Dictator Novels in the Americas
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is really a post-dictatorial novel in that it demonstrates the effects of the dictator on the people left behind when the dictator falls. It presents the idea that dictatorships form national identities which are embedded into the culture, making the dictator inescapable. In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the absent presence of the dictator influences the male identity and the immigrant identity, especially in the case of Oscar de Leon. There is an implicit struggle between the American Identity and the Dominican identity that is personified in Oscar which also demonstrates the power of a dictator's absent presence because that sense of identity is handed down through families.
Even the sense of what it means to be a man comes from Trujillo's dictatorship. Yunior refers to his violent sexuality while telling Abelard's story. Trujillo spent a large amount of his time as ruler raping women such as his comrades' wives and their daughters. This sense of violent or overt sexuality is held up as a masculine definition throughout the novel and while it works as a person under a dictatorship to comply to the popular standards, it does not work for Oscar, who is not under a dictatorship, yet still has to comply. The way that this standard is embedded into the culture and identity of manhood is a demonstration of the absent presence of the dictator in that he can still affect the all of the lives of the people he ruled over by inserting himself into their own identities. Trujillo inserts himself into the Dominican Republic's identity by "naming the capital after himself" (67) and he inserts himself into the Dominican peoples' identity by influencing the way that manhood is portrayed. By Yunior's definition which the implied popular definition, a man is a typical Dominican man if he has multiple sexual partners and/or a tendency to be violent toward those partners. The police officer that Ybon dates is the typical Dominican man. He is macho, strong and light-skinned and yet, he punishes Ybon by " sticking a gun into her vagina and asking her who she really loves" (234). The dictatorship set a tradition of violent sexuality that similar to fuku, follows the descendents through the rest of their lives even after the dictator has left.
From the characterization of the males in this novel, it is obvious that Trujillo's dictatorship emasculates men. Yunior is the epitome of a Dominican male which is defined as an unending amount of machismo and the inability to remain faithful to one partner. Oscar is the least macho character in this novel: obese, dark, and afro-haired. His appearance actually prevents him from being able to identify himself as Dominican without skepticism from other people. In college, Oscar has trouble relating to other Dominicans and he has to insist that he Dominican. His darkness is a large part of his identity as a Dominican-American because he is "darker than your darkest grandmother...with curly Puerto Rican hair" (39), which is historically significant because of Trujillo's policies toward dark-skinned Dominicans. In the footnotes that Yunior,the narrator, provides, it is made clear that Trujillo had racist tendencies against darker-skinned Dominicans and traditionally darker skinned Haitians. In the Parsley Massacre, thousands of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans died for suspicions of not being able to pronounce the "r" in "perejil."Trujillo himself powdered his face to seem lighter during interviews. He made the definition of a Dominican into a light skinned person, thus Oscar's identity as a Dominican is already in doubt because of this Eurocentric beauty standard.
Not only is Oscar taken out of the category of Dominican, but he is also removed from the category of manhood. His relatives have this great fear of him coming out to them as a gay man because of his inability to form romantic relationships with women. Yunior describes Oscar's childhood as "the best moment of his life," (13) because he played into the traditional gender roles of a Dominican man. At seven, Oscar was a Don Juan with two girlfriends until they both left him and his manhood. After his girlfriends break up with him, Oscar is constantly emasculated by his family as well as by Dominican society. Issues that usually inflict women trouble Oscar and situations typically affecting women, affect Oscar. In essence, he is a form of defiance against typical gender roles and issues because of the stereotype that men do not worry about their appearance because they have so much confidence in their masculinity. Oscar is a form of defiance because he continuously worries about his weight to the point of depression and he cries when he is rejected by a girl he has feelings for. Oscar's refusal to leave Ybon, does not elicit concern from Oscar's uncle for his health or safety, but instead celebration of proof that Oscar is not gay. For his family and even Oscar, his entrance into manhood is the loss of his virginity which allows him to enter the realm of Dominican manhood. After he has sex, he gains a sense of credibility from his peers that he did not have before.
The way his relationship with Ybon is described, it seems less a love story than a journey into manhood. Before starting his relationship with Ybon, Oscar was regarded as more of a child than a grown man. Lola still calls him Mister and attempts to protect him in an overbearing sense from Ybon. La Inca and Beli also attempt to change Oscar's mind about Ybon, La Inca with her voice and Beli with threats of violence, but for the first time in his life, Oscar is assertive. That and the fact that he does not cry as he is beaten the second time by Ybon's boyfriend shows how Oscar now sees himself as a man which makes others see him similarly. Afterward, even Yunior has a grudging sense of respect for Oscar on account of their equal footing. However, this equal footing is based on the experience of sex which indicates that Oscar is not able to remove himself from the societal standards of manhood being a product of sex and violence.
