The role of gender in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

In many cultures, consisting of Dominican culture, stiff and binary gender functions have shaped and strengthened the advancement of a primarily patriarchal society. Indeed, Junot Diaz’s The Short Fascinating Life of Oscar Wao presents the traditional gender expectations of males and women in the Dominican Republic. Yet the book also uses a pointed commentary on the ways in which the main characters, the members of the De León household, subvert these roles.

A significant component of Diaz’s book is the Fukú americanus, also understood simply as “fukú” or the “curse or doom of some kind” that afflicts the title character Oscar and his family, as well as their entire 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 thought about the patriarchal oppression that is ingrained in both the political system of the country, in addition to its historical and cultural atmosphere. By weakening the gender standards of their male-dominated society, Oscar and his member of the family 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 historical info along with the story, along with the addition of some important minor characters, to show the deep-rooted patriarchal structure obvious in Dominican culture.

In the preface, the storyteller introduces the concept of the fukú as “the Curse 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 released the fukú on the world” (Diaz 1). Diaz associates this curse, in part, to the colonization of the Dominican Republic, hence presenting the idea of patriarchy and its organization in the country. Manifest destiny and patriarchy are linked by the concept that “females and land are both methods of recreation,” meaning that without the ability to control the land and the females, guys discover it difficult to support the “presence of a people” (McAlpine 1). The colonization phase of the Dominican Republic serves as a kind of patriarchy, where the central objective is both “conquest and control,” just as patriarchal systems in society control and for that reason oppress females (Loomba 1101).

In Oscar Wao, Diaz links together his fictional narrative with historical and factual information of the Dominican experience under totalitarian Rafael Trujillo, whose reign is a continuation of the exact same kind of domination and control that originated with the Dominican Republic’s colonization. A number of the footnotes chronicle the history of the Trujillo regime; Oscar’s own grandpa Abelard is tortured after declining to permit El Jefe to have his “delicious” child (Diaz 218). Trujillo is described by the storyteller as being “5 thousand times even worse” than the “average Dominican,” due to his objectification of women, especially as interacted to the males he has actually employed to “search the provinces for his next piece of ass” (Diaz 217). As an outcome of Abelard’s refusal to give up his daughter, he is tortured and sent to prison, a process that the narrator calls, “impressive karmic financial obligation, or something else. (Fukú?)” (Diaz 248). The nation’s and more particularly the De León household’s injustice and bad luck under the masculine-led society headed by Trujillo support the concept that the fukú is a symptom of the culture’s patriarchal ideology. Trujillo’s position as a cruel, callous totalitarian, along with his exploits with women, helps him work as an archetype for a number of the other Dominican men in the unique, and likewise presents the requirements of masculinity for males in Dominican society. Both Beli, Oscar’s mother, and Oscar himself encounter Dominican guys who make the most of women and put in a power and control, comparable to Trujillo’s, that straight lines up with the traditional male gender function.

Based on the nation’s history of colonization and dictatorship, the Dominican perfect of “machismo” or hyper-masculinity accompanies the “contention that sex, gender, and heterosexuality are historical products” (Caamaño 1, Butler 905). Even the novel’s narrator Yunior describes himself as “a guy who might bench 340 pounds” and who has multiple females in his life at once (Diaz 170). Likewise, Beli’s first love, Jack Pujols, is described as having “physical swagger” however has no respect for her and utilizes her only for her body (Diaz 89). Her next love, The Gangster, has a “pimpdaddy design” and allows a pregnant Beli to be beaten by his wife (Diaz 121). The males in the novel are physically attractive and powerful, but are likewise afraid, disrespectful, and violent towards the ladies around them. Oscar encounters this traditional gender standard in the boyfriends of the women he falls for, particularly Ana and Ybón. Both Ana and Ybón are physically mistreated and mistreated by their boyfriends, but still choose to stick with them. This option only even more exposes and verifies the success that features adhering to the existing gender roles laid out for Dominican men.

Throughout adolescence, Oscar is constantly advised of the gender expectations he is anticipated to satisfy, but his absence of conformity to standard suitables of masculinity develops him as a sort of “zafa” to the fukú curse. Even from a young age, Oscar knows that he is not what a Dominican male is supposed to be, as he has “none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, could not have pulled a girl 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, strengthen the value of “gender essentialism” and the threat of ‘carrying out one’s gender incorrect,” through their efforts to get Oscar to change his ways by losing weight and quiting his enthusiasm for science-fiction (Butler 909). Another method which Oscar overturns his male expectation is through his interactions with women. Rather than being dominant or violent, he instead hangs around talking and getting “some understanding of self and of females,” instead of looking for the purely sexual satisfaction that typical Dominican men are after (Diaz 41). By breaking the gender norms of society, Oscar feels the disastrous results of the fukú curse highly throughout most of the novel, especially in his failed efforts at relationships. Nevertheless, in his relationship with Ybón, he is finally able to delight in the “little intimacies” of requited love, thus becoming a zafa by staying real to the honest, considerate love he values most (Diaz 334).

Likewise, Lola De León, Oscar’s sister, also subverts her anticipated feminine gender role in several ways throughout the narrative. Early on, the reader learns that Lola is really athletic and effective, and she begins to dress in all black and even “shave [s] her head down to the bone, Sinéad-style” and convinces everyone that she’s “turned into a lesbiana” (Diaz 37). By straying dramatically from the kind of physical womanhood that Dominican culture and particularly her mom worth, Lola reinforces the idea that “sexuality and gender … do not line up with simple polarities” (Rivkin and Ryan 887). Lola likewise avoids falling under one of the two binary female character enters literature: “the severe images of ‘angel’ and ‘monster'” (Gilbert and Gubar 812). She is independent and goes out on her own, rather than ending up being a subservient “angel,” however likewise conquers the “beast” image through her real care for her brother Oscar. She is headstrong and persistent in her relationship with Yunior, which she “put an end to,” instead of letting herself be entirely managed by a male (Diaz 169). In spite of challenging the womanly perfect of her culture, Lola does battle with the curse of the fukú in her couple of destructive relationships. However by the book’s end, she, like Oscar, has the ability to enter into the zafa and discover joy and love with a household of her own.

In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, author Junot Diaz provides a commentary on the social environment of the Dominican culture in relation to a set of pre-established gender roles. Title character Oscar Wao and his sibling Lola each break with the stiff pre-programmed manly and womanly ideals, 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 despotic guideline of totalitarian Rafael Trujillo. Since Lola and Oscar deviate from what is typically expected of young female and male Dominicans, they have effectively brought the rage of the fukú down upon them with unique strength. However, the redeeming components at the end of the unique, especially Oscar’s last intimate experience with Ybón and Lola’s fulfilling relationship with her hubby, demonstrate that by challenging the expectations of their genders, both Oscar and Lola become the ultimate counter-spell, the zafa.

Functions 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 Functions in the Dominican Republic.” Moon Travel Guides. N.p., 03 Jan. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2015 Diaz, Junot. The Short Marvelous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: 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. “Positioning 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 Colonialism: Making the Links.” 2nd Council House of Virgo. N.p., 8 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Contingencies of Gender.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 885-888. Print.