The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Páginas en blanco (Blank pages) Symbol Analysis

Páginas en blanco (Blank pages) Symbol Icon

Blank pages recur throughout the novel, sometimes as pieces of paper that are literally blank, and sometimes as writing that has been lost or erased. While “páginas en blanco” is literally the name that Trujillo used for his ban on records during his regime, these “pages” also symbolize the many gaps of information or communication that the characters face. All of the second-generation Dominican American characters struggle to find out their family history, as their parents will not speak very much about their old lives in the Dominican Republic. Characters like Beli, for example, have blank pages for themselves when they refuse to speak or think about periods of their own lives. Abelard’s books are also turned into blank pages when Trujillo destroys everything Abelard ever wrote, leaving Beli clueless about her own heritage. At first, these blank pages represent the control that Trujillo had over the lives of the Dominican people, as he is able to dictate not only the government, but even how that government is spoken and written about.

However, the blank pages take on a new meaning as Oscar gains confidence as a writer. Throughout the novel, Oscar creates new worlds out of blank pages, showing the creative space and potential of a blank page. This culminates in the lost letter that Oscar sent back from the DR; though Oscar said that the letter would illuminate everything he learned about life, Yunior never receives the message. Yunior then has to piece together Oscar’s lessons for himself, coming to a more satisfying answer. Similarly, the inspiring words that the Mongoose speaks to Oscar and Beli to convince them to survive are rendered literally as blank lines in the text. Here, blank pages symbolize limitless possibility. Each character, and even the reader, then has the freedom (and the responsibility) to decide what should go on those pages. Throughout the novel, blank pages are a reminder that someone has to control your story – it could be someone else with a malicious agenda, or it could be you.

Páginas en blanco (Blank pages) Quotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao quotes below all refer to the symbol of Páginas en blanco (Blank pages). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
). 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 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.


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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.

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Páginas en blanco (Blank pages) Symbol Timeline in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The timeline below shows where the symbol Páginas en blanco (Blank pages) appears in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2, Chapter 6: Land of the Lost (1992-1995)
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
...nothing but an “Aslan-like figure with golden eyes” and a man wearing a mask holding a blank book . (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 8: The End of the Story
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
...books and Oscar wears a mask that covers everything but his eyes. Oscar shows Yunior a blank book and his eyes are smiling. Other times, Oscar has no face at all and Yunior... (full context)