The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Book 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Look at the Princess. The narrator returns again, going further back in the family timeline to tell the story of Oscar and Lola’s mother, Hypatia Belicia Cabral. He describes her as a Dominican princess, with a beautiful body, dark skin, and the same desire to be elsewhere that her daughter had. He calls this feeling “that particular Jersey malaise.”
The narrator frames Hypatia Belicia as a princess, paving the way for her story to be heavily influenced by the genre of romance (both novels and movies). Just as her children will later experience, Hypatia Belicia’s extremely dark skin becomes an obstacle to her desired life path. However, Beli’s search for identity also includes class struggle, as she is born into economic and social privilege, but grows up in poverty.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Under the Sea. Hypatia Belicia, called Beli, lives with her aunt La Inca in Baní, one of the poorer neighborhoods of Santo Domingo. The narrator distinguishes the peaceful Baní in the 1950s from the frenzied Baní of today, but explains that the neighborhood was intolerant of black skin in those days. Still, Beli has it relatively easy, as La Inca owns a chain of bakeries and treats Beli with kindness. In contrast to her early childhood with a “monstrous” foster family, the narrator calls Beli’s time with La Inca the “Beautiful Days.” The narrator also alludes to a horrific incident that left a burn scar across Beli’s entire back, but he does not reveal what specifically happened. La Inca tells Beli all about her family’s elite roots, and does not beat her (unlike most Dominican parents, according to the narrator).
“Under the Sea” recalls the motif of fairy tales, referencing The Little Mermaid. The mermaid Ariel also wanted an escape from the world she lived in. However, Díaz grounds this fairy-tale imagery in the real experience of a Dominican neighborhood, so that Beli is a distinctly and recognizably Dominican princess. Her name, Hypatia Belicia, connotes the high society life that was taken from her, while her nickname Beli aligns with the low-status life she is now living. Still, what is said is as important as what is unsaid. We now know more about, Beli but there are still shadowy aspects of her past that remain “blank pages.”
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Despite how La Inca spoils her, Beli has an unquenchable thirst for change, constantly straining against the bounds of her life. The narrator says that Beli would have felt like that no matter where she grew up, and is extra unlucky to have been born on an unescapable island such as the DR in the 1950s. Beli’s feelings of suffocation match the feelings of her generation, as her peers are the ones who will finally bring revolution to the DR. La Inca wants Beli to have nothing to do with revolution, reminding her that her family tradition is to be a rich doctor.
Even Beli, who remains staunchly apolitical throughout the novel, cannot escape the whirlwind of change that overtook the DR during the end of the Trujillo regime. This reinforces Díaz’s point that it is the ordinary people who make history interesting, and indeed that history is made by people just trying to live out what they consider to be a good life. However, Beli’s personality and perhaps her cursed destiny will soon draw her into Trujillo’s web despite her (and La Inca’s) reluctance.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
La Chica de Mi Escuela (The Girl from My School). When Beli is 13, La Inca gets her a scholarship to the best private school on the island, called El Redentor. However, Beli does not fit in there because of her dark skin and her rough upbringing with the foster family. Beli puts up a tough girl attitude to deal with the teasing, overreacting to the smallest insults until no one will so much as speak to her. The narrator compares her experience to the famous Dominican movie “In the Time of the Butterflies,” saying it was nothing like that.
The private school experience gives Beli both a significant mark of privilege and ties her into a specific tradition of Latino and Dominican “telenovelas” (soap operas) in which school is an important rite of passage. Though Beli struggles like her son Oscar to assert her identity despite her appearance, her troubles have less to do with her skin color and ethnicity than with her class background. “In the Time of the Butterflies” also features a girl at a private school on scholarship, but the girl in the movie is befriended and ultimately accepted into upper-crust Dominican society—although this movie ends in tragedy as well.
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
Get the entire Oscar Wao LitChart as a printable PDF.
