The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Riverhead Books edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao published in 2008.
Book 1, Preface Quotes

For those of you who missed your mandatory two seconds of Dominican history: Trujillo, one of the twentieth century’s most infamous dictators, ruled the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961 with an implacable ruthless brutality… At first glance, he was just your prototypical Latin American caudillo, but his power was terminal in ways that few historians or writers have ever truly captured or, I would argue, imagined. He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a sci-fi writer could have made his ass up.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Trujillo
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Yunior (the narrator) is intimately familiar with Dominican history because of his Dominican heritage, but he understands that the Dominican Republic is not a priority in most American classrooms. In the very beginning of the novel, Yunior introduces the President Trujillo with a mixture of fear and disrespect. He brings in the science fiction and fantasy genres that he loves in order to laugh at Trujillo even as he also finds him terrifying. Trujillo is worse than any science fiction dictator, as Yunior tries to assert that he is not making up any of these atrocious events. With the comment about “mandatory two seconds of Dominican history,” Díaz also mocks the Eurocentric, colonialist nature of history in America even as it continues to perpetuate itself.

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It's perfectly fine if you don’t believe in these "superstitions." In fact, it's better than fine—it's perfect. Because no matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mongoose and the Man with No Face
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Yunior starts the novel by explaining the concept of fukú, a curse that ruins the lives of most of the Dominican characters and eventually causes the death of many characters in the novel. Oscar de León, the Oscar Wao of the title, is especially vulnerable to this curse, bearing the brunt of fukú that has built up for two generations in his family. Fukú is an old Dominican concept, and most of the second-generation Dominican Americans no longer believe in it even though it has much importance on the island of the Dominican Republic. Yet Yunior insists that it doesn’t matter whether the children of Dominicans cursed by fukú believe in it or not, because fukú will still shape their lives. Oscar himself does not really believe in the curse until it specifically affects him. Yunior tries to warn everyone from the beginning of the story that fukú is not something to be taken lightly, even if he never wholeheartedly declares that it is literally real. In this way he offers one explanation for the events of the novel—characters’ lives aren’t a result of their free will, but rather the curse of fukú.

Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Oscar de León (Oscar Wao)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Yunior asserts that Oscar loves genres so much because the outsider status of many of the protagonists appealed to Oscar’s feelings of isolation. X-men are not normal humans, and the comic book often focuses on how they must help the humans who hate them. Oscar is not a normal Dominican boy and does not enjoy what Yunior describes as “typical” Dominican pastimes, such as baseball or cars. Furthermore, he is not adept at the dating game that Dominican men are supposed to dominate. These “deficiencies” are noticeable on sight, from how Oscar moves and speaks—just like some X-men may have mutations that cannot be hidden. His true passions, writing, reading and other nerdy pursuits, are derided by his friends and family as if they are useless. Yet not just Oscar deals with these problems. Yunior too knows what it feels like not to fit in with the Dominican community. Yunior is simply better at hiding his differences.

Jesus Christ, he whispered. I'm a Morlock. The next day at breakfast he asked his mother: Am I ugly? She sighed. Well, hijo, you certainly don’t take after me. Dominican parents! You got to love them!

Related Characters: Oscar de León (Oscar Wao) (speaker), Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

During his senior year of high school, Oscar finds out that his two best friends have found girlfriends, but they won’t help him find a date. Oscar realizes that his friends, though they are also nerdy and socially awkward, are actually embarrassed of him. This causes Oscar to see himself as a sub-human villain, drawing inspiration from the species of Morlocks in the book The Time Machine. The morlocks are incredibly ugly and short because they live underground, and turn into cannibals that prey on the beautiful Eloi. Oscar thinks that he is irredeemably ugly and does not deserve to “prey” on beautiful women.

