The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: The Fate of the de Leon Family

By Sawyer A. Theriault
2010, Vol. 2 No. 11 | pg. 1/1

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoIn Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the de Léon family is in a perpetual hell, moving from struggle to struggle and never able to catch a break. Lola is constantly at odds with her mother, fighting with Beli throughout her cancer, shrieking “This time I hope you die from it”(Diaz 63). Eventually Lola runs away, “bound for the shore” to live with her boyfriend Aldo, attempting to leave her internal behind (Diaz 64). Oscar is stuck in a world of role-playing games and comic books, never able to experience the philandering or excitement that Diaz attributes to Dominican men. Beli never knew her parents or siblings, and was beaten and burned mercilessly during her upbringing. Is Beli able to escape this life though? Is Oscar able to escape it by jumping off the New Brunswick train bridge? Is Lola able to escape it by running away, not once, but twice? No. The reader quickly learns that there is no running away from life, no matter what the struggle at home is. For Lola, Beli, Oscar, and all the other unfortunate ones, there is no escaping the life they have chosen, whether consciously or not.

Inescapable conflict and struggle within the de Léon family is persistent throughout Diaz’s entire novel. Even Oscar’s uncle who lives in Paterson with him –a character less focused on– is used as a vehicle to present this strife through his constant addiction to heroin. He goes in and out of addiction during the story, but is never really able to escape it. It looms over Oscar’s uncle and the rest of the family, and suggests to the reader he has no chance of overcoming this battle. The idea of “fukú” also presents an inevitable fate. Diaz describes the “Curse and Doom of the New World” as a real, viable rationale the people of Santo Domingo attribute to any evil (Diaz 1). The murder of a family member, the collapse of a business, or the kidnapping and raping of your daughter by Trujillo; all can be condemned to fukú. The Dominicans do not dispute the curse, or even talk about it, it is just “in the air” and exists whether they believe or not (Diaz 2). The fukú may or may not affect Oscar’s, Beli’s, and Lola’s lives, but Diaz uses it as a device to signify the impending horrors each of them will face.

The idea of a foreordained fate is reinforced by Diaz’s tone and diction. He does not take on an extremely “literary” voice –often neglecting proper grammar and using more colloquialisms than formal phrases– and his tone is one of a person who has faced serious hardships. Swear words and sarcasm illuminate the tough world each character has grown up in and the relentless beatings, adversity, and struggles each one will have to deal with. Diaz describes Beli as having “the inchoate longings of nearly every adolescent,” and goes on to tell the reader “so fucking what?” All of this (the beatings, the hardships, the foreordained fate, the impending horrors) is unavoidable, however, no matter how each of them attempts to abscond from their lives.

Instead of Beli’s romanticized dream of being swept off her feet by a handsome man coming true, the opposite in fact takes place. When she learns the Gangster has gotten her pregnant, Beli is “out of her mind with happiness” (Diaz 136). This was the escape coming true; it was Beli’s way out of a life that had already struck her down, time after time. She soon learns though, that the baby is not a way out. The pregnancy is in fact something that will bring her closer to death than happiness. When the Gangster’s wife, who happens to be the sister of the brutal dictator in the Dominican Republic, finds out about the baby, Beli is beaten into oblivion and left for dead. Her way out is not a way out, and although Beli had a few moments after the beating where she yearned for her Gangster, she now knew there was no escaping this life.

Despite attempts to run away, Lola is stuck in the battle with her mother that has become her life. Upon moving back to the Dominican Republic in her high school years it seems as if Lola might actually have a chance to turn her life around. She is picked on in the school because of her dark skin, but that is not a tragedy that goes beyond any average high school Dominican. She had become a star on the track team and broke records, developed into a beautiful young lady and had love interests, but “All the happiness you gather to yourself…will sweep away like it’s nothing” (Diaz 205). After fourteen months of Lola living with her grandmother, finally feeling as if she may have moved on from that horrid life in Paterson, La Inca “announced that it was time for [her] to return…to [her] mother” (Diaz 205). When Beli arrives in Santo Domingo to pick up Lola, she immediately tells her daughter that she is still ugly. Any thought of moving on from what Lola had left behind in Paterson instantly vanished, never to return again.

Oscar never runs away, but he does hold on to the illusions inside his head that he might one day be free of this life. At the end of the novel, though, Oscar seems to understand he cannot escape, and “The only way out is in” (Diaz 209). The girl who had nearly gotten him killed was still the love of his life, and although she lived in Santo Domingo and had a boyfriend that would eventually kill Oscar, he returned for her anyway. Y’bon was not merely an escape for Oscar. He truly loved her and built her into his life; she was not just a distraction from the real world. When Oscar returns to Santo Domingo for Y’bon, he knows what is waiting and is willing to sacrifice himself for it. Instead of trying to escape the misery that had become his life, Oscar was trying to fix it.

The death of Oscar, the belittlement of Lola, and the beatings all three endure allude to the fact that there is no way of escaping what is coming. It is easy for the audience to predict what will happen to Oscar on his “Final Voyage”, but for him it was an honest attempt to mend the broken life he had created. It may or may not have been the fukú, but what is certain is that neither Beli nor Oscar nor Lola have the ability to run away from the life they lived.


References

Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.

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