The brief wondrous life of oscar wao.pdf.medium
Beli is completely ignored at school, and forced to sit next to Wei, a Chinese girl who speaks no Spanish. The only time Wei speaks to Beli is to tell her that her skin is “black-black”. Her time with the foster family, the “Lost Years,” makes it hard for Beli to focus and her grades suffer. Though La Inca wants Beli to become a doctor, Beli cares more about boys at school than she does about the subjects she is taught. Yet Beli, ever full of upper-class arrogance, pretends to all the children in Baní that her school is a paradise. Beli spins beautiful stories for Dorca, a mistreated servant girl, where Jack Pujols, the most desirable boy in school, is her boyfriend. She makes herself out to be as good as the heroines from all the romance movies she loves.
Introducing Wei, a character outside of both the Dominican and American experiences that the novel highlights, allows Díaz to comment on the way that racism can include a hierarchy beyond “white” and “non-white.” Though both Beli and Wei are marginalized for their skin color and backgrounds, they have contempt for each other instead of standing in solidarity. And though Wei might seem more out of place than Beli, as she is dealing with a language barrier as well, Wei too jeers at Beli’s skin tone. To cope with her ostracism at school, Beli escapes into fantasies patterned off the movies that she watches.
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
Beli dreams of the day that Jack Pujols will whisk her off to France, like the romance actress María Montez. The narrator explains that romance movies were common in the Dominican Republic while Beli was growing up, but that she was more “boy-crazy” than any of her friends. La Inca warns her that boys will never solve problems, but Beli remains single-minded. However, no boy in her neighborhood is worthy of her attention, and no boy at her school will pay any attention to her.
Like her son Oscar will later do, Beli places romantic pursuits above school - at least according to the narrator. However, the level of exaggeration the narrator includes in this section suggests that he may be embellishing so that Beli’s story better matches a romance novel’s melodrama. Either way, La Inca’s prophecy comes true: a boy does lead to Beli’s downfall.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Kimota! Despite the difficulties facing Beli’s search for love, she finds her first love.
“Kimota”, the magic word that a comic-book character named Mickey Moran says in order to turn into Marvel Man, is an obscure reference to the British remake of the comic Captain Marvel. In the context of Beli’s story, it simply reinforces how miraculous it was that she found love. At a character level, the fact that the narrator is familiar with this reference shows that the narrator is far nerdier than he wants to admit.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Número Uno (Number One). Jack Pujols is the son of an elite Dominican family that is in Trujillo’s inner circle. Jack is nearly white skinned, and the narrator explains that he is an entitled brat who will eventually work with Balaguer, Trujillo’s right-hand man and successor. A footnote delves deeper into Balaguer’s character, painting him with the same demonizing brush as Trujillo. As loud-mouthed, cocky, and misguided as Jack Pujols is, he is Beli’s first love and her first heartbreak. She displays her love by constantly running into him in the hallway.
Jack Pujols’ white skin hearkens back to Lola’s desire for a light-skinned man. Beli does not seem to truly love Jack, but instead the elite (though corrupt) status a relationship with him would promise.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Beli is completely invisible to Jack Pujols until she matures into her adult body, an experience the narrator calls the “Summer of Her Secondary Sex Characteristics.” She blossoms into a “terrible beauty” with a generously curvy figure. At first, Beli is ashamed of all the attention that her curves get. However, once she sees that her figure gives her power over the males who adore her, she starts to embrace these advantages. The proof of this power comes when she convinces her dentist to meet her at a park to cheat on his wife with her. Though Beli doesn’t go through with the tryst, she is giddy at the thought that she can manipulate other people that way. She decides to use these new assets to the fullest.