When Oscar tries to speak to his mother, Beli, about his insecurities, Beli dismisses him. Beli herself was thought incredibly beautiful when she was young, and is clearly disappointed that her son does not follow in her footsteps. Yunior points out the often fraught relationship between Domincan parents and their children. Though Beli loves Oscar beyond life itself, she is not gentle with his feelings. Oscar’s identity crisis is made even worse because he does not have any emotional support from his mother. Yunior says that this type of harsh criticism is common among Dominican parents.

The trip turned out to be something of a turning point for him. Instead of discouraging his writing, chasing him out of the house like his mother used to, his abuela, Nena Inca, let him be. Allowed him to sit in the back of the house as long as he wanted, didn’t insist that he should be "out in the world."

Related Characters: Oscar de León (Oscar Wao) (speaker), La Inca (speaker)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

When Oscar visits the Dominican Republic the year before he graduates high school, he finally gets the chance to commit to his desire to be a writer. His mother and sister are not very supportive of this goal, because they have seen how people with dark skin (like Oscar) are not successful in certain jobs in the United States. La Inca, having lived her whole life in the Dominican Republic, does not have these preconceived prejudices. Furthermore, La Inca reminds Oscar of his family heritage, telling him about his grandfather Abelard who also spent long hours writing in his study when the family was rich. La Inca understands that Oscar wants to create his own fictional worlds rather than expend more energy trying to live in a world that has rejected him time and time again.

The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads. You’re not Dominican. And he said, over and over again, But I am. Soy dominicano. Dominicano soy.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Oscar de León (Oscar Wao)
Related Symbols: Blackness
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout his life, Oscar struggles to find his identity. As a Dominican American, he has trouble fitting in with both Dominican and American culture. When he goes to college at Rutgers and must try to find his way without the support of his family, Oscar realizes that both cultures find reasons to reject him. White students see his black appearance and then refuse to engage with Oscar on an intellectual level, resorting to an “inhuman cheeriness” that makes Oscar into “the other” and keeps him at a distance. Meanwhile, the other students of color quickly realize that Oscar does not act in the stereotypically Dominican way that they expect. Oscar is not suave or sensitive, like Dominican ladies’ men are supposed to be, and his speech is heavily influenced by the science fiction and fantasy novels that he reads. This interest in historically “white” genres means that Oscar does not fit in with the students of color either. Oscar is forced to continually reassert his heritage, as Yunior repeats “Soy Dominicano” (I am Dominican) to emphasize this point.

Book 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around—especially the ones that are never around. What it's like to be the perfect Dominican daughter, which is just a nice way of saying a perfect Dominican slave.

Related Characters: Lola de León (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Page Number: 55-56
Explanation and Analysis:

Lola tries to explain the experience of growing up as a second-generation Dominican-American girl. It is not clear who Lola is addressing when she says “You”—it might be Yunior, the narrator of the rest of the novel and Lola’s boyfriend later in life. Traditional Dominican family structure as Lola and Yunior experience it means that Yunior would have no idea the amount of work that a Dominican woman is expected to do. Lola also might be addressing any white American reader, who might have no idea of the struggles that Dominican families face trying to find economic success in America. Her mother (Beli) works two jobs in order to keep the family afloat in New Jersey. This means that much of the work keeping house, putting meals on the table, and raising Oscar falls to Lola. Lola loves her mother, but can’t help but feel underappreciated and overworked. Lola and her mother butt heads because Lola cannot erase her own personality to be nothing more than the obedient daughter that her mother wants.

And that's when it hit with the force of a hurricane. The feeling. I stood straight up, the way my mother always wanted me to stand up. My abuela was sitting there, forlorn, trying to cobble together the right words and I could not move or breathe. I felt like I always did at the last seconds of a race, when I was sure that I was going to explode. She was about to say something and I was waiting for whatever she was going to tell me. I was waiting to begin.

