Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is a rock star novel that received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. The novel centers on the Dominican perspective of the diaspora by the narrator Yunior, who serves as the audience’s eye. Yunior’s narration is a mash-up between Dominican history and American popular culture. Among the multiple topics addressed in the book are Dominican masculinity and gender understanding, as discussed by the narrator. The author believes that Yunior’s virility forms the protagonist’s conception of masculinity, which he emphasizes in the novel’s layout and story. This paper analyses how the Dominican masculinity is constructed by Yunior through his narrative by emasculating and marginalizing passive characters in the novel.

The novel, The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao wrestles with Dominican’s complexities in gender identity through a faceted narrative that involves high fantasy, science fiction, Caribbean mysticism, English and Spanish slang. With the help of these numerous lenses, Yunior gives the stories of the members of the family of Leon and their interaction with being Dominican. The novel is composed of short narratives about each member of the Leon family. This reflective paper will focus on the narratives that are gender alienated.

The first of these narratives Yunior’s narrative about Oscar Wao and his several attempts to get girlfriends to have sex with. It is imperative to note that when Oscar was going for school admission, his uncle presented him with a packet of condom and told him to use them all. Therefore, Oscar comes to school with the aim of getting as many girlfriends as he could to have sex with. The significance of this narrative is to establish the realist magical laws that govern the plot of the novel. Magical realism is a genre of literature that aims at portraying the happenings in a real world setting some of which are unexplained, spiritual and mystical.

Yunior establishes his structure through this narrative in two ways, first he justifies his misogynistic understanding of what it means to a Dominican man, to be sexually potent, attractive to women, and be physically strong. He formulates this definition and juxtaposes his promiscuous lifestyle and muscular physique against Oscar’s disappointing weight and his interest in fantasy literature. In so doing, Yunior succeeds in creating his own narrative for a particular purpose of supplementing the definition of Dominican masculinity and contrast himself against Oscar’s inability to attract women and nerdiness.

Yunior further juxtapose himself from Oscar through the use of zafa and fuku words that point to his masculine authority. Yunior associate himself with fuku, a hyper-masculine attitude he is claiming to be proficient in. He also postulates that fuku is also associated with the ability to dictate and control others, here; Yunior tries to show the superiority of the Dominican man. The term zafa on the other hand is created to designate rebellions against powers that oppress characters like Oscar. Yunior uses these terms to signify his control and dominance over his narrative.

The second narrative of this analysis focuses on how Lola subverts the terms used by Yunior and resist the hierarchies of abuse that she undergoes. Apparently, Lola tries to show that gender is performative by subverting Yunior’s spiritual rules. As contradiction to Yunior’s narrative, the oppressed voice of Lola subverts Yunior’s understanding of zafa and fuku by showing that her oppression exists within the supernatural system that claims how powerful and independent she is. In this case, Lola is made a strong character exempted from the hierarchical order of power that fuku places on women. However, Lola is still depicted in a manner that she appears objectified and subordinate to those who frequently bully and abuse her. Her reluctance to respond to such abuses proves her inferiority as a woman.

It is quite clear that the manner in which Lola portray herself is the one in which she suffers victimization and submission. At first glance, it is undeniable fact that Lola’s narrative follows the same hierarchies of gender that Yunior uses to establish the dominant form of masculinity. Lola embodies the marginalized position intended for any woman in the Yunior’s narrative and therefore submits to all the gender regulations as created by Yunior. However, it is also imperative to mention the marginalized voice of Lola which paradoxically resists the binary division established by Yunior.

In a nutshell, moving to the present from the past and the final affirmation of continuation in the future, Yunior excellently creates a narrative that functions to his desire for sexual dominance. He perfectly, through zafa and fuku creates a political environment that is dictated by its ethics and that which enables him to rewrite his own history as he subvert any power that is not involved in his capability for sexual control. Arguably, the narrative closely links Yunior’s definition of power and masculinity as he yearns to control passive characters to assert his virility as a Dominican man.

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