Kelly's Writing

Queens College

Oscar Wao Presentation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly Santana at 10:27 pm on Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hi guys! Here are my notes from my presentation:

Text: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007)

  • This novel is about the life of Oscar De Leon, an overweight boy from the Dominican Republic, growing up in New Jersey. It tells the story of Oscar’s tragic comic book and sci-fi obsessed life, and of the curse that is believed to have been plaguing his family for generations.

Source: “Comic Book Realism: Form and Genre in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Daniel Bautista (2010)

(Genre)

  • The different genres included in the novel, such as sci-fi and fantasy, are not merely used to portray Oscar’s “nerdy” personality; but create what Bautista calls “comic book realism” which “irreverently mixes realism and popular culture in an attempt to capture the bewildering variety of cultural influences that define the lives of Diaz’s Dominican-American protagonists” (42).

Magic Realism has been used by many different Latin American authors in order to express the often odd “political and cultural condition of their region” (42).

The use of magical realism is often inspired by the strong “traditional or indigenous beliefs in modern Latin America” (42). The traditions and cultures in Latin America were shaped by the supernatural mythologies of that region.

  • Oscar notes the same point in the novel: “what more sci-fi than Santo Domingo” What more fantasy than the Antilles?” (Diaz 6).

What separates his novel from this tradition is that Diaz’s main character has a difficult relationship with his homeland and the land he moves to (untying him from the beliefs of his country’s supernatural mythologies).

  • From the start of the novel, Oscar has a complicated relationship with his homeland (DR) because he does not live up to the ideals of how a Dominican man should be. He left DR at a young age, and was raised in the US. Not only is his character separated from that of a “normal” Dominican boy, he is also physically separated from the country itself. And when he visits DR, Oscar is often mocked for being a “gringo” (foreigner), distancing him further from his own people.
  • Oscar’s even ostracized in New York because his own friends don’t believe he’s Dominican (nor is he American).

Because of this, “Oscar self-consciously approaches what he perceives as the fantastic aspects of Santo Domingo from the position of an outsider” (compared to other characters that have an identity with their home country in other LAL). “This helps to explain why Oscar sees the Dominican Republic through the optic of literary genres that are not exclusively or, in the case of sci-fi, even particularly Latin American” (43).

The sci-fi genre and Oscar:

Oscar’s fascination with fantasy and comic books alienates him because neither country is quite familiar with the odd and “nerdy” genre at the time (Friends and family call his interest in it “a rather unfortunate and nerdy addiction” (Diaz 43)). But Bautista writes that Diaz’s novel suggests that Oscar’s affinity for sci-fi can be a natural outcome for “the peculiar mixture of change and tradition that marks his immigrant experience” (44-45).

Sci-fi does not only serve as another form of alienation and otherness, it allows us to understand Diaz’s version of the Dominican-American reality and experience: “Diaz suggests that the comic book and sci-fi world offer a wealth of parallels for the challenges faced by the Dominican-American who does not quite feel at home on either side of that hyphen” (45).

  • The narrator notes, “You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart book-ish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto” (Diaz 22).

In an interview Bautista mentions, Diaz discusses this connection:

Sometimes the only way to describe these lived moments – the surreality and ir-reality of some of the things that people like myself have experienced – is through lenses like science fiction. The joke is you’re Dominican living in the Dominican Republic in 1974, and you get transported to the U.S. from the campo […] […] I think the narrative that would logically be most useful would be not only space travel – traveling between two planets – but time travel. Jumping between two entire existences, two entire temporal moments, is what it feels like. These conventions you find in science fiction are awesome in trying to discuss some of the tensions and weirdness of being a person of color… (45)

  • Yunior assumes the same about Oscar: amongst other reasons, as to why he might love what he calls the speculative genre: “It might have been a consequence of being Antillean or of living in the DR for the first couple of years of his life and then abruptly wrenchingly relocating to New Jersey – a single green card shifting not only worlds (from Third to First) but centuries (from almost no TV or electricity to plenty of both).” (footnote 21-22).

Diaz using the sci-fi genre to portray the horror of DR under the reign of Trujillo

As Bautista points out, Diaz doesn’t use any of the hopeful or ideal aspects of sci-fi like that of The Lord of the Rings, he only speaks of the dark and evil characters in them. Yunior compares Trujillo to the Evil One, his henchman to Nazgul and other sinister characters in the sci-fi text. He also compares DR as a whole to the land of Mordor. Diaz uses this text and other fantastical comics/texts in order for the reader to place and understand the horrors and evil of DR and its dictator at the time.

  • “…the marvelous in Diaz’s text hardly ever functions as a hopeful or positive alternative. Instead, Yunior’s sci-fi and fantasy allusions mostly serve to reveal a fallen world where the marvelous neither no longer exists or where what remains of it has been forced into the service of evil (46).
  • “The ironic distance between many of the fantastic allusions in Diaz’s novel and the actual life of his characters highlights the fact that, despite traditional superstitions about the existence of the supernatural, the grim reality of Dominican history in general was often neither wonderful nor magical” (47).

Magic Realism usually asserts the supernatural and fantastical as real and accepts it as a truth, whereas in this novel, most of the characters speculate if certain supernatural moments (like that of the mongoose) are real or not.

Oscar himself doesn’t believe the family curse is a real thing for most of the novel. Bautista writes that his “comic book realism” borrows elements of magical realism, the speculative genres, and American popular culture in order to create something new that highlights the importance of “cultural mediation”

One final interesting thing Bautista points out is that by the end of his life, Oscar has come to believe that the fuku is real and his family truly is cursed by it. Oscar accepts the supernatural beliefs of his homeland, tying him back to it in ways he hadn’t been before.

  • “Yunior suggests that it is precisely Oscar’s sci-fi and fantasy outlook that ultimately nurtures his growing openness to a Dominican supernatural tradition he had initially dismissed” (49).
  • Yunior confirms this point: Oscar’s grandfathers book about Trujillo’s supernatural roots would have, “appealed to the deep structures in his nerd brain” (Diaz 246).
  • It was precisely Oscar’s love for sci-fi and fantasy that “[served] as an unlikely yet effective bridge back to the Dominican supernatural tradition that Oscar was formerly indifferent to” (49). This allowed him to reconnect to his homeland and form some sort of relation to it that he hadn’t had before then.


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