Study Guide

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Canefields

By Junot Díaz

The Canefields

The really brutal stuff in Wao always goes down in the canefields. If you're wondering where people get hurt, or where Trujillo's goons do their dirty work, it's here. If the Mafia got a foothold in the Dominican Republic, we'd bet they'd start using the canefields too.

The connection between canefields and violence in Wao is no coincidence. There's a whole history of abuse in canefields in the real world. See, canefields are where slaves worked in the Dominican Republic. They're the cotton fields of the Caribbean.

So the canefields carry a lot of symbolic weight. When Beli riles up Trujillo's sister because she's sleeping with her husband, The Gangster, the goons take her to the canefields. And let's just say that the violence perpetrated on her in that scene rivals a Quentin Tarantino movie. It's brutal, nasty, and detailed.

And when the capitán's goons take Oscar to the canefields—first to rough him up and then to kill him—you feel the same dread and mystery that you did during Beli's trip. As Yunior says:

Canefields are no f***ing joke, and even the cleverest of adults can get mazed in their endlessness, only to reappear months later as a cameo of bones. (

In fact, you never see the canefields when it's light out in Wao. The novel only takes us there at night.

All of that is not to say that some amazing, redemptive stuff doesn't happen in the canefields as well. While it's true that Trujillo's dark powers work their dark magic in the canefields, we also meet the forces of good there. You could say that the forces of good and evil meet up to rumble in the canefields. You could say that.

When Beli and Oscar, both beaten within an inch of lives, consider giving up, a Golden Mongoose shows up to save them. We're not kidding. More on this below in our Symbols section, "The Mongoose."

On the whole, then, canefields symbolize magic: the powers of good and evil at their most potent. So if you find yourself in the Dominican Republic, and you're looking to find a curse in action, or some unlikely life-saving, you know where to go. But we wouldn't recommend it.