Thematic Focus in The novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

The novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” reports the life experiences of Oscar Wao, a young Dominican-American man, right from childhood, family history, and the experiences that he had in college. The events are told through the views of two people, including his friend and his sister’s boyfriend, Yunior (Díaz (a) 189). In the novel, Diaz also explores some of his life experiences as a child, using a mix of Spanish and English, which helps to communicate the theme of immigration and the impact of the home culture better. Diaz may also have used the two languages to make the account more authentic, towards making it a true lens that one can use to understand the Dominican diaspora culture that they would see and experience in America. The novel uses the lives of Oscar and other characters to reflect different aspects of life, including the different views of gender roles, which is not a new area of focus in critical literature (Díaz (a) 74). However, the emphasis that Diaz makes is that gender role is specific to different cultural groups and that the members of the particular one can clearly conceive the different in some instances, which is not distinguished by many authors (Diaz 527). Further, the book demonstrates that the views of masculinity differ from one culture to the other, but it is more challenging to find literature that does not lump women into a single group, due to patriarchal dominance in many societies.  This research paper explores the ways the novel demonstrates the adverse effects of the culture of diaspora on the identity of immigrants, as reflected in areas such as masculinity, femininity, and language use.

Discussion of Thematic Focus

One of the significant thematic focuses of the novel is questioning gender roles, noting that the book demonstrates the distinctive ways that the people of different cultures view cultural masculinity among other issues. The most glaring evidence of cultural masculinity in the novel is the fact that Yunior’s voice is dominant (Díaz (a) 169). Yunior is the sole narrator, and that helps to show that the male voice is more superior as compared to the female one in the Dominical-American culture. Elena Machado Saez discusses the critical view of gender roles in the Dominical- American in the US in her essay “Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as Foundational Romance” although from a different viewpoint (Machado Saez 525). Her view is that Yunior’s position as the only “narrator of the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao establishes a link between storytelling and dictatorship,” over other voices, for example, the women covered in the story (Machado Saez 525). In reality, by getting the opportunity to narrate the story alone, Yunior is given total control over the life of Oscar by the author, but also the authority to tell the experiences of Dominican diaspora. The result of having a single narrator all the voice is that he indeed represented masculinity in a subjective style, considering the flawed views he may have about men in his society, which he may not have done when presenting femininity. As an example, in many ways, Yunior suppresses the traits that he feels are stereotypical of the Dominican-American man when describing Oscar, instead of telling the reality as it is and what happened to him. The flawed masculine view of the Dominican-American culture shows that it is likely reflected in many other historical and literary accounts, whereby the narrators tell the experiences as they see them, instead of the way they are.

The second theme in focus is the fact that the novel, like many others, appears to group women as a single feminine group having a similar experience in the dominantly patriarchal society, instead of appreciating their differences. Gloria Anzaldua, an authoritative Texas-born Xican thinker, offers a critical lens for use when viewing the novel, in her book “Borderlands/ La Frontera,” in which she explores the exclusion of Hispanic women in their cultures. Anzaldua notes that for Hispanic women, “when her own culture, and white culture, are critical of her…the woman of color does not feel safe within the inner life of her self” (1021). In essence, she makes the emphasis that the phallic order exempts Hispanic women, yet they support it. She also relates the same to the experience of language differences to note that it is closely connected to identity among those that grow up in an environment where there are two overlapping cultures, for example, Oscar. In Diaz’s novel, the women in Oscar’s family, including La Inca, Lola, and Beli suffer the same fate, considering that they are excluded from some facets of their society in various ways. More specifically, the women are excluded because they are darker-skinned as compared to others; due to their relatively lower social class, and for being of Hispanic origin in a predominantly White American society. Besides these aspects of exclusion, the women are also excluded and marginalized for being women in a patriarchal society, which is typical in many societies. The exclusion of the women is worst felt by Beli and Lola, who had to rebel against the social order of their community, towards finding their place and identity in a society that marginalizes them in every possible way (Díaz (a) 93). The exclusion of women, especially is a bad experience, but it is much worse for the women that are immigrants in the US, due to the many differences that make them the targets of exclusion.

The last thematic focus is the complicated relationship between an individual’s ethnic belonging and their language, which distinguish the Dominican-Americans in the novel in many ways. Anzaldua explores the complex relationship between language and an individual’s ethnicity by noting that “ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language,” indicating that the two go together at all times (1027). In Diaz’s novel, the same is true, considering that Oscar and the rest speak a mix of Dominican Spanish and English. It is crucial to note that the Dominican Spanish language is in itself an identity marker, considering that it is distinctive from the Castilian Spanish and also the Spanish dialects spoken by different groups across different countries. More importantly, speaking the two languages demonstrates that Oscar and the others trace their origins to the two cultures and not a partial mix of both. Unfortunately, the cross-pollinated language use is a form of cultural hybrid that is unaccepted by the dominant American culture and is one that it tries to eliminate at all cost. In her book, Anzaldua gives an example of an experience she had, when her American teacher retorted, “if you want to be American, speak ‘American.’ If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong,” (1023). The encounter shows that the people that identify with different cultures in a host dominant culture, which is manifest through language use, are not easily accepted, and are in fact many times excluded or marginalized.


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