Thesis: Junot Diaz Short Story Evaluation

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Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao hails as Junot Diaz's greatest creation. In this book, Diaz details many facts of Dominican life that are often absent from the minds of the rest of the world. Diaz relies on his own memories of childhood and a vast repository of historical knowledge already in his head (Zuarino). In researching the book, Diaz found himself watching many of the movies that the narrator and the protagonist were obsessed with in the novel (Zuarino).

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao came after a seven-year battle with writer's block (Kachka). Kachka feels that conflict between the real world and the nerdy fantasy world that the success of Drown weighed heavily into the equation. It is true that the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was close to the soul of Diaz. However, fear of failure may have also played a major role in Diaz's case of writer's block. This is a point that I feel was missed by Kachka.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao takes a humorous look at the tragedies that befall Dominican families as they attempt to retain their cultural heritage amidst the Diaspora. If one takes the novel at face value, the reader may find themselves shocked by the nonchalant way that Diaz deals with sensitive cultural topics. However, when one looks below the surface, the true nature of life in the New World can be seen. This research will explore the novel the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and support the thesis that Diaz's unusual perspective is a substantive recent modern history of the Dominican people and their struggles in the New World.

Summary

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of an overweight, but neatly groomed Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey. Oscar, the main character, has two obsessions, Science Fiction and women. At the early age of seven, he was heavily involved in seeking women. Even older women found him attractive. He did not inherit the typically Dominican Macho attitude, so he had trouble winning the "respect" of the women that he sought.

This novel is a strong critique of life for many minorities that came to the New World. It highlights the cultural blending that takes place in these communities. The novel revolves around the fuku (curse of the new world) which plagues every minority. The main character is plagued with a particularly bad case of fuku. His struggle with the curse is a major driving force of the plot. It is believed that when the Europeans arrive on Hispaniola, they unleashed a terrible curse on the world and that this curse rears its ugly head at sometime in every Dominican's life. All of the misfortunes of Oscar and his family are attributed to the fuku in some manner. The plot of the story revolves around Oscar's struggles with the Diaspora, cultural identity, masculinity, and authoritarian power.

Fuku and the supernatural events surrounding it are a key force in the novel. At times, it seems as if the fuku is a character with a purpose and an agenda. It is believed that the curse is passed down through the family's DNA. It represents an inescapable destiny, much like an inherited tendency to develop cancer. From the beginning of the story, Oscar knows that at some time in his life, the inevitable fuku will raise its head and wreak havoc. Diaz uses fuku to tackle the question of freewill and destiny in one's life. However, like many of the questions in the novel, the conflict is never resolved, leaving the ready to draw their own conclusions.

In the end of the novel, Oscar returns to the Dominican Republic, where he falls in love with a prostitute. The prostitute's boyfriend beats him up and leaves him in the cane fields, just as was done to his grandmother many years ago. He returns to America to heal. He is obsessed with the Prostitute and desperately fears dying a virgin. He returns to Dominica and confesses his love for her. They make love, only to be discovered by her boyfriend. This time, the boyfriend bears Oscar to death, but he does not die a virgin. The novel leaves the question in the reader's mind of whether fuku played a role in Oscar's death.

Key Influences for the Novel

Science Fiction played a key role in research for the book, just as it does for his nerdy characters. Research for the novel included films such as Zardoz and Virus. It included novels such as the Lord of the Rings and works by HP Lovecraft (Zuarino). Zuarino accuses Diaz of contaminating the nerdy fantasy world of his characters with a dose of reality. This is a key criticism of Diaz's works, which was apparently written with a particular audience in mind. Zuarino types the novel as a nerdy fanboy novel that breaks all the rules of that genre.

The nerdy Sci-fi fan elements are clearly visible in the main character, Oscar Wao, but critic Zuarino failed to see the deep cultural elements and the realities of Dominican life for what they represent. The character Oscar Wao represented the dichotomy that was in all of us. We all have an alter ego that no one sees; it is just that Oscar Wao work his alter ego on the outside for all to see.

For example, Oscar wishes more than ever to become a great Science Fiction author. This is what he shows the world with his fascination with Star Trek figures and nerdy novels. However, deep inside, his true fear is that he will die a virgin. We all have inner feelings that we would never show the world, but that represent a stronger inner force than what we present on the outside.

Cultural norms play an important role in the novel. Some of the scenes involving the sexuality of the seven-year-old boy and main character may seem shocking to the American audience. Even among Sci-Fi fandom, these scenes may seem a bit avant garde. However, one must remember that in Dominican culture, these elements are perfectly normal within the social context of the setting of the story. One of the rules of the writing business is to write what one knows. Diaz did just that. Through him, we get a glimpse of a hidden world and culture that may seem strange to the American mind set. In this way, Diaz takes the reader out of their comfort zone, into a place that is foreign and strange.

In order to enjoy the story, one has to be able to take themselves out of their own time and place. Reading this novel requires an open-minded approach and the ability to put one's judgmentalism aside. Diaz sees both nerds and realists as having a blind spot, where one cannot see the other side. He sees this as problematic (Zuarino). In this novel, Zuarino makes both sides step out of their security zone and recognize their other side.

Characterization is the key element that separates a good novel from a bad one. It is the characters and Diaz's method of character development that sets his story apart from others in the nerdy fandom genre. Diaz admits that he did not know any of the characters in the book until he started writing them (Zuarino). This differs from the normal story development process, where one carefully develops the stories and then places them in a situation to see how they react.

We are not born into this world as completely finisher pieces of work, but rather, we are a work in progress until the day that we die. We do not know what we, or anyone else, will turn out to be in the end. We are shaped by the events in our life. We do not react to situations as the whole being that we will eventually become. We react as the work in progress that is the summation of our experiences to date. This is exactly what Diaz did with his characters development. They reacted to the situations in which they were placed, according to who they were at the time, not as completed character sheets. This mimicked reality, perhaps more than any other element in Diaz's novel, but this break from tradition draws criticism from other critics of his work (Zuarino).

Galactus and American Culture

Diaz opens the novel with a quote from a Fantastic Four comic where Galactus asks a question. He asks, "Of what import are brief, nameless lives…to Galactus?" This quote sets the tone for the novel and places the events of the story, and our lives into perspective within the context of the universe. Zuarino claims that this quote is a reflection of how Diaz views American society. Galactus sees humanity as brief, nameless lives, where the individual fades into the whole to the point where they disappear. Zuarino feels… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Junot Diaz Short Story Evaluation.  (2008, October 1).  Retrieved May 27, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/junot-diaz-short-story-evaluation/2426667

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"Junot Diaz Short Story Evaluation."  Essaytown.com.  October 1, 2008.  Accessed May 27, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/junot-diaz-short-story-evaluation/2426667.