Gender in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Jessica Simpson College

In numerous cultures, consisting of Dominican culture, rigid and binary gender functions have formed and reinforced the advancement of a primarily patriarchal society. Indeed, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Fascinating Life of Oscar Wao presents the traditional gender expectations of males and women in the Dominican Republic. Yet the novel also uses a pointed commentary on the ways in which the primary characters, the members of the De León household, subvert these functions.

A major component of Diaz’s novel is the Fukú americanus, likewise known simply as “fukú” or the “curse or doom of some kind” that afflicts the title character Oscar and his household, along with their whole culture (Diaz 1). Although the fukú remains a mystery to the characters within the novel, its results on the De León family suggest that the “curse” can be considered the patriarchal oppression that is implanted in both the political system of the nation, as well as its historic and cultural atmosphere. By undermining the gender standards of their male-dominated society, Oscar and his family members act as the “zafa” or “counterspell” to the fukú curse that is the main impact on the household’s story (Diaz 7). Throughout the novel, Diaz uses historic information alongside the story, along with the inclusion of some important small characters, to show the deep-rooted patriarchal structure obvious in Dominican culture.

In the preface, the narrator presents the idea of the fukú as “menstruation and the Doom of the New World” and the “fukú of the Admiral,” which establishes the concept that “the arrival of the Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world” (Diaz 1). Diaz associates this curse, in part, to the colonization of the Dominican Republic, therefore presenting the idea of patriarchy and its institution in the nation. Manifest destiny and patriarchy are connected by the idea that “females and land are both methods of reproduction,” meaning that without the ability to dominate the land and the women, males find it difficult to support the “existence of an individuals” (McAlpine 1). The colonization stage of the Dominican Republic functions as a type of patriarchy, where the main objective is both “conquest and control,” simply as patriarchal systems in society control and for that reason oppress ladies (Loomba 1101).

In Oscar Wao, Diaz links together his fictional narrative with historic and factual details of the Dominican experience under totalitarian Rafael Trujillo, whose reign is a continuation of the same kind of dominance and control that originated with the Dominican Republic’s colonization. Much of the footnotes chronicle the history of the Trujillo regime; Oscar’s own grandfather Abelard is tortured after declining to permit El Jefe to have his “delicious” daughter (Diaz 218). Trujillo is explained by the storyteller as being “five thousand times even worse” than the “typical Dominican,” due to his objectification of females, especially as communicated to the men he has worked with to “search the provinces for his next piece of ass” (Diaz 217). As a result of Abelard’s rejection to quit his daughter, he is tortured and imprisoned, a procedure that the narrator calls, “outstanding karmic debt, or something else. (Fukú?)” (Diaz 248). The nation’s and more particularly the De León family’s oppression and bad luck under the masculine-led society headed by Trujillo support the concept that the fukú is a manifestation of the culture’s patriarchal ideology. Trujillo’s position as a vicious, ruthless dictator, in addition to his exploits with women, assists him work as an archetype for a lot of the other Dominican men in the novel, and likewise introduces the requirements of masculinity for males in Dominican society. Both Beli, Oscar’s mom, and Oscar himself experience Dominican males who take advantage of women and exert a power and control, similar to Trujillo’s, that directly aligns with the traditional male gender function.

Based upon the country’s history of colonization and dictatorship, the Dominican ideal of “machismo” or hyper-masculinity accompanies the “contention that sex, gender, and heterosexuality are historical products” (Caamaño 1, Butler 905). Even the book’s narrator Yunior describes himself as “a guy who might bench 340 pounds” and who has multiple ladies in his life at once (Diaz 170). Similarly, Beli’s first love, Jack Pujols, is described as having “physical swagger” however has no respect for her and uses her only for her body (Diaz 89). Her next love, The Gangster, has a “pimpdaddy design” and enables a pregnant Beli to be beaten by his partner (Diaz 121). The males in the book are physically appealing and effective, however are also afraid, disrespectful, and violent towards the females around them. Oscar encounters this standard gender norm in the boyfriends of the ladies he succumbs to, specifically Ana and Ybón. Both Ana and Ybón are physically abused and maltreated by their boyfriends, however still pick to stick with them. This choice only further exposes and verifies the success that comes with sticking to the existing gender functions set out for Dominican males.

