Study Guide

Abelard in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Díaz


The Good Doctor

In a sense, Dr. Abelard brings the fukú down on the whole Cabral famn damily. He enrages Trujillo, the Dominican Republic's dictatorial leader, by not allowing Jackie to attend presidential parties. Catastrophic events follow. (See our analysis of "Jacquelyn" for more on this hot topic.)

Now, don't get us wrong: Abelard sweats over this decision to hide Jacquelyn. He asks his friends and family what he should do. Then, after he's stalled and refused Trujillo as much as he possibly can, he loses twenty pounds drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. His nerves are so frayed that he loses interest in sex and almost kills a patient in the operating room.

What sort of man would get so nervous? Well, someone who is really smart and has worked hard to keep a low profile under Trujillo's regime. Abelard prides himself on how unobstrusive he is. He goes about his medicinal practice without so much as a peep. If Trujillo masscres Haitians, Abelard patches them up and doesn't ask any questions.

The intellectual discussions in his parlor (which can last until morning) cover everything but Trujillo. If you want an idea of how well-read Abelard is, check out his favorite subjects: languages like English, French, Latin, and Greek; ethnographies (scientific descriptions of peoples or cultures); tropical diseases; and rare species.

He is, undeniably, a brainiac. Just like Oscar Wao.

Abelard the Accidentally Brave

Here's the important point: Abelard doesn't resist until Trujillo takes a liking to his daughter. This makes Abelard an unlikely poltical martyr. But he becomes one nonetheless.

Abelard loses his marbles in Nigüa Prison after being tortured. This isn't just your everyday, garden-variety torture, either. The guards put a wet rope on Abelard's head and then sit him out in the sun. As the rope dries, it tightens around his skull.

This sounds like a little Jesus imagery to us—Crown of Thorns, anyone? But Díaz doesn't turn Abelard into a conventional Christ-like figure. Abelard has a mistress, is very wealthy, and, for a long while, goes along with Trujillo's wishes.

He only fights back when Trujillo goes after his own daughter.

We basically see Abelard as a brilliant man who loved life and wanted to avoid trouble. Thing is, Trujillo interfered. Díaz lets us know—through Abelard—that almost no one could avoid Trujillo's demonic clutches.