Knowing this, it is obvious why Yunior thinks of his sexuality as a curse. He is able to realize that his sense of masculinity comes from violence and infidelity which he continues to promote. There is also something to be said about the immigrant perspective on this type of sexuality. Yunior's sexuality is not necessarily the norm in American definitions of masculinity. His sense of masculinity is praised because of its machismo, but the general American sense of masculinity is much more similar to Oscar's. It could possibly be indicating that Oscar is so far removed from his Dominican identity that his sexual identity switches from the Dominican norm to the American norm.
Not only is there an internal struggle in Oscar between his sense of masculinity and his culture's sense of masculinity, but there is also a struggle of the immigrant identity. This is not only within Oscar, who is a first generation American, but also within the novel as a whole. The struggle within Oscar is the universal struggle within all immigrant Americans to unify their American identities with their cultural identities. Specifically in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the struggle to find a common ground between identities and cultures is seen in the characters' interactions with fuku and zafa. Yunior introduces the concept of zafa and fuku by saying that since Oscar is Caribbean " he has the great capacity to believe anything mystical"(14). In his ability to believe lies his identity as a part of the Dominican community and the presentation So, Yunior implies that the ability to believe in Caribbean folklore is nearly identical to the Eurocentric ability to believe in science fiction. The science fiction lens represents the duality of the Dominican and American cultures that Oscar represents as well as the duality that all first-generation American represent in the attempt to find a meeting point. The science-fiction lens allows readers to understand the context in which a whole culture can believe in a magical realist system outside of literature and it allows the intermixing of European of reality and the native culture of mysticism. This lens projects a view of the intersectionality of realities that is inherent in both Caribbean culture and science fiction. It is a parallel to typical readers that do not believe in mysticism and proves its relatability for those who do.
When Oscar presents Yunior with his family curse, Yunior dismisses it as " our parents stuff man"(134), implying that leaving the U.S. means leaving fuku behind and with fuku, American culture. Yet, Yunior himself also says "you don't have to believe in fuku, because fuku believes in you"(13) which shows how removing oneself from the country does not necessarily mean removing oneself from the culture. Here, fuku acts of a symbol of the Dominican identity because just like zafa, it is so embedded into every character's existence and the fact that it will not disappear when the characters disappear from the country is a demonstration of how Americanism cannot take away Dominican culture. However, not only fuku symbolized, but it is also gendered as male. It is the curse of the ultra-male Trujillo and it specifically targets men whereas the misfortune of the female characters is a result of fuku instead of a punishment enacting fuku. As a counterspell, zafa is also gendered as feminine. The mysticism related to being about to do a zafa comes from a mysticism that the male characters do not have access to. Lola, Beli, and La Inca all have some form of magical ability inherent in their womanhood that allows them to tell danger or incite people to do things. The characters' interactions with fuku and zafa act as a joining of folk story culture to Eurocentric scientific stories.
This novel is post-dictatorial because the effect of Trujillo on Oscar is handed down through generations and cultural lessons on identity. Yet, this identity is formed through the ideals of Trujillo, the dictator. Oscar can never escape fuku or zafa because he never escape Dominican culture. This is the power of the dictator's absent presence: he is able to embed himself into a whole culture so that he never dies. The standards of identity also reveal the vulnerabilities of the dictator. Although the novel is not written as a sympathetic view as is typical, it is still a dictator novel because the readers are given a completely different side to the dictator. While The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao may not have a provided a personal account of history through the dictator to humanize him and although fuku allows Trujillo to live eternally as a memory, he is humanized nonetheless. Trujillo was clearly insecure about his skin color as well as his manhood and his reaction was violence which he left as a tradition to the culture of masculinity in the Dominican Republic. However, through the tradition of that type of violence and that type of self-hate, Trujillo is then humanized because he becomes a regular person with insecurities. This is how Oscar, living in post-dictatorial Dominican society triumphs over Trujillo: they both become human and thus, equal.
Mar 22, 2012 #3
Here's a thesis I came up with using your words:
"The absent presence of Trujillo's dictatorship emasculates men in ____ as it forces masculinity into a pattern of behaviors independent of moral choice."
