The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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The Mongoose and the Man with No Face Symbol Analysis

The Mongoose and the Man with No Face Symbol Icon

The Man with No Face represents the “fukú” curse at work in the world. Many times when a character undergoes hardship or tragedy, they see a man with no face. Beli thinks she sees a man with no face as her relationship with the Gangster falls apart, and then has nightmares of a faceless man after she is beaten by the Trujillato. Abelard’s wife dreams of a man with no face before Trujillo targets the Cabral family. Oscar too sees the man with no face as one of his attackers in the cane field, and Yunior has nightmares of faceless men after Oscar’s death. Many characters’s faces go “blank” right before they commit an act of cruelty or violence. The man with no face is a subhuman creature that has no compassion, representing the worst side of mankind.

The Mongoose, chief agent of “zafa” (the blessing or counter-spell to the fukú), is a symbol of good at work in the world. Based on the real animal, which is culturally significant in India and much of Africa, the Mongoose represents a warrior for justice with a surprising exterior. Though the mongoose is small, it is fierce – a mongoose in the wild can easily take on a cobra. But its size is not all that is surprising about its appearance. The Mongoose’s fur is deeply, beautifully black, and therefore reclaims the power of blackness by insisting that a black being can be a hero — something usually denied by the racist culture of both America and the DR. The Mongoose appears to save both Beli and Oscar when they are on the brink of death in the cane field, helping them to realize what is truly important, to focus on their family and loved ones, and offering invaluable insight on the journey to self-actualization. The Mongoose is a natural being that is better than humanity, and represents the best that humanity has to offer.

The Mongoose and the Man with No Face 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 The Mongoose and the Man with No Face. 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 1, Preface Quotes

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.

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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.

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.

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The Mongoose and the Man with No Face Symbol Timeline in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Mongoose and the Man with No Face appears in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 3: The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral (1955-1962)
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
...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... (full context)
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4: Sentimental Education (1988-1992)
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
...towards Oscar, but Oscar closes his eyes. When he opens them, he sees a Golden Mongoose and throws himself over the side of the bridge. Yunior describes the suicide letters that... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5: Poor Abelard (1944-1946)
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
...go to the party. Jacquelyn is incredibly excited, but Socorro starts having terrible dreams of a man with no face . (full context)
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
...(and two weeks after the US bombed Japan, as Yunior informs us), Socorro dreams of the man with no face standing over her husband, and the next night she sees him standing over their children. (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 6: Land of the Lost (1992-1995)
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
...science-fiction fantasy quartet that will make him the next Tolkien. Sometimes he dreams about the Mongoose. But these high points are erased when he realizes that the new generation of nerds... (full context)
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
...to escape in the back seat. He looks out the window and thinks he sees a man with no face . The police officers walk Oscar into the cane field and Oscar has an intense... (full context)
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
Close Encounters of the Caribbean Kind. Oscar remembers dreaming about the Mongoose while he was unconscious. The Mongoose asks Oscar if he wants less or more. Thinking... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 7: The Final Voyage
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
...and Oscar imagines he sees his whole family getting on a bus driven by the Mongoose, with the man with no face acting as bus conductor. (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
...Oscar shows Yunior a blank book and his eyes are smiling. Other times, Oscar has no face at all and Yunior wakes up screaming. (full context)
Book 3, Epilogue
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
...taken, Yunior knows that Isis will eventually encounter fukú in the world and dream of the man with no face . When that happens, Isis will come to Yunior looking for answers. Yunior predicts that... (full context)