and must not be summarily thrown away. The righteousness of his love brings grace into the world. Without it, the world becomes a darker place.