The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Blackness Symbol Icon

In the racial milieu of the Dominican Republic (as in America), skin color takes on significance beyond simple melanin. Blackness represents misfortune and poverty, whereas lighter skin tones symbolize success and wealth. Characters are warned not to get a tan for fear they will look Haitian (that is, black), and be treated with the disrespect that poor Haitians are awarded. Beli and Oscar, the two darkest-skinned characters in the novel, are each taken as ill omens by their families at birth. Many of the characters that the de León family encounter pity their color, because they think that black skin will lead to unhappiness. Even in the novels and popular culture that the characters consume, black skin is reserved for villains and monsters.

Yet the de León family themselves do not buy in to this color coding. Lola and Oscar refuse to apologize for their black skin, eventually coming to terms with their Dominican heritage despite the racism they encounter. As a young woman, Beli insists that her immense beauty is because of her blackness, rather than in spite of it. This alternate reading of blackness as power is supported by the Mongoose, a magical creature with pitch black fur that works for good in the universe of the novel. Thus, the novel reminds the reader that all symbolic meaning, such as the idea that black must stand for evil, is not based in reality and can be rewritten.

Blackness 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 Blackness. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao published in 2008.
Book 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

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:

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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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

…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:

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Book 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Book 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillu

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Blackness Symbol Timeline in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blackness 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 1: Ghetto Nerd at the End of the World (1974-1987)
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
...off the plane, his uncle derides his tan for making him look “Haitian” (that is, black). (full context)
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
...with the white kids who like the genres he loves because they only see his black skin. His fellow students of color, on the other hand, tell him that these “white”... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 3: The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral (1955-1962)
Art, Life, and Latinos in America Theme Icon
Story, History, and Writing Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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
...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... (full context)
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
...not pleased to hear that her husband has had an affair with a negra prieta (black, low-class girl). (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 4: Sentimental Education (1988-1992)
Identity and the Dominican Experience in America Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
Love and Loss Theme Icon
...about anything. Though the narrator admits that Lola is not conventionally attractive because of her dark skin , her intelligence, independence and integrity are second to none. The narrator starts to talk... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 5: Poor Abelard (1944-1946)
Free Will and Destiny Theme Icon
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
...sign of the curse was the birth of Abelard’s third daughter, who was born with pitch-black skin. Socorro committed suicide two months after Beli was born, and the three Cabral daughters... (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
Dominican American Culture, Colonialism, and Racism Theme Icon
...Rings again, but he has to stop when he reaches the description of Orcs as “black men like half-trolls.” Six weeks after his beating, Oscar dreams of the cane field again.... (full context)