Beli’s “terrible beauty” quotes the famous poem Yeats wrote for the 1916 Irish revolution. Yeats agreed with the sentiments of the revolution, but grieved that the revolution was unsuccessful and most of the leaders were executed. Likewise, Beli’s beauty might be a worthy prize, but it could also destroy her. The explosive nature of this physical change again evokes a comic book, as the narrator’s preferred genre slips into Beli’s romance story again. While Beli’s use of her beauty might seem like an empowering choice, the narrator makes it clear that she doesn’t truly know what she is getting herself into by relishing her new status.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos 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
Hunt the Light Knight. Newly confident from the changes that had taken place that summer, Beli returns to school determined to catch Jack Pujols’ eye, with a frenzy comparable to Ahab’s search for the white whale in Moby Dick. She follows him, and even wears her shirt partially unbuttoned, but nothing works until she runs into him in the hallway again. He finally speaks to her, but gives her nothing else to fuel her romantic passion.
By comparing Beli to Captain Ahab, Díaz both sets Beli up for a tragic fall that mirrors Ahab’s death, and creates a space in a historically prestigious novel (Moby Dick) for a Latino character that would seem to be his polar opposite. The fact that Jack’s skin is also described as “white” like the whale’s gives the comparison an ironic twist.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Though Beli mopes over Jack Pujols’ lack of interest, her grades are actually better than ever and English is her best subject. A teacher asks them to write an essay about their predictions for the future, for themselves, Trujillo, and the DR. A classmate, Mauricio Ledesme, disappears because he writes about his hopes that the DR will become a true democracy without dictators, like the USA. He also accuses Trujillo of killing Galíndez, a scholar in the DR who wrote a dissertation exposing the evils of the Trujillo regime. A footnote expands on the torture and execution that Trujillo ordered for Galíndez, as well as many other writers and teachers, suggesting that writers and dictators are natural enemies because they both have the power to sway the thoughts of the population. Beli, for her part, writes only that she wants to be married to a wealthy man and work as a doctor in a hospital named for Trujillo.
In this section, Beli’s story takes a backseat to the narrator’s (and possibly Díaz’s) interest in using writing as a tool against dictators. The narrator focuses on the nobility and sacrifice involved in exposing a dictator in print. It seems likely that the narrator is hoping to add an element of that revolutionary sentiment to his own novel, though he also notes the dangerous similarities between writers and dictators. Each profession promises complete control over a particular world, speaking to a perhaps universal human desire to have control over fate.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
That October, Jack Pujols breaks up with his previous girlfriend and stops Beli in the hallway. He calls her beautiful, and just like that they are dating. He drives her around, though he doesn’t have a license. He is allowed to get away with anything because his father is the best friend of Trujillo’s son. A footnote fills in the Trujillo family tree, explaining that Trujillo’s son was just as violent as his father, contributing to genocide and torture until he was killed in a car crash meant to kill someone else.
From the start, it is clear that Jack Pujols’ intentions with Beli are superficial at best. Like many other relationships in the novel, Beli and Jack’s courtship presents a man taking what he wants despite how it may harm others. The theme of family inheritance and generational cycles appears here as well, as Trujillo’s son continues his disreputable lifestyle and is also killed in a car.
Themes
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Amor! (Love!). While Beli later remembers the brief romance between her and Jack through rose colored glasses, it is nothing like what she imagined. Jack is very rough with Beli when he takes her virginity, caring only for his own feelings, but Beli is too in love with him, and the conquest she has made, to mind. When they are caught having sex in a school closet, Jack Pujols renounces her completely. It is too late to save his reputation, as Beli is a “prieta,” a name given to very dark-skinned girls, and the lowest level on the Dominican social ladder. His engagement to a woman of another prominent Dominican family is called off, his father begins to beat him, and he is sent to a military school in Puerto Rico. He and Beli never see each other again.