Notice how the thesis says more than, "Trujillo's dictatorship influences men," but it is not confined to one of the characters.
Forgive me, but I must "slash and burn" your introduction one more time.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is really a post-dictatorial novel in that it demonstrates the effects of the dictator on the people left behind when the dictator falls.
***Classifying a novel into one genre or one time period is trickier than it seems at first. If you classify something, you have to compare it to something else that is known to be of that classification. Or, you create a new classification by contrasting it with all possibilities(much harder). The purpose of the essay is not to classify the novel. I would leave out all "post-dictatorial" mention.***
It presents the idea that dictatorships form national identities which are embedded into the culture, making the dictator inescapable.
***Ok. But change "national identities" to something else. You aren't trying to prove that the dictator is present in the culture. It's almost a given.* **
In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the absent presence of the dictator influences the male identity and the immigrant identity, especially in the case of Oscar de Leon.
***Too general--"dictator influences the male..." and then too specific---Oscar.* **
There is an implicit struggle between the American Identity and the Dominican identity that is personified in Oscar which also demonstrates the power of a dictator's absent presence because that sense of identity is handed down through families.
***Where did American identity come from? You started talking about dictators and ended with multiple identities, some of which are handed down through families, and others magically appear. ***
Points of disagreement:
- "The struggle within Oscar is the universal struggle within all immigrant Americans to unify their American identities with their cultural identities. "
- I completely disagree. I've found most immigrants retain their cultural identities.
- "This novel is post-dictatorial because the effect of Trujillo on Oscar is handed down through generations and cultural lessons on identity. "
- Every family (even a terrible one) hands down something!
- "From the characterization of the males in this novel, it is obvious that Trujillo's dictatorship emasculates men. Yunior is the epitome of a Dominican male which is defined as an unending amount of machismo and the inability to remain faithful to one partner. "
- Don't use the word "obvious." You make an assertion, then follow it with a confusing example. I would wait to introduce Yunior b/c his character is not what it appears, or at least that's the argument you make later.
- "It could possibly be indicating that Oscar is so far removed from his Dominican identity that his sexual identity switches from the Dominican norm to the American norm. "
- I thought sexual identity meant liking men or women or both? You haven't talked about norms and not much about the American one. It's very hard to follow.
- "This is how Oscar, living in post-dictatorial Dominican society triumphs over Trujillo: they both become human and thus, equal."
- Trujillo wasn't a schoolyard bully. He did some really bad things--not b/c he had low self-esteem. I don't buy that either. It's possible he did have insecurities, but most men in his position have insecurities.
I hope my comments help you. I'll be around for additional revisions if you wish.
I strongly suggest a complete revision of all paragraphs. You picked a hard topic for a woman! I know I would have a very difficult time writing this paper. Was the book hard to read---violence and all? It looked very good, but I hate reading novels that induce panic, fear, and crying fits.
Zafa or Fuku In the culture of the Dominican Republic there are two words that usually come hand in hand with one another. “Fuku,” a type of curse or bad luck, and “zafa,” a counter spell to the fuku. In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz one of the main themes is about the strong culture of ‘Fuku’ in the Dominican Republic. Throughout the book, many different stories about this phenomenon are told to bring to face the negativity ‘Fuku’ brings as each member of the De Leon family tries to overcome their tragedies with their own unique zafa, Oscar Wao, the main character, being no exception. “ Santo Domingo might be fuku’s kilometer zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not” (2). Most of people who read this book, believe that Oscar Wao has to have had either fuku or zafa, butin my opinion I believe that there neither was present, it was simply “life experiences.” Oscar, the main character in the book, is portrayed as an overweight ‘ghetto” nerd who is an outcast wherever he goes but he needed to realize that he controlled his own fate, not fuku . He is repeatedly described as un-Dominican due to his lack of masculinity and his extreme nerd like personality. Oscar’s physical appearance is evidence of Fuku, it can be said that his appearance is the essence of Fuku. Due to the fact that Oscar Wao is not considered to be a “normal” Dominican, his family believes that his Fuku is what prevents him from looking and behaving like a normal Dominican. Furthermore, this curse dooming Oscar to his outcast fate—his Fuku—affected not only himself, but those around him as well (255-270). My evidence matters/is important because Diaz is saying that if Oscar just accepted this so called fated curse that was brought upon to his family for generations, his story would be of no use to tell. These findings have important consequences because Diaz wants to argue that d espite this curse and his outcast life, the reason why his story is told is that Oscar was brave enough to break through his Fuku. Although my evidence does not say so