Study Guide

Beli Cabral in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Díaz

Beli Cabral

She's One Scary Mother

You know that one girl you grew up with who doesn't take anything from anyone? Beli is that kind of mom—tough as nails, and sort of scary to boot. In Chapter 1, Díaz hints at the difficulties of Beli's parenting style; she is absent, yet severe. She doesn't like her son, Oscar, to spend time writing fantasy fiction. But we don't really know Beli yet.

Then, Chapter 2 rolls around, and we really meet Beli. We find out that she's battling cancer and working two jobs. As it turns out, she's really been put through life's grinder, and she's survived by willpower alone.

But she also seems to expect everyone else to have the same steely will that she's got, and that's simply not healthy. Or realistic.

Forreals, Beli has an amazing amount of determination. But problems abound when she expects the exact same from her kids. Because no matter how much you try to tell your kids what to do and who to be—you'll see—you can't make them do anything.

In order to explain, please allow us to shower you with the details of Beli's harsh relationship with Lola. Trust us, you'll feel all fresh and knowledged-out after. You might remember how Beli's daughter, Lola, runs away from home. And not just figuratively. She literally runs away from Beli.

But there's a problem. As she's leaving, she knocks Beli down. Beli then lies on the ground bawling her eyes out. And, don't forget: Beli is going through chemotherapy at this point. So it'd be downright cruel of Lola to not take pity on her, right?

Wrong, actually. When Lola comes back to help up her mother, she realizes her mom is faking it. She's not in pain. She's fine. Beli grabs Lola's ankles and, "Ya te tengo, she said, jumping triumphantly to her feet. Te tengo [I got you . . . . I got you.]" (

We at Shmoop have seen this trick pulled in tons of horror movies. You think the monster has died—she just disappeared beneath the water, right?—but then her hand comes back up and grabs you. Only, in this case, Díaz makes Beli the monster.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Cabral

Beli's cruelty doesn't end with her injury fakeout and Lola-knapping. When she meets Lola in Santo Domingo—the two haven't seen each other in fourteen months now—the first thing Beli says to Lola is:

Coño, pero tú sí eres fea [Damn, but you're ugly]. (2.preface.30-2.preface.31)
That is not how we would recommend talking to your children.

But it's not like Beli is always mean to her kids. She does have moments of kindness. On the plane back to New York, when Lola starts crying, the woman sitting in front of them says, "Tell that girl of yours to be quiet" (2.preface.47). And Beli defends Lola.

So Beli's bipolar, inconsistent treatment of Lola and Oscar is actually quite consistent with how Díaz's characters are treated in the novel. The world seems to cradle these kids one moment, and then drop them the next. Like, when Oscar finally falls in love with Ybón, it's this love that gets him killed.

We think Beli gives fate a face in Wao. She embodies the seemingly senseless, and often soul-crushing, alternation of one's life between generosity and cruelty.