Beli censors herself, just as she censors the stories that she tells her children about the DR. But by refusing to ever acknowledge the truth, she robs herself (and her family) of the chance to move past those events. Beli achieves her ambition, but it does not give her the happiness she wanted. Jack’s character is irredeemably tarnished, and he is one of few male aggressors to immediately face consequences for his actions. This is contrary to the novel’s pattern of delayed fukú consequences up to now, but supports the narrator’s claim that fukú doom always strikes when it wants to.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Beli feels no embarrassment at the discovery, insisting that she and Jack share true love and that Jack had promised to marry her. No one, from her teachers to La Inca, can get Beli to admit she was wrong. La Inca still can’t bring herself to physically punish Beli, but she yells at her and orders her to go back to school. Beli takes an oath that she will never serve anyone’s will but her own, and drops out of school. Rallied by her new decision, Beli goes to town and talks her way into a job as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant, owned by a man named Juan Then. La Inca is horrified, but thinks that Beli will give up on her own soon enough.
It seems as though Beli has been telling herself romantic fantasies for so long that she cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. The narrator seems to suggest that Beli deserved a beating, almost as a way to knock some sense into her and save her from later, greater pain. As it stands, Beli shows how headstrong she is, as well as her ability to continue to survive after a crushing blow. However, her choices do have consequences, as the only place that will offer her work is a restaurant owned by the only people even lower on the pecking order in the DR than Beli herself.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos 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
Working as a waitress is not glamorous, but 14-year-old Beli takes to it easily. The owners of the Chinese restaurant, Juan and José Then, are distant, but treat Beli with kindness. She learns compassion from gentle Juan and many practical skills from the tougher José. She enjoys her job there, garnering much affection from the male patrons. La Inca comes to the restaurant to try to shame Beli into quitting, but Beli knows this is the right choice for herself and keeps working as hard as ever.
Contrary to expectations, Beli does not act like a spoiled princess at her job, and she even excels under the tutelage of Juan and Jose. Beli seems to let go of the prejudice she held against Chinese people when she interacted with Wei. Beli’s age is a shocking reminder of how young and naïve she still is, even though she has faced far more challenging life experiences than many of her peers.
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
Beli has many admirers at the restaurant, though few act on their affections for fear of José. Though she likes the attention, Beli finds out that she cannot let go of Jack Pujols. Two men in particular, a car dealer and a young revolutionary, fall in love with her, even though she refuses their advances. The car dealer is obsessed with baseball, and Arquimedes, the young student, bends Beli’s ear with talk of how to improve the DR. A footnote explains how dangerous it was to be a student during Trujillo’s regime, with men like Johnny Abbes García sent to murder anyone caught plotting against the dictator. Even though Beli likes the attention and ego boost from two men, she does not let anything physical happen.
Jose steps in as a father-like figure for Beli, though he has none of the warmth that she desires from a father. Jose’s chivalry now sets up his and his brother’s heroic actions when Beli is truly threatened by members of Trujillo’s hit squad. The two men who do fall for Beli are harmless, each presenting an alternative future for the DR. The car dealer’s obsession with baseball ties him to the United States and a democratic future for the DR, while Arquimedes’ passion for study ties him to the Communist revolutionaries in Latin American countries such as Cuba.
Themes
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
In 1959, the Trujillo regime begins to crumble, worrying the Then brothers and Arquimedes that the fallout will be worse than the administration itself. Beli tells them all that their concerns are ridiculous, and the narrator reveals that Arquimedes indeed survives all of the disastrous events to come. That February, one of the waitresses has to leave to care for her mother and the new waitress Constantina takes an immediate liking to Beli. Constantina lives a wild life on the island, partying in the many clubs of Santo Domingo all night before she comes in to work. She convinces Beli to move on from pining for Jack Pujols and tells her to come out to a club with her, a choice that the narrator calls “the Decision that Changed Everything.” This club will lead to all the events of Beli’s life, and cause her to move to America.
