The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Book 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter starts the de León story over again from Lola’s perspective, as she describes a defining moment of change in her life. Lola remembers the sick feeling of finding a lump in her mother’s breast, even as she also resents her mother’s harsh control on her life. Lola had a premonition that something bad would happen, and takes this discovery as a sign that she too will be victim to the family curse (fukú). Lola rebels against her mother’s dictates to be the perfect Dominican girl, after years of putting up with her mother’s foul temper. The breast cancer also means that now Lola’s mother no longer has the energy to hit Lola and Oscar. When Lola is 14, she finally takes a stand and burns her mother’s wig.
Lola is the only character besides the narrator (Yunior) to speak in her own voice through the book, giving her more control over how she is portrayed. We can trust Lola’s character more because she only speaks for herself, unlike the narrator, who pretends to know the thoughts of other characters. The family “curse” follows Lola in America, as Díaz comments on how traumatic family events often affect children even if they did not live through the experience firsthand.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Lola moves further back in time to describe the events that led her to burn her mother’s wig. Lola explains her strained relationship with her mother and the suffocating life under her mother’s Old World Dominican control. Lola tries to tamp down the “witchy” feeling she gets before her mother gets sick, but she can’t contain the wildness inside her. Lola starts to fight back against her mother, disrespecting her mother’s wishes and staying out with her “goth” light-skinned friend Karen Cepeda. Lola lets Karen give her a short, spiky hairstyle. Lola’s mother, who now wears a wig after losing her hair from chemo treatment, throws the wig at Lola when she sees Lola’s hair that night, telling her to cover the botched cut. Lola burns the wig on the kitchen stove and slaps her mother when she tries to hit her.
Lola’s story also introduces the conflict between first and second generations in many immigrant families, as each member has to decide how much to assimilate to a new culture and how much to hold firm to their heritage. When Lola cuts her hair, she effectively rejects the cultural standards of her mother. Karen and Lola each enact a form of rebellion against the mainstream culture of their parents through their goth style, but Lola’s presentation is more shocking because her skin color is the opposite of the pale goth stereotype.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Though Lola feels guilty and ungrateful for everything her mother sacrificed to raise her and Oscar, she continues to assert her own personality, despite the fact that her mother hates these markers of American culture. Their mother’s rage simmers through the house, keeping Oscar trapped in his room, and pushing Lola to leave at the age of 15. Fed up with life at home, Lola runs away with her latest boyfriend Aldo.
Lola does not actually know what her mother has sacrificed to move to the United States, as her mother only tells her the idealized, censored version of the story. Like Trujillo in the DR, Lola’s mother acts as a dictator in the house and Lola naturally resents this control despite her genuine desire to be a good daughter.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Aldo is a 19-year-old “blanquito” (white boy) who lives with his elderly father in a trailer on a part of the Jersey Shore called Wildwood. He asks Lola to move in with him three times, but she does not agree until she and her mother reach the final breaking point. When Lola insults her mother after she announces that the doctors want to run more tests for signs of cancer, Lola and her mother have their biggest fight yet. Lola disappears the next morning and painfully loses her virginity to Aldo that night. She compares their relationship to Dominique and Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.
Lola seems contemptuous of Aldo’s character, his living situation, and his skin color. At the same time, Lola is seemingly attracted to him for the white American values he represents, rather than for anything specific about the actual boy. The allusion to Ayn Rand cements Aldo’s status as a stereotypical figurehead of American success. Rand’s book focuses on her theories of “objectivism,” the ultra-capitalist values that supposedly save the American Dream.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
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Life with Aldo is not the escape Lola dreamed of, as she is miserable and bored. Aldo’s father selfishly ensures that Lola does not feel welcome, locking the refrigerator door and keeping his cat box in Aldo and Lola’s tiny room. Lola hates her job selling fries on the boardwalk, and can’t stand the fights between Aldo and his father. Things get even worse when she loses her job and Aldo starts to work at the garage with his father, making him even crabbier than before. Lola worries that Oscar will be skinny now that he has no one to cook for him, and she dreams of her mother shrinking small enough to fit into her own hand. Lola wants to leave, but is too proud to admit she made a mistake by leaving her family.
Rather than a “white savior” who helps Lola rise above her childhood in poverty, Aldo actually brings Lola lower. Like Oscar, Lola cannot improve her life by forcing herself to adopt a fake persona of whiteness. Lola’s worries for her family reveal how purely she loves them, as she misses Oscar’s weight and her mother’s domineering presence rather than hoping that those “flaws” have changed in her absence. These dreams nod to the magical-realism present in many Latino novels.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
However, once Aldo begins making racist remarks, Lola stands up for herself. She rejects Aldo’s advances that night and calls Oscar the next morning. Oscar cries when he hears Lola’s voice, and Lola realizes how much she missed him. She and Oscar arrange to meet at a coffee shop on the boardwalk, so that Oscar can give Lola some of the clothes and books she left behind and some of the money their mother hides. Lola dreams about using that money to take Oscar and run away to Dublin.
Aldo is one of few white characters in the novel, and he is also one of few characters to make overtly racist comments. Paradoxically, his comments are both worse to hear and easier to avoid than the internalized racism portrayed by characters of color. It is a sign of Lola’s inner strength that she immediately looks for a way out once she encounters this type of emotional abuse.Lola’s preoccupation with Dublin nods to the many allusions to Yeats, an Irish poet, in the novel.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Lola walks in to the coffee shop to find that Oscar is fatter than ever, and that he told their mother about the meeting. Their mother ambushes Lola and grabs hold of her, but Lola manages to break free and start running down the boardwalk. Lola looks back at her mother just to make sure she is alright, and sees that her mother is crumpled on the sidewalk crying. Lola has sympathy for the dying woman and walks back to her mother. Once she is close enough for her mother to grab her, though, she sees that her mother had been faking her tears.
This scene presents a small-scale version of the conflict that follows Lola all her life. She is capable of “rising above” her family’s troubles and leaving them to pursue her personal dreams, but she always comes back to comfort her family in times of need. Lola’s mother seems to know this, and manipulates her daughter’s feelings of loyalty and caring to get what she wants.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Lola is sent to Santo Domingo with La Inca for the next year, so that she can’t run away. She likes school there well enough, even though her goth style sticks out much worse here than it did in New York. With her friend Rocío, Lola joins the track team, which gives her gorgeous legs, and she starts dressing like a “real Dominican girl.” She also gets along much better with her great-aunt, La Inca, than with her mother. Lola starts to think about staying in the DR for another year. She even starts to miss her mother, misting up when she sees a picture of how thin her mother is now. Her mother calls to say that Lola can come home if she wants to.
Ironically, Lola is sent to the DR because she can’t “run away” from the island, yet there she joins the track team, an activity that improves her ability to run. However, Lola runs in circles without actually getting anywhere, just as her year in the DR will not further any of her previous goals in the US. Her transformation into a “real Dominican girl” highlights the disconnect she feels between the Dominican and American halves of her identity.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Lola’s peace in the DR is disturbed when the odd feeling of premonition returns. She wonders if the feeling is telling her to run away again, but she can’t bring herself to leave her great-aunt, La Inca. She also starts dating a boy named Max, enamored with his job running film reels between the three theaters in Santo Domingo. Though Max is low-class according to Dominican standards, he dreams of improving his life by moving to the US. He treats Lola well and she is “fond” of him. Thinking that perhaps the premonition is about Max, she lets him make love to her. He pronounces her body a “treasure” and helps her start seeing herself in that light.
Max would rather live in a fantasy world dreaming of the US than face reality in the DR. His job reflects this desire, focusing on making the escapism of a movie more available rather than fixing the poverty rampant in the DR that prevents each theater from buying their own reels. Lola again uses a relationship as a way to escape, this time into movie fantasy. However, her connection to Max seems more genuine than previously with Aldo, because Max adores her body, skin color and all.
Themes
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Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
The strange feeling of change continues to bother Lola, until she can’t sleep and her performance on the track team suffers. One night, she comes home from a date with Max to find her great aunt waiting for her. Lola thinks about how much she appreciates the older woman’s strength and acceptance. La Inca is looking at pictures of Lola’s mother. She tells Lola how beautiful her mother was, and says that they too struggled to get along when her mother was young. Lola’s feeling hits her hard, and she holds her breath as she waits for La Inca to tell her more of her family history. She decides that she is “waiting to begin.”
The similarities between Lola and her mother become more clear, particularly as the chapter ends abruptly and moves into the next section (which jumps further back to discuss Beli, presumably with information from La Inca). Luckily, Lola is in a position to prevent her mother’s bitter end. Importantly, the cursed feeling that Lola associates with fukú only goes away once Lola learns more about her family, suggesting that the family curse (or at least its continuance) partly stems from a lack of information about one’s own identity and heritage. As Lola prepares to learn more about her mother, she feels that she herself is only “waiting to begin.”
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon