Study Guide

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Gender

By Junot Díaz

Gender

Chapter 1

[Oscar] [h]ad none of the Higher Powers of your typical Dominican male, couldn't have pulled a girl if his life depended on it. Couldn't play sports for s***, or dominoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most damning of all: no looks. (1.1.2.2)

This passage tells what qualities a Dominican male is supposed to have. Good looks, slickness with the ladies, athleticism, rhythm, and shrewdness. How do other men in the book treat Oscar, since he is so lacking in most of these qualities? How do you think Yunior understands Oscar? Does he respect Oscar?

In the forties and fifties, Porfirio Rubirosa—or Rubi, as he was known in the papers—was the third-most-famous Dominican in the world (first came the Failed Cattle Thief, and the Cobra Woman herself, Maria Montez). A tall, debonair prettyboy whose "enormous phallus created havoc in Europe and North America," Rubirosa was the quintessential jet-setting car-racing polo-obsessed playboy, the Trujillato's "happy side" (for he was indeed one of Trujillo's best-known minions). (1.1.1.5)

This book plays with stereotypes of Dominican men: they're playboys, they're super-masculine, and they all have insatiable sex drives. Porfirio Rubirosa serves as the exaggerated model for this stereotype. It's really important to ask yourself how Oscar Wao and Yunior both fit and don't fit this model.

Oscar, Lola warned repeatedly, you're going to die a virgin unless you start changing. (1.1.2.12)

Even Lola expects Oscar to be a stereotypical Dominican male. She wants to know (in so many words): Why aren't you having sex, Oscar? Aren't you a Dominican man? Everyone's great fear—at this point—is that Oscar is will die a virgin. Apparently, this has never happened to a Dominican man. Ever. In history. Ever.

In September he headed to Rutgers New Brunswick, his mother gave him a hundred dollars and his first kiss in five years, his tío [uncle] a box of condoms: Use them all, he said, and then added: On girls. (1.1.6.51)

As in most super-masculine cultures, it's definitely not okay to be Dominican and gay. While homophobia probably isn't a major theme of the book, it is at least an undercurrent.

Chapter 4

[Oscar] coughed. I have heard from a reliable source that no Dominican male has ever died a virgin. You who have experience in these matters—do you think this is true?

I sat up. Dude was peering at me in the dark, dead serious.

O, it's against the laws of nature for a dominicano to die without f***ing at least once.

That, he sighed, is what worries me. (1.4.1.39-1.4.1.42)

It's true that Oscar tries to fit the mold of the Dominican male in some ways. However, we also think that he really respects women, and wants to experience love. More than societal pressure motivates him. He's kind of a romantic. Check out the last paragraph of the book if you don't believe us.

And besides, that fall a miracle happened: Suriyan showed up at my door. Looking more beautiful than I ever saw her, I want us to try again. Of course I said yes, and went out and put a cuerno [horn] in her that very night. Dios mío! Some n*****s couldn't have gotten ass on Judgment Day; me I couldn't not get ass, even when I tried. (1.4.1.194)

We don't doubt that Yunior hooks up with Suriyan here. But we do want to point out that Yunior also brags a lot about his good looks and charm throughout the book. As a narrator, Yunior does a lot of posturing: he wants us to know that he's strong and tough and that women constantly fall for him. We're guessing the reality is just a shade less fantastic than that.

At college you're not supposed to care about anything—you're just supposed to f*** around—but believe it or not, I cared about Lola. (1.4.1.3)

Here, Yunior informs us that a college guy isn't supposed to have long-term relationships. He knows he's expected to just mess around with girls while he's at Rutgers. This is a pretty common expectation for both American and Dominican young men: apparently, college is for hooking up. Then you settle down. What do you think?

Jenni was her real name, but all her little goth buddies called her La Jablesse, and every standard a dude like me had, this diabla [devil] short-circuited. Girl was luminous. Beautiful jíbara [?] skin, diamond-sharp features, wore her hair in this super-black Egypto-cut, her eyes caked in eyeliner, her lips painted black, had the biggest roundest tits you've ever seen. Every day Halloween for this girl, and on actual Halloween she dressed up as—you guessed it—a dominatrix, had one of the gay guys in the music section on a leash. (1.4.1.96)

There are quite a few strong female characters in Wao. Beli. Lola. Jenni. Are the male characters in the novel threatened by these strong female characters, do you think? If so, why would they—these men from a macho culture—be threatened by a strong woman?

Chapter 5

Other witnesses put it more succinctly: the chick was hot and, it would turn out, warrior-brave. When the Euros started going Hannibal Lecter on the Tainos, they killed Anacaona's husband (which is another story). And like all good warrior-women she tried to rally her people, tried to resist, but the Europeans were the original fukú, no stopping them. Massacre after massacre after massacre. Upon being captured, Anacaona tried to parley, saying: "Killing is not honorable, neither does violence redress our honor. Let us build a bridge of love that our enemies may cross, leaving their footprints for all to see." The Spaniards weren't trying to build no bridges, though. After a bogus trial they hung brave Anacaona. In Santo Domingo, in the shadow of one of our first churches. The end. (2.5.8.20)

Wao is full of history.We hear how old world countries colonized (and took advantage of) the new world. We also hear quite a few stories in which men abuse and mistreat women. This is only one of many. How are these two kinds of narratives related, do you think?

She [Beli] was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I'm [Lola] not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her. I was a fea [ugly], I was a worthless, I was an idiota [idiot]. (2.1.1.14)

Díaz said in an interview that Beli is a type of Dominican woman he hasn't seen much in fiction: a tough-as-nails Dominican mother who nearly abuses her kids. So, if Yunior and others are examples of protytpical masculinity in the book, who are its examples of prototypical femininity? Is Beli an exemplar of femininity? Why are why not? What about Lola and La Inca?