The narrator assures us of Arquimedes’ safety, but says nothing of Beli’s, making it look as though she will not survive this. But then the narrator goes on to explain that Beli will live – albeit in vastly different circumstances in the USA. It seems as though one possible life path for Beli has died. Constantina provides a version of the woman that Beli could have become, had she not fallen into the fukú trap.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
El Hollywood. Beli feels out of place at the club, as it is her first time, but she soon loses herself in dancing. All night, a powerful man watches her from the corner, and the narrator tells us that this man will steal Beli’s heart and send her to America. Their first meeting is an explosive fight, because Beli screams at the man not to touch her or call her “morena” (dark). She leaves the club in a huff, but thinks about this man, who’s known as The Gangster, all the next week. She ignores La Inca’s anger that she even went to a club, and talks about nothing but the Gangster to the car dealer, Arquimedes, Constantina, and anyone who will listen. Finally, Constantina agrees to take Beli back to El Hollywood. Beli dances with the Gangster and tells him her full name, but he renames her “Beautiful.”
Naming the club “El Hollywood” reinforces the frame of movies for Beli’s story. Likewise, The Gangster is named for an archetype rather than given a true name, increasing the sense that he is just a character in Beli’s life and not a fully complex human. Beli expects the typical night out shown in Hollywood films, and gives in to the rush of that drama by mistaking passion for love. This leads her into an exciting but destructive relationship.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
The Gangster We’ve All Been Waiting For. It’s unclear how much Beli knew of the Gangster’s work, but the narrator tells us that he was one of Trujillo’s best spies and hit men. Born into poverty, he soon proved his usefulness to the government and rose to become a major in a branch of the Secret Police. He is skilled at all the true gangster trades, but he gets into a mess in Cuba and has to abandon the country on a midnight plane. Still smarting from this slip-up, he looks to Beli to ease his wounded pride. The Gangster is a harsh and violent man in his work, but he treats Beli like a princess. Though he is not the ideal hero she had imagined, his finesse and culture convince her that she can love him. As she unravels the layers of this man, and find tenderness in his heart due to his past as an orphan and his discomfort with his crimes, she realizes she truly does love him.
With the Gangster’s backstory filled in, he becomes even more like the ultimate mythical gangster. He is also a man who has chosen to erase his own past, following the pattern of self-censorship that follows many of the Dominican characters who lived through Trujillo’s “blank pages.” Because the Gangster treats Beli as she has always believed she deserved, she can ignore the less savory aspects of his character and the signs that this relationship is not everything she wants.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Once Beli has decided to love the Gangster, she loves as hard as her son (Oscar) will decades later. The Gangster reciprocates and promises her a future far more beautiful than he can deliver. His adoration supports Beli, and she begins to love her own skin, and even the huge scar on her back, as much as he does. She boasts to the rest of Baní that he will take her to a beautiful house in Miami, not knowing that he is currently out of Trujillo’s favor due to the mistake in Cuba. Beli focuses all her energy on the Gangster, ignoring everyone’s poor opinions of him, and she is soon fired from the restaurant. She ignores every warning about Trujillo’s fragile position and revels in being in love.
Though being loved makes it easier for Beli to love herself, this is not a permanent solution to her lack of self-worth. She is painstakingly building a fantasy of the Gangster, complete with the promise of a house in Miami. The narrator makes it clear that this “American Dream” will never come true for Beli, but that she willfully pins all her hopes on the Gangster instead of understanding that she can improve her life for herself.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Reality continues despite Beli’s romantic fantasy, and soon the Gangster is disappearing suddenly on business, returning late and in a foul mood. Beli hates how these weeks-long absences give the neighborhood more ammunition against the Gangster, and she comes on even stronger when the Gangster is home to take her out. During one of these absences, Beli goes to see her old boyfriends and break it off with them for good. The car dealer reacts poorly, and Beli knocks him out with a whiskey bottle in self-defense. The Secret Police stop her, but let her go due to her connection with the Gangster. Arquimedes handles the news much more calmly, simply hiding in a closet while Beli speaks.