Throughout teenage years, Oscar is constantly reminded of the gender expectations he is anticipated to meet, but his absence of conformity to traditional perfects of masculinity establishes him as a type of “zafa” to the fukú curse. Even from a young age, Oscar understands that he is not what a Dominican male is expected to be, as he has “none of the Higher Powers of your normal Dominican male, couldn’t have pulled a woman if his life depended on it … could not play sports for shit” and is “beyond uncoordinated” (Diaz 19). The other males in his life, who do measure up to these suitables, his uncle and Yunior, enhance the value of “gender essentialism” and the threat of ‘performing one’s gender incorrect,” through their efforts to get Oscar to change his ways by reducing weight and quiting his passion for science-fiction (Butler 909). Another way in which Oscar subverts his male expectation is through his interactions with women. Rather than being dominant or abusive, he rather hangs around talking and getting “some knowledge of self and of women,” instead of looking for the purely sexual gratification that common Dominican guys seek (Diaz 41). By going against the gender norms of society, Oscar feels the disastrous effects of the fukú curse strongly throughout most of the novel, especially in his failed attempts at relationships. Nevertheless, in his relationship with Ybón, he is finally able to delight in the “little intimacies” of requited love, therefore ending up being a zafa by staying real to the truthful, considerate love he values most (Diaz 334).

Similarly, Lola De León, Oscar’s sis, also overturns her expected womanly gender role in numerous ways throughout the story. Early on, the reader learns that Lola is very athletic and effective, and she starts to dress in all black and even “shave [s] her head to the bone, Sinéad-style” and persuades everyone that she’s “developed into a lesbiana” (Diaz 37). By wandering off considerably from the kind of physical femininity that Dominican culture and specifically her mother worth, Lola reinforces the concept that “sexuality and gender … do not line up with basic polarities” (Rivkin and Ryan 887). Lola also prevents falling under one of the two binary female character types in literature: “the severe pictures of ‘angel’ and ‘monster'” (Gilbert and Gubar 812). She is independent and heads out on her own, rather than ending up being a subservient “angel,” however likewise overcomes the “beast” image through her real care for her brother Oscar. She is reckless and persistent in her relationship with Yunior, which she “put an end to,” rather than letting herself be entirely managed by a male (Diaz 169). Regardless of challenging the feminine ideal of her culture, Lola does struggle with menstruation of the fukú in her couple of harmful relationships. Nevertheless by the book’s end, she, like Oscar, has the ability to enter into the zafa and discover happiness and love with a family of her own.

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, author Junot Diaz supplies a commentary on the social environment of the Dominican culture in relation to a set of pre-established gender functions. Title character Oscar Wao and his sis Lola each break with the stiff pre-programmed manly and womanly suitables, respectively, that have defined and formed their culture for generations. In addition to the pressure of sticking to gender norms, the De Leóns, and many other Dominican households, feel the unfavorable impact of a curse, the Fukú americanus, which stemmed with the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World and continued with the repressive and high-handed rule of totalitarian Rafael Trujillo. Due To The Fact That Lola and Oscar differ what is generally expected of young female and male Dominicans, they have actually efficiently brought the rage of the fukú down upon them with special strength. However, the redeeming elements at the end of the novel, particularly Oscar’s final intimate experience with Ybón and Lola’s satisfying relationship with her husband, show that by challenging the expectations of their genders, both Oscar and Lola end up being the ultimate counter-spell, the zafa.

Works Mentioned

Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 900-911. Print. Caamaño, Ana Chavier. “Gender Roles in the Dominican Republic.” Moon Travel Guides. N.p., 03 Jan. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2015 Diaz, Junot. The Quick Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York City: Riverhead, 2007. Print. Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. “The Madwoman in the Attic.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 812-825. Print. Loomba, Ania. “Locating Colonial and Postcolonial Researches.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1100-1111. Print. McAlpine, Mhairi. “Patriarchy and Manifest Destiny: Making the Links.” Second Council Home of Virgo. N.p., 8 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Intro: Contingencies of Gender.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 885-888. Print.