Thoughts on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Spoilers Ahead

The book by Junot Diaz has wicked clever writing. The meaning of the ending seemed utterly obvious to me. The trouble is that people espouse other, utterly obvious, interpretations. Diaz's taunting references to "blank pages" further complicate the matter. Here goes my analysis. As a rebellion against my grad school days of the very recent past, where I had to meticulously reference everything I wrote, I am writing entirely from memory. Pardon the inaccuracies.

The Lost Years

Beli is orphaned soon after birth. Her dark skin is symbolic of the dark turn of furtunes of her family. She is passed from family to family, finally sold into forced domestic labor. She works as a slave for the first nine years of her childhood. It ends with boiling oil being thrown on her back, physically scarring her for life and forever destroying all memory of her childhood[1].

The Escape

Beli is rescued by one of her aunts. While the aunt acknowledges Beli's misfortune, she expects Beli to acknowledge that her life could have been much worse. Stemming from the abscence of somebody who truly understands her pain, Beli seeks to escape from something. Obviously (to me), she is running away, in vain, from her lost years, her personal demon. She finally finds solace in the form of a pimp. As expected from a pimp, he understands Beli but does not care for her. He is apathetic when Beli is beaten nearly to death with his baby inside her.

Back to Beli's Back

Beli survives the beating and realizes that it happened with the pimp's knowledge. She goes back to meet the pimp and sleeps with him. The pimp ejaculates over the scar on her back*, an allegory to the incident where Beli actually got that scar. It symbolizes that Beli's attempt to escape has truly failed and that she is as helpless as the child who had boiling oil thrown on her.

Fuku aka Life aka The Wait

The sympathetic characters endure misery to achieve...more misery. The bullied get broken, the raped get raped again, the virgins cling to their desperation and the fearful are eventually found by what they were afraid of. Such is life, as Lola aptly realizes. Life is struggle, life is the curse, the demon, the wait to escape and find salvation.

Mongoose, Survival, The Escape

The Mongoose is more enigmatic. It does not represent utopia. Instead, it only appears as an appendage to the Fuku, as if its only purpose is to repair the damage done by the Fuku.

Breaking the Curse

Curse-breaking is apparently a many layered thing:
  • The curse of fear: From the loser who found jogging too hard, Oscar lies to his only friend to get money to fly to the place where he will surely die.
  • The curse of virginity: Obviously.
  • The curse of the Lost Years: Oscar validates that innocence is not gone from this world yet. Beli neither speaks of nor overcomes the trauma of her lost childhood. Like the scar on her back, cynicism remains forever imprinted into her. Oscar gets a prostitute to believe in true love! He preserves his innocence against all odds, for over two decades, and sees his quest for puppy love fulfilled. One almost hopes Beli realized this and finally lost her anger (and therefore life, as anger was her reason of survival).
  • The curse of determinism[2]: Lola dumps her philanderer, forgives her mother, moves on, marries and gives birth to a happy girl. After all, this entire ordeal was for her, she who had the best temperament[3] to truly escape.

Restoring Balance to the Universe

Oscar has a dream where he is in a bus with the Mongoose is driving and the Fuku is the conductor. The Mongoose is helping Oscar escape and reach his destination, but the Fuku makes sure Oscar pays for the ride. This represents the balance that is restored at the end of the story.

*Addendum: Beli, Darwinism and the Nobility in Conquering Death

Beli goes back to the pimp and has sex with him. I was hoping for a nice, graphic revenge kill. To my utter dismay, Beli holds on to the pimp as he ejaculates, in the hopes of getting pregnant by him again. She does this despite knowing that the pimp doesn't care about her or his baby with her. This is Beli's instinct. Instincts are evolutionary. Thousands of Beli's ancestors have used this strategy. As pimps aren't new to this world, we can conclude that many pimps of the past have exploited this instinct. One lifetime is too short for us to patch all our possible exploits. Even worse, many of these exploits are a side effect of our mortality. Conquering death, therefore, is the ultimate victory.
[1] The theme of lost childhood years frequently appears in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's writing. For instance, in Memories of my Melancholy Whores, we have an old man who has never fallen in love and has paid for every night he has spent with a woman. In his last years, he falls in love with a child he finds in a brothel: almost like crashing rebooting from the last stable checkpoint- before his first love (that never happened).
[2] The curse that dooms people to not learn from history and repeat the same mistakes.
[3] The innocence and hopefulness of Oscar with the grit and courage of Beli.