When reality creeps in on Beli’s fantasies, Beli simply doubles down on the romantic world she has built for herself. As she goes to tell her former beaus how happy she is now, there is also an element of trying to convince herself of that happiness. When the visit to the car dealer ends in violence, Beli starts to see the effects that connections to Trujillo can have on her own life, though she still sees herself as completely “ordinary” in the course of official history. Arquimedes helps illuminate the fear and helplessness that many Dominican people felt at this time, though Beli stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the danger.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
A month before everything falls apart, Beli and the Gangster have one last vacation in Samaná. In a footnote, the narrator reveals that the vacation was not necessarily in Samaná, but that it fit the story best to say so. Beli and the Gangster exist in an idyllic paradise for one week, sharing all the things that Dominicans like to do on vacation. Beli tells the Gangster that she wants to be free, the way that he has shown her is possible. The fantasy is broken when a messenger on a motorcycle comes to tell the Gangster he is needed at the palacio. The Gangster leaves, abandoning Beli to find her own way home. She eventually catches a ride in an old Chevy, and thinks she sees a man with no face in front of one of the shacks they pass. She gets back to La Inca’s house and realizes she is pregnant.
The footnote correcting the vacation spot is one of the most obvious signs that the narrator at least partly crafts the story through invention, rather than actually recording true events. It casts doubt on the rest of the novel; if the narrator chose to change this detail for aesthetic purposes, he might have changed other things as well. As for Beli, she makes the important realization that she wants to be free in a way not currently available to her in the DR, but the fukú seems to step in immediately to remind her that her life is not under her control. The Gangster shows that he does not truly love Beli, and abandons her, pushing her to see the symbolic man with no face as the curse takes over her life.
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
Revelation. La Inca is horrified at Beli’s pregnancy, but Beli is ecstatic, thinking that a baby will ensure the wedding and future she wants. She tells Dorca, who tells the whole neighborhood. The next time the Gangster is in town, Beli dresses herself up to tell him the news.
Beli continues to reject reality in favor of the more positive fantasies she has built up in her head.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Upon Further Reflection. Looking back, Beli knows that the Gangster told her not to have the baby. At the time, though, she only heard the happiness that she wanted to hear.
The narrator reveals that Beli is aware of this disconnect between fantasy and reality as she gets older, but that she had a lot of trouble thinking rationally about consequences when she was younger. Part of this is due to her youth, while another is due to the fact that she still implicitly trusts the authority of Trujillo and those who work for him.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Name Game. That night, in a love motel, Beli and the Gangster argue about the baby’s name. Beli wants to name him Abelard for her father, but the Gangster wants to name him Manuel for his father. Beli is hurt when the Gangster evades any more questions about his family.
As Beli and the Gangster argue about names, Díaz comments on Beli’s lack of knowledge about her own family history and how little Beli and the Gangster have talked about their families. This gap in communication will have horrible consequences for Beli.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Truth and Consequences 1. Beli’s pregnancy and the impending fall of the Trujillo regime coincide to destroy the Gangster’s world. He reveals to Beli that not only is he married, he is actually married to Trujillo’s sister.
Beli’s pregnancy and the fall of the Trujillo regime gain speed at the same time, but the novel prioritizes Beli’s story. Though a pregnancy might seem less important than overthrowing a dictator, having a child is much more important to Beli. Beli never knew that she was actually close to the Trujillo family, and that her life would intersect with “official history.”
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Truth and Consequences 2. Trujillo’s sister, known as La Fea (the Ugly Woman) was embroiled in as many dubious pursuits as the Gangster, and met him while she was running a brothel. She cheats in all of her businesses and is generally unpleasant to everyone but her son. She is not pleased to hear that her husband has had an affair with a negra prieta (black, low-class girl).
Trujillo’s sister, derogatorily called the ugly woman, seems to have internalized the misogynist actions practiced by her family, and now participates in the subjugation of other women – on a large scale running brothels and on a small scale blaming Beli for her husband’s affair instead of holding him responsible for his own choices.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
In the Shadow of the Jacaranda. At the order of la Fea, the Gangster’s wife, two thugs grab Beli as she is walking in the park one day. La Fea appears out of the shadows to threaten Beli if she decides to keep the baby. Beli, terrified out of her mind, thinks that the thug holding her is a man with no face. It is clear that the Gangster’s wife means to execute Beli. Luckily, Beli sees José Then walking through the park and whispers to him to save her. He and all her co-workers get Beli away from the thugs and she goes home. The narrator tells us that, years later, Beli will tell her daughter that her Chinese boss “saved her life.”
Blaming the man with no face, the symbol of fukú working in the world, somewhat absolves Beli for her own hand in these unfortunate events by making them the natural outcome of her family’s curse. Like the classic “damsel in distress,” Beli cannot save herself. However, she does have some agency in her rescue. She chose to ignore the prejudice against Chinese people in the DR and grew close to the Chinese men she worked for, and José was able to give her the help she desperately needed.
Themes
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Hesitation. After getting home, Beli waits to see the Gangster one last time instead of leaving Santo Domingo for good. That night, a neighbor tells Beli that her boyfriend is waiting outside the house. She rushes out to the car, only to find the thugs from the park. They cuff her and throw her in the car.
Beli’s intense loyalty to the Gangster gets her into trouble even after she is rescued the first time. Like her son Oscar, Beli takes devotion too far. A neighbor tricking Beli into going outside points to the ways that no one is trustworthy in a fascist regime that pits ordinary citizens against each other.
Themes
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
La Inca, the Divine. When La Inca hears that Beli has been taken, she knows that the “Doom of the Cabrals” has found Beli at last. Remembering the proud lineage of the Cabrals, La Inca begins to fervently pray for Beli’s survival. She is joined by the other neighborhood women, despite the contempt they previously had for Beli. The spirit fills the room and overwhelms many of the women; only three women are able to keep up the prayer all night. Just as La Inca’s body is about to collapse, she feels Beli’s spirit.
La Inca, in the face of incredible fukú, has enough strength to invoke zafa through her prayers. While it is men who bring fukú (seen in the man with no face, Trujillo, and later Abelard), it is women who are able to call on zafa. Throughout the book, only women have the power to redeem their families.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
Choices and Consequences. The thugs drive Beli into one of the cane fields that used to be plentiful in the DR. As they beat her in the car, Beli remains defiant and confident that she will survive. The men take her out to a cane field and beat her within an inch of her life, leaving her with a huge list of injuries and an experience at “the end of language” that she will never speak of. Beli tries to keep up hope that the Gangster will save her, that La Inca will save her, that someone will come, but survives alone through sheer force of will.
Whereas the discovery of Beli’s affair with the Gangster was titled “Truth and Consequences,” as if the reality of this situation would inevitably lead to Beli’s downfall, this section is titled “Choices and Consequences,” suggesting that Beli chose to stay for the Gangster and chose to get into this car. Beli’s power to choose is reversed after she is beaten; unlike the burn scar that she chooses never to speak of, Beli never shares this painful experience because she literally does not have the language to describe it.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
The thugs leave Beli for dead, but the narrator says that, in the strangest part of his tale, a Mongoose appears to save the young girl. The Mongoose tells her that she has miscarried, but that she will live on to have a son and a daughter. Beli crawls out of the cane field and miraculously is picked up by a passing truck. The band members in the truck debate whether it is safe to be seen helping Beli. The lead singer, with the golden eyes of the Mongoose, says that they will save her. A footnote explains the important place that the Mongoose has in tales from Africa and the Caribbean.
Though the story has involved pseudo-magical elements before, the Mongoose is one of the only magical experiences that does not have an alternative explanation. Beli may be simply hallucinating the Mongoose due to her extensive injuries, but everyone agree that it is a miracle that she survived at all, and the narrator credits the mongoose for granting zafa to Beli. The mongoose also seemingly gives the ordinary citizens in the band the bravery to risk bringing Trujillo’s wrath upon themselves by helping Beli. This bravery in the face of a much larger enemy matches the mythology of the mongoose as a fierce warrior who uses intelligence and trickery to bring down opponents that seem much stronger.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Fukú vs. Zafa. Many in the neighborhood say the beating was proof of the fukú on Beli’s family, while other say her survival, and La Inca’s connections in the medical community, are proof that the family is blessed. La Inca, for her part, credits Beli’s recovery to zafa. Beli is not sure what it all meant.
Though previously validating the mongoose’s magical power, the narrator now gives the realistic alternate explanation for Beli’s recovery. As different characters believe in the magic to different extents, we as readers can choose for ourselves whose opinion on the magical rescue to trust.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Back Among the Living. Beli is unconscious for five days, and the doctors remain unoptimistic that she will recover, but she pulls through. Once she is awake, Beli rails against the death of her child and the new circumstances of her life. As Beli recovers, the news spreads that Trujillo has been assassinated. A footnote gives the full story, or what is known of it, describing how Trujillo and his driver were shot on the highway by US-backed assassins.
Even with potentially magical help, Beli shows incredible strength of body and mind throughout her recovery. This strength gives a more positive impression than Beli had when she was simply the stubborn mother in Lola’s story and helps explain why Beli was so hard-hearted when she wanted Lola to avoid making the same mistakes by running away with a boy. The death of Trujillo, though huge in the eyes of “official history” and the fate of the DR as a whole, is nothing more than a footnote in the face of these developments in Beli’s character.
Themes
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
La Inca in Decline. La Inca’s own health begins to decline somewhat after all the energy she spent nursing Beli back to life. The DR is reeling from the upheaval of Trujillo’s death, a situation that the narrator compares to the defeat of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. La Inca knows that Beli is still in danger, but doesn’t know what to do. She prays again, until she hears her dead husband say that Beli will only be safe from the coming political turmoil if she goes to live in New York. La Inca hates the idea of Beli in a cold, foreign city like New York, and, like Abelard before her, cannot bring herself to send her child away. When the thugs come back, though, La Inca knows it is time to get Beli out. Beli, now recovered enough to limp on her own, hates what is left to her in Santo Domingo. The narrator warns Beli that New York will be harder than she expects, but when La Inca tells Beli she must go to “Nueva York,” Beli laughs.
The narrator brings back his love of fantasy (The Lord of the Rings has an especially significant meaning to Yunior and Oscar that will be explained in Chapter 4) and reinforces his idea that the DR follows a fantasy narrative particularly well. When La Inca chooses to send Beli to New York, Abelard’s fatal error is brought up. Though the book has not yet explained how Abelard cursed his family, we do know that La Inca’s hard choice here is the first step towards setting it right. Beli laughs at the idea, because she can’t imagine anything worse than what she has already survived in the DR, but the narrator knows that the immigrant experience in America is not easy.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos 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
The Last Days of the Republic. In her final months of recuperation, Beli does little besides long for the Gangster and succumb to the “Darkness” as she prepares to leave Santo Domingo. She has nightmares of the thugs and leaves all travel planning to La Inca while she floats through her days. She manages to see the Gangster one last time, but all passion is gone from their relationship. He tries to joke that they will have more children, but Beli knows it is over between them. Though still lovesick for the Gangster, Beli swears she will start fresh in America. She is only sixteen when she gets on the plane, but she is already bitterly disappointed with life. The narrator describes the harsh life awaiting Beli as a factory worker in New York. He also tells us that the man she meets on the plane will become the father of her children, and her third and final heartbreak. Beli’s story ends with her snapping at this man while admiring the lights of New York city.
The narrator describes Beli’s (and later Oscar’s) bouts of depression as Darkness, giving this mental illness the guise of an ailment or curse from a fantasy novel. This is another sign that the narrator tends to see things through the lens of fiction. Beli’s decision to start over in America also echoes Oscar’s decision to start over at Rutgers, though the book has already shown that Oscar’s fresh start ended poorly. The narrator shows that Beli’s will too, as she is further ground down by her tedious days in a factory. On the plane, Beli is still a peculiar mix of hardened and naïve, toughened enough to snap at the older man next to her, but still young enough to be enraptured by the novel sight of the lights of New York.
Themes
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon