The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, as a biography about the fictional Oscar de León, is a novel about history. But instead of giving a straight biography, the novel goes on to challenge preconceived assumptions about what history is and what it can do.
One of the primary projects of the novel is teasing apart story and history. The “official history” of the Dominican Republic reverberates through the lives of the characters, both directly with characters that lived through atrocities of Trujillo’s reign, and indirectly with future generations that must deal with the fallout from those events. However, the novel argues that personal stories are more important, prioritizing personal stories in the pages and relegating official history to footnotes, as well as asserting that official history is more interesting when it includes the personal stories of real people. Regardless of their relative importance, both story and history are subject to the whims of the authors who write them. Yunior’s opinions of different characters and historical figures bleed into the text, and he freely admits that his own biases affect how he relates certain sections of history. Furthermore, even the starting and ending points of history become arbitrary, as Yunior jumps around from decade to decade to serve the story he wants to tell. The reader must question the accuracy of all of Yunior’s information, especially when he contradicts the “official” record. The novel thus suggests that all history is really personal story, dependent on the humans who choose to write it down.
Yet despite the impossibility of writing a full and accurate history, Díaz still supports the writing of history and stories – arguing that they are necessary for people to come to terms with their pasts and move forward as more fulfilled individuals. Oscar and Lola repeat the mistakes of their family’s past in part because they do not know them, and both Oscar and Yunior write as a way to heal the wounds they have experienced in the past. Yunior writes the entire biography of Oscar as a way to finally understand the cultural heritage he originally rejected. By writing stories and histories, the characters can begin to give order to the events of their lives, and pass on some of that knowledge to future generations.
Story, History, and Writing ThemeTracker
Story, History, and Writing Quotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.