Related Characters: Lola de León (speaker), La Inca
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Lola has always had a “witchy” feeling of premonition that warns her when bad things are about to happen to her family. Here, Lola’s family heritage is particularly present, as La Inca starts to tell her about her mother’s childhood and the past that her mother never mentions. The de León and Cabral families have a difficult family history, especially as Lola’s mother never knew her real parents. Lola previously tried to run away from her family in New Jersey, a skill that she later puts into her school’s track team once she is sent to live in the Dominican Republic. Now that she is finally finding out some of the secrets of her family’s past, however, that desire to run has seemingly reached the end of the race. Lola can stop running and start building her identity on the foundations of her family. Her witchy feeling does continue to warn that not everything Lola will find out about her family is good, but knowing her history is better than not knowing.

Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

a girl so tall your leg bones ached just looking at her
so dark it was as if the Creatrix had, in her making, blinked
who, like her yet-to-be-born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewhere.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Related Symbols: Blackness
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Yunior sets up much of Beli’s character in her first description (which takes the form of a kind of poem). Beli is both incredibly dark-skinned and incredibly beautiful, flipping the stereotype of black skin being undesirable that is seen elsewhere in the novel. Yunior invokes a female deity (the Creatrix) that created Beli with a purpose, but one that she might not be able to fulfill because the Creatrix blinked and accidentally made her too dark. The sense of destiny strongly affects Beli, as she is always striving for some undetermined goal.

Beli’s “yet-to-be-born daughter” Lola, who has already received her chapter on running away, is simply carrying on her mother’s tradition. Both Beli and Lola share a constant restlessness, something that Yunior says they would have shared no matter where they had been born. He associates this restlessness with New Jersey. According to Yunior, people who live in Jersey naturally want to prove themselves and reach somewhere better—probably because of their proximity to the “better” and more famous New York. Notably, the family history repeats with Beli and Lola because Beli never shares the lessons that she learned with her daughter.

Pujols, it seems, had promised Belicia that they would be married as soon as they'd both finished high school, and Beli had believed him, hook, line, and sinker. Hard to square her credulity with the hardnosed no-nonsense femme-matador I'd come to know, but one must remember: she was young and in love. Talk about fantasist: the girl sincerely believed that Jack would be true.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral, Jack Pujols
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

When Beli is in high school, she and her high school boyfriend are caught having sex in a closet. This destroys both of their reputations, but Beli maintains that she and Jack are allowed to do whatever they like because they are already married in her mind. Beli, like her son Oscar, is adept at ignoring reality in favor of a more positive fantasy. Inspired by romance genre movies, Beli sees all her romantic relationships through the most positive light possible. Though Jack Pujols was clearly a liar and a player, used to skating through life due to his family’s elite status, Beli chooses to believe that they have found true love rather than teenage lust. Even worse, Beli continues to “be true” to Jack after he is sent to military school even though he was never true to her.

All of this is even more surprising after Beli’s earlier characterization as a harsh realist. When she is introduced as Lola and Oscar’s mother, Beli has no time for love stories because she has already gone through three brutal heartbreaks. She scoffs at Lola’s high school boyfriend, bitterly aware of how poorly such relationships go for women – especially Dominican women. Having been burned at one extreme, Beli in her later years swung to the other extreme and became a “no-nonsense femme matador” who has experienced too much loss to really believe in love.

…you could argue that the Gangster adored our girl and that adoration was one of the greatest gifts anybody had ever given her. It felt unbelievably good to Beli, shook her to her core. (For the first time I actually felt like I owned my skin, like it was me and I was it.)

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral (speaker), The Gangster
Related Symbols: Blackness
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Beli’s second great love is the Gangster, a man who commits awful acts for Trujillo, but treats Beli like a princess. The Gangster adores Beli, telling her from their first meeting that Beautiful is her name and worshipping her body when they are intimate. Beli has received plenty of attention for her body, but the Gangster’s complete acceptance of every part of her appearance, including her extremely dark skin and the scar on her back, is a new and welcome experience. Beli’s parenthetical addition to Yunior’s narration makes it clear that she had never felt truly comfortable in her skin before the Gangster, but that his love helped her “own” her skin and thus own her identity as a black woman. Yet though the transformative power of love carries a lot of weight in the book, Beli’s self-acceptance does not last, because it is so dependent on the validation of another person. After the Gangster leaves Beli, she loses confidence in herself and does not celebrate her black skin when her children inherit it.

All those people have families, you can tell by their faces, they have families that depend on them and that they depend on, and for some of them this is good, and for some of them this is bad. But it all amounts to the same shit because there isn’t one of them who is free. They can’t do what they want to do or be who they should be. I might have no one in the world, but at least I'm free. She had never heard anyone say those words. I’m free wasn’t a popular refrain in the Era of Trujillo.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), The Gangster (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

Beli and the Gangster manage to have one perfect week together before it comes out that the Gangster is actually the husband of Trujillo’s sister and Beli suffers horribly for her role in his affair. During that week, the Gangster and Beli speak frankly about their own lives as Dominican citizens during a time when Dominican heritage came with significant limitations. As discussed here (by both the Gangster and Yunior, mingling narration), freedom is a complicated concept in the novel. Free will is severely constrained by the forces of fukú (curse) and zafa (blessing) that determine the destiny of all of the characters in the book. With Trujillo’s possible connection to fukú, every Dominican citizen had even less freedom, as contradicting Trujillo in any way meant facing the worst fukú imaginable.

Yet freedom is even further constrained by the ties of family and community in the novel. Being Dominican and belonging to a Dominican family means conforming to certain social rules, as Beli, and later her daughter Lola, find out when each woman wishes to see more of the world or express an identity that is “unnatural” for a Dominican woman. Ybón, a prostitute that Oscar later falls in love with, has a motto: Travel light. Yunior interprets this to mean that Ybón tries not to get permanently attached to anyone so that she always retains her freedom. As the Gangster says, freedom comes at the cost of having “no one in the world,” a prospect that is often difficult for members of these tight-knit Dominican families.

Don’t laugh, mi negrita, for your world is about to be changed. Utterly. Yes: a terrible beauty is etc., etc. Take it from me. You laugh because you've been ransacked to the limit of your soul, because your lover betrayed you almost unto death, because your first son was neverborn. You laugh because you have no front teeth and you've sworn never to smile again.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

After Beli is beaten by Trujillo’s thugs for having an affair with the Gangster, Beli realizes that she must move to the United States in order to be safe from further harm. While Beli had always longed for change, and to be away from the Dominican Republic, these circumstances were not the situation in which she had imagined she would arrive in America. Beli had been known for her beauty, a quality that has been tarnished by the huge physical toll that her body has taken. Yunior quotes the Irish poet Yeats here, calling Beli a “terrible beauty.” Yeats, a supporter of the failed Irish Easter Rebellion in 1916, when Irish nationalists tried to overthrow the control of the British government, wrote that “a terrible beauty is born”—capturing both the great beauty of these revolutionary sentiments and the terrible price of putting them into practice. Similarly, Beli celebrated her own physical attributes, but paid a terrible price because of that beauty.

Beli also had to realize that her world is “changed utterly” (borrowing more words from Yeat’s poem), as her greatest love led to her greatest loss. Beli was pregnant with the Gangster’s child, and then had to mourn the loss of both her lover and her miscarried son when the Gangster’s wife had her beaten. It is a mark of Beli’s immense strength that she is able to laugh, even sardonically, after such tragic events.

Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Wondering aloud, If we were orcs, wouldn’t we, at a racial level, imagine ourselves to look like elves?”

Related Characters: Oscar de León (Oscar Wao) (speaker), Yunior (The Narrator)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Oscar tries to start many conversations about science fiction and fantasy with Yunior when he and Yunior room together in college. These conversations often edge into Oscar’s experience as a black Dominican American man, because Oscar uses fantasy stories as a framework to understand the real world. In the fantasy series The Lord of the Rings, orcs are an ugly, black-skinned species that bear a murderous grudge against the beautiful, virtuous elves. Oscar points out that dark-skinned humans find only species such as orcs that look like them in fantasy novels: dark characters who are always evil.

When putting this framework on the real world, Oscar questions why dark-skinned people have to see themselves as ugly and evil, essentially making themselves the antagonists in their own story. Whiteness in the real world is still upheld as a sign of purity, beauty, and goodness. It would make more sense to Oscar if dark-skinned people saw themselves as protagonists in their own lives, and thus saw dark skin as good and beautiful. Yunior tries not to engage with these talks, however, because he only sees the nerdy content of Oscar’s musings, rather than the attempts that Oscar is making to redress the racial injustices that Oscar sees in the world and in art.

These days I have to ask myself; What made me angrier? That Oscar, the fat loser, quit, or that Oscar, the fat loser, defied me? And I wonder: What hurt him more? That I was never really his friend, or that I pretended to be?

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Oscar de León (Oscar Wao)
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

When Yunior and Oscar roomed together in college, Yunior tried to turn Oscar into the perfect Dominican man by giving him pointers on getting in shape and picking up girls. Oscar decides that he does not want to implement Yunior’s changes, and simply tells Yunior that he would prefer not to. Though this is not a violent confrontation, Yunior takes Oscar’s “betrayal” very poorly and treats Oscar with contempt from that point on.

Much of the novel’s narration involves Yunior’s attempts to make sense of his own past, and to fix the mistakes that he made as a younger man. Due to his own discomfort with his Dominican identity in college, Yunior felt the need to put the “fat loser” Oscar down in order to assert his own fitness and popularity. From his vantage point years later, Yunior tries to clarify whether he actually wanted to help Oscar, or if he just wanted to succeed at his project and got upset when Oscar destroyed that plan. Yunior then realizes Oscar’s feelings on the matter must have been just as complicated. Yunior had no obligation to be Oscar’s friend, but pretending to be Oscar’s friend gave Oscar a hope that might have been even more hurtful when it was taken away. Yunior and Oscar’s friendship is very important to each boy, but Yunior cannot admit it because he was so insecure in his own identity during the time of their relationship.

A heart like mine, which never got any kind of affection growing up, is terrible above all things.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

When Oscar finally gets attention from a girl, Yunior feels intense jealousy rather than helping his “friend” celebrate this development. Looking back, Yunior blames this on his affectionless childhood. Díaz uses Yunior to point out the difficulties that many Dominican American families face, as the Dominican culture in America (as described by Yunior) creates a toxic environment for young children of color. Yunior never fully explains his relationship with his mother, but hints that his mother was overworked and harsh like Oscar and Lola’s mother, Beli. Yunior also subtly implies that he was nerdy and friendless as a child, due to his interest in stereotypically “white” genres like Oscar.

This early lack of any kind of affection from family and friends causes Yunior to constantly search for affection from the romantic relationships in his life. He then becomes jealous of any other man that receives the attention he feels should belong to him. Furthermore, this finally manifests in Yunior’s inability to stay faithful to any woman, as he wants as much affection as possible. Yunior’s “terrible” heart is his fatal flaw, undermining possible affection from family and friends because he was once so starved for this love that he now does not recognize healthy relationships.

Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

The only answer I can give you is the least satisfying: you'll have to decide for yourself. What's certain is that nothing’s certain. We are trawling in silences here.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Abelard Cabral
Related Symbols: Páginas en blanco (Blank pages)
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

When Yunior tries to find out why Abelard was arrested by Trujillo, several rumors crop up to explain why Abelard drew Trujillo’s anger. Many people believed that he “slandered” Trujillo by making a joke about Trujillo hiding bodies in the back of his car. Others believed that Abelard refused to let Trujillo have his daughter. Still others think that he wrote a book that exposed Trujillo’s cursed rise to power. Yunior himself seems to lean more towards the book explanation, but he clearly places the responsibility on the reader to choose which explanation makes the most sense. Due to Trujillo’s “Páginas en blanco (blank pages),” no official reason was ever recorded for Abelard’s arrest. As official truth in the DR depended on Trujillo’s feelings that day, there is no way to tell what actually happened unless one is a first-hand witness, and even then memory and trauma can affect one’s version of past events.

Yunior compares this lack of knowledge to “trawling in silences,” a metaphor that suggests fishing in a deep ocean with no way of seeing what is caught in the net. Many Dominicans stay silent, refusing to speak of what they saw in the Trujillo years out of discomfort or fear that they too will be incriminated. In trying to put together a history of the DR during this time period, Yunior must simply cast his net and see what stories come up.

That's the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child's black complexion as an ill omen.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Related Symbols: Blackness
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

When Beli is born, her extremely dark complexion cause some of her family to say that she is the first sign of the fukú curse on the whole family. In the Dominican Republic, black skin signified low-class poverty because it was supposedly the mark of the hated Haitians from the other half of the island. Beli’s dark skin, despite her family’s elite social standing, was the first signal that her family was truly falling into disarray after her father Abelard’s arrest. Yunior laments the hypocrisy in this part of Dominican culture. Though a large majority of Dominicans have skin just as dark as Haitians, the values of colonialism and white supremacy are still so strong that Dominicans are forced to deny that natural part of their appearance. Beli’s dark skin follows her throughout her life, becoming her most prominent feature as well as a visual symbol of the curse’s power in her life.

In fact, I believe that, barring a couple of key moments, Beli never thought about that life again. Embraced the amnesia that was so common throughout the Islands, five parts denial, five parts negative hallucination. Embraced the power of the Untilles. And from it forged herself anew.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Beli (Hypatia Belicia) Cabral
Related Symbols: Páginas en blanco (Blank pages)
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

After Beli is saved from the monstrous foster family and begins to live with La Inca, Yunior says that Beli never thought about that previous life again. This type of “amnesia,” willfully forgetting painful experiences, was typical in the Dominican Republic during and after the Era of Trujillo. Trujillo himself had a policy of “blank pages,” refusing to have any record of his actions during his rise to power and greatly limiting the documentation of his administration. Dominican citizens took to using this policy in their own lives, choosing not to recognize harmful history as a way to try to move past Trujillo’s atrocities and giving in to “hallucination” to rewrite those events.

Beli herself does not know that Trujillo uprooted her from her family, but she still uses the Dominican coping mechanism. Yunior calls this the power of the “Untilles,” a play on unmaking the Antilles, the name of the Dominican Republic’s archipelago. Beli’s refusal to acknowledge her own past later negatively affects both her and her children, however, because they continue to feel the effects of the past without fully understanding why these tragedies keep happening.

Book 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Oscar remembers having a dream where a mongoose was chatting with him. Except the mongoose was the Mongoose. What will it be, muchacho? it demanded. More or less? And for a moment he almost said less. So tired, and so much pain – Less! Less! Less! – but then in the back of his head he remembered his family... More, he croaked. --- --- --- said the Mongoose, and then the wind swept him back into darkness.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Oscar de León (Oscar Wao)
Related Symbols: The Mongoose and the Man with No Face
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

After Oscar is beaten by two police officers for being friends with the girlfriend of the police captain, he sees the Mongoose in the field and manages to survive his injuries long enough to be found and given medical attention, saving his life. Yunior relates the conversation that Oscar had with the Mongoose, the main agent of zafa (blessing) in the characters’ lives. The mongoose allows Oscar to choose whether he wants to return to life and take “more” or give up and take “less,” a rare moment of agency despite the novel’s normally deterministic stance on destiny. Oscar at first wants less pain, and almost chooses less of everything in life, but he then realizes that he wants more of his family’s love, and that love is worth any amount of pain. He chooses to take more of both the good and the bad.

The Mongoose honors Oscar’s choice, speaking three words that presumably let Oscar stay alive and unconscious in the “darkness.” Yet Yunior either can’t or won’t reveal what those three words are, another “blank page” moment in a novel full of silences and gaps of communication. However, this censorship actually opens up more opportunities for the reader to creatively decide what the Mongoose said, tailoring a meaningful moment to each reader rather than leaving the reader without necessary information. The Mongoose uses this opportunity to show readers how to use silence as a force for good rather than evil.

He read The Lord of the Rings for what I'm estimating the millionth time, one of his greatest loves and greatest comforts since he'd first discovered it, back when he was nine and lost and lonely and his favorite librarian had said, Here, try this, and with one suggestion changed his life. Got through almost the whole trilogy, but then the line "and out of Far Harad black men like halftrolls" and he had to stop, his head and heart hurting too much.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Oscar de León (Oscar Wao)
Related Symbols: Blackness
Page Number: 307
Explanation and Analysis:

As Oscar recovers from a near-fatal beating, he turns to his favorite books for comfort, as he has many times in the past. Yunior ties the moment back to Oscar’s childhood, when a more innocent and naïve Oscar simply wanted companionship in his lonely life. At the time, The Lord of the Rings was the perfect solution, and Yunior says he is able to read it millions of times to find that same comfort.

However, once Oscar grows up and experiences prejudice and racism because of his dark skin, certain elements of the fantasy novel begin to take on a painful undertone. Yunior says that Oscar stops at the line comparing black men to half trolls, a phrase that is meant to describe the races of orcs and trills that are the villains of the books, but which strikes Oscar as another example of white men, like author JRR Tolkien, treating black men as less than human. Oscar is no longer able to use fantasy as an escape, because the racial hierarchies that punish him in the real world follow him even in his favorite novels.

Though Oscar has to put aside one of his favorite novels, this moment is also a catalyst for Oscar to finally start taking the initiative to improve his real life. Once Oscar is well enough, he returns to the DR and fights for the woman he loves, rather than disappearing into another fantasy world.

Book 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

On one of our last nights as novios (boyfriend and girlfriend) she said, Ten million Trujillos is all we are.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Lola de León (speaker), Trujillo (speaker)
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

After Oscar’s death, Lola and Yunior’s relationship quickly sours. Yunior, like Trujillo, is completely unable to stay faithful to one woman, instead sleeping with as many beautiful women as he can possibly manage. However, Lola is so focused on tending to her mother’s health when the cancer returns, that Lola doesn’t break up with Yunior until a year later when her mother has also died. Most people blame the Dominican fukú curse for these tragedies, but Lola does not believe in those superstitions. She chooses to see the pain and hardship prevalent in Dominican and Dominican American lives as the outcome of an entire generation of Dominican people shaped by years of a horrible dictatorship. After living through the Trujillo years, Dominican people now recreate his actions to sabotage themselves and the people around them. To be Trujillo, in Lola’s eyes, is to act with selfish disregard for others, even actively harming them if it suits your purposes – something that Yunior is very guilty of, but that Lola sees in herself, her family, and her Dominican friends as well.

Book 3, Epilogue Quotes

Behold the girl: the beautiful muchachita: Lola's daughter. Dark and blindingly fast: in her great-grandmother La Inca’s words: una jurona. Could have been my daughter if I'd been smart, if I'd been ---. Makes her no less precious. She climbs trees, she rubs her butt against doorjambs, she practices malapalabras when she thinks nobody is listening. Speaks Spanish and English. Neither Captain Marvel nor Billy Batson, but the lightning.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), La Inca, Isis
Related Symbols: The Mongoose and the Man with No Face
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Yunior describes Lola’s daughter Isis in glowing terms, as if she were his own. Yunior will clearly always love Lola and has great tenderness for Isis, and even believes that he could have been Isis’ father if only he had possessed some quality that he either won’t or can’t share with us. Yunio leaves one more blank space in the novel, as he still does not fully understand the Dominican heritage that keeps him from committing to an authentic relationship with Lola. Isis, on the other hand, speaks Spanish and English, suggesting hope for an identity that fuses the Dominican and American backgrounds that Yunior cannot reconcile.

Yet Isis is more symbol than girl. La Inca calls her una jurona (Spanish for ferret), an animal very similar to the Mongoose that grants zafa (blessing) when characters are about to be overcome by the fukú curse. Isis is by no means perfect, engaging in the mischievous behaviors of a spunky little girl, but she also has the dark skin and quick speed that the Mongoose had in the cane field where it saved Oscar and Beli’s lives. Isis is not like Captain Marvel, a superhero who can save the world, or Billy Batson, Captain marvel’s ordinary human host, but she is the lightning, the thing that allows ordinary people to become extraordinary. Yunior believes that, through Isis, the de León family will finally be healed.

If she's her family's daughter—as I suspect she is—one day she will stop being afraid and she will come looking for answers. Not now, but soon. One day when I'm least expecting, there will be a knock at my door.

Related Characters: Yunior (The Narrator) (speaker), Isis
Page Number: 330
Explanation and Analysis:

Near the end of the novel, when Yunior has explained how he has compiled so much of the de León family history, he finally reveals his reason for writing this book. Isis is not just Lola’s daughter, she is her “family’s daughter” and therefore subject to the curse that has followed all the members of her family for generations. Though Isis is not his daughter, Yunior still loves Lola enough that he wants her daughter to live a long, happy, curse-free life. According to Yunior, the only way to break the fukú curse placed on the Cabral/de León family is to face up to how the curse was brought on Abelard and all the events that his family, Beli, Lola, and Oscar suffered through because of the curse.

This book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is then a physical collection of zafa that Yunior hopes to give to Isis when she comes looking for answers about who she is and where she comes from. It is the first step in filling in Trujillo’s “páginas en blanco” (blank pages) that have hidden the fate of the Cabral/de León children. Yet the book also becomes a zafa for Yunior himself, as he finally starts to come to terms with his own emotional issues and complicated Dominican heritage.

Book 3: The Final Letter Quotes

So this is what everybody's always talking about! Diablo! If only I'd known. The beauty! The beauty!

Related Characters: Oscar de León (Oscar Wao) (speaker)
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very end of the novel, Yunior includes excerpts of the very last letter that Oscar wrote home from the Dominican Republic before he was killed. In it, Oscar expounds on the wonder of the love he has finally found with Ybón, an intimacy which he had searched for his whole life. While Yunior focuses on his amazement that Oscar and Ybón actually had sex, meaning that Oscar did not die a virgin, Oscar himself revels in the other details that loving Ybón brings. According to Yunior, Dominican men and women are unusually preoccupied with love and sex. Oscar’s complete lack of a romantic life made him even more curious than most about the apparent excellence of this experience, and the frank nature of Dominican families meant that he heard plenty about love and sex before he saw it for himself.

When he finally gets to see love firsthand, Oscar proclaims “the beauty! The beauty!”. He suggests that love might have excused all of the pain he had to go through for Ybón if only he had known how wonderful the end result would be. This phrase, the very last words in the entire novel, echoes the last words of Kurtz’s report in Conrad’s novel the Heart of Darkness, where Kurtz, a European ivory trader in the wilds of Africa, exclaims “the horror! The horror!” judging everything from the natives of the continent of Africa to the Europeans who exploit them to be horrible. In contrast, Oscar’s last words give a hopeful turn to the pain of the novel. Though Oscar and his family had to undergo horrific pain, emotional and physical, it was worth it for them to receive even small amounts of beautiful love. While Kurtz embodies the worst impulses of mankind, spreading all the horror that humans are capable of, Oscar upholds the best virtues of mankind, looking at all of the beauty that mankind creates.

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