Study Guide

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Chapter 3

By Junot Díaz

Chapter 3

The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral 1955-1962

Look at the Princess

  • This very, very short section introduces Oscar and Lola's mother: Hypatía Belicia Cabral.
  • From now on, we'll call Hypatía Belicia by her nickname: Beli.
  • Beli is tall and dark-skinned and, like Lola, has an "inextinguishable longing for elsewheres" (1.3.1.4).

Under the Sea

  • Beli is living with her aunt La Inca in the charming but stifling town of Baní.
  • She endured a year with a "monstrous" foster family before moving in with La Inca. More on this later.
  • At first, Beli's life in Baní sounds idyllic.
  • Beli, however, has got an itch. She's not into "tranquilidad" [tranquility] like La Inca.
  • Most Dominican girls would be happy in Beli's situation. She has a kind aunt who takes care of her. She earns a little cash of her own at the bakery.
  • Beli feels restless. She doesn't want the slow life of the bakery, school, and her aunt.
  • She doesn't know what she does want, beyond escaping Baní.
  • Later in life, Beli would say that this time for her and others—adolescence under the dictator Trujillo—was "like being at the bottom of an ocean" (1.3.2.10).
  • There aren't too many other options for Beli.
  • La Inca reminds Beli of her illustrious family history: "Remember, your father was a doctor, a doctor, and your mother was a nurse, a nurse" (1.3.2.11). We're not sure why she feels compelled to say these words twice.
  • We are sure that La Inca wants Beli to live up to her family name. But, like most kids whose families want them to follow in their footsteps, Beli isn't interested.

La Chica de Mi Escuela [The Girl from My School]

  • La Inca gets Beli a scholarship to a posh school: El Redentor [The Redeemer]. Ooh.
  • It's been seven years since she stayed with her foster parents, so Beli is now thirteen. A teenager at last. But still "crazy rough around the edges" (1.3.3.1).
  • This means Beli is a little edgy, a little too quick to fight back.
  • By the second quarter, no one at school makes fun of Beli. She doesn't have any friends.
  • Our narrator doesn't consider her a "mega-loser that [...] the losers pick on" (1.3.3.2). She's even more of a loser than that. The kind that people just don't even see when they walk by.
  • Her only friends are the Boy in the Iron Lung and the Chinese girl, Wei, who never quite learned Spanish.
  • Like our boy Oscar, Beli still loves dudes who are way out of her league. She is obsessed with the hottest guy in school: Jack Pujols.
  • Beli hates school, but she is learning some stuff there. La Inca, who used to correct her grammar, now says that Beli "talk[s] like Cervantes [a big-time Spanish novelist]" (1.3.3.9).
  • Beli tells the daughter of La Inca's cleaning lady that she's going steady with Jack Pujols. This is not true. Obviously.
  • In Beli's yarn, all the popular girls try to steal Jack from her. Jack is loyal to Beli.
  • She daydreams that she's the Dominican actress María Montez. Jack Pujols is a dashing French actor. Jack the French Actor sweeps Beli a.k.a. María Montez off her feet and takes her to France. Our narrator reminds us in a footnote that the real María Montez died alone in her bathtub at the age of thirty-nine.
  • Like other Dominican girls, Beli is boycrazy enough not to be dismayed by such details.
  • She's obsessed with Jack Pujols.

Kimota!

  • Beli gets with a boy. He's her first.

Número Uno [Number One]

  • We hear a little about Jack Pujols early on in this chapter. He's a handsome white kid who will later be associated with Joaquín Amparo Balaguer Ricardo.
  • Balaguer was close with Trujillo. He ruled the country after Trujillo's assassination. Balaguer is evil. End of story.
  • But back in school, Jack's still just the Big Man On Campus. Beli tries to get Jack to notice her by purposely bumping into him in the halls.
  • No luck. She's a non-entity to the very hot and very popular Jack Pujols.
  • But then things change. Beli changes. She hits puberty, and not just any puberty—she turns into a total babe.
  • We hear a little about Beli's hot new bod. Which is pretty weird, in our opinion.
  • Other girls would have been ashamed by such enormous breasts. Not Beli.
  • While she feels that her new attractiveness is kind of a burden, she understands that it's really a blessing because it endows her with great power. She can get other people to do what she wants, just because she's beautiful. Like, all the guys laugh at her jokes, even when they are totally not funny at all.
  • Especially Beli's dentist.
  • He passes her a note saying that he wants to see her.
  • At first, she agrees to see the dentist in the park, but she brings La Inca with her when she goes to meet him. So the dentist runs away.
  • Now, Beli knows that men desire her. You know where this is going. Beli will try to get with the previously ungetwithable Jack Pujols.

Hunt the Light Knight

  • Beli begins her campaign to snag Mr. Jack Pujols.
  • Even though everyone else has noticed her new hotness, Jack hasn't.
  • Beli adopts a sexy walk. She leaves her blouse unbuttoned at the top. Still no spark of interest from Mr. Popular Pujols.
  • Though Beli does well in school, September ends without any success on the romantic front.
  • Other events of note: one of Beli's classmates has to flee the country.
  • A teacher asked the students this question: "Where would you like to see yourself, your country, and our glorious president in the coming years?" (1.3.6.7)
  • Beli's classmate answered: "I'd like to see our country be a democracía [democracy] like the United States. I wish we would stop having dictators. Also I believe that it was Trujillo who killed Galíndez [see below]" (1.3.6.8).
  • This sort of stuff would get anyone in trouble during the Trujillo years.
  • Luckily, the kid gets out of the country before he's killed or jailed. The teacher also disappears.
  • There's a brief digression on Jesús de Galíndez.
  • Galíndez occupied lofty government positions under Trujillo.
  • Galíndez then decided that Trujillo was evil. He goes to Columbia University and writes a sort of exposé piece as his thesis.
  • Trujillo is having none of this. The story goes that Trujillo gets a hold of both Galíndez and his thesis and drags them both back to the Dominican Republic. No more Galíndez. No more thesis. Trujillo knows how to take care of business in the scariest way possible.
  • Then there's another brief digression. Sorry, readers; they're kind of fun, right? This one's on Rafael Yépez.
  • Yépez taught at a prep school and one day he asked his students to write an essay on a topic of their choice.
  • One student wrote a song in praise of Trujillo's wife.
  • Yépez says that all Dominican women deserve as much praise as Trujillo's wife and that maybe his students will grow up to be great leaders like Trujillo.
  • Goodbye Yépez. Goodbye also to Yépez's wife and daughter.
  • Back to the main story. Jack Pujols breaks up with his girlfriend. Now he notices Beli.
  • She starts riding around with Jack in his Mercedes. They go out for ice cream together.
  • The chapter ends with a footnote on Ramfis Trujillo.
  • Jack Pujols' father was one of Ramfis' confidants.
  • Ramfis sounds like a real jerk. He's the son of Rafael Trujillo.
  • Trujillo made Ramfis a colonel at the age of four and a general at the age of nine.
  • Here are some of the highlights of Ramfi's life: he played polo, had sex with American actresses, and took part in the torture of Dominicans in 1959 and 1961.
  • Ramfis died in a car crash in 1969. The crash was his fault. He killed the passengers in the other vehicle.

Amor! [Love!]

  • This is a fairly long chapter, but stay with us. Here we go.
  • Beli is seeing Jack Pujols. Regularly.
  • She now understands why other boys call Jack "Jack the Ripio." Jack has this nickname because he's well-endowed.
  • Jack doesn't treat Beli with much respect. They have a lot of furtive, quick sex.
  • It's possible that Jack is ashamed of Beli because she has dark skin.
  • Scandal alert: the teachers find Beli and Jack doing it in the broom closet at school.
  • Jack is a total snake in the grass about it, and blames Beli for the whole thing. Not cool, bro. Not cool at all.
  • As an elite kid, he isn't supposed to associate with people like Beli.
  • Plus, Jack still has a girlfriend. Seriously? you say. Seriously, we say.
  • Beli simply denies she did anything wrong.
  • La Inca doesn't beat Beli; instead, she tries to yell some common sense into her.
  • Beli flat-out refuses to go back to school.
  • She lands a job waitressing at a Chinese restaurant named Palacio Peking [Peking Palace]. Hereafter, we'll call Palacio Peking "PP."
  • The restaurant is owned by two Chinese brothers: José Then and Juan Then.
  • Juan is romantic and kind.
  • José has been hardened by grief, but is still pretty nice to Beli.
  • The other members of the PP cast are: Lillian, Marco Antonio, and Indian Benny.
  • La Inca isn't too happy about Beli's job. They rarely talk these days.
  • But Beli thrives at PP. She "displayed at Palacio Peking a raconteur's [skillful storyteller] gift for the palaver [idle talk] that delighted a great many of the all-male clientele" (1.3.7.33).
  • No doubt Beli's good looks also contribute to her success at PP.
  • Beli still thinks about Jack Pujols.
  • Meanwhile, she snags two temporary boyfriends: a Fiat car dealer and a student named Arquimedes.
  • The Fiat dealer loves baseball. Arquimedes is mixed up in politics.
  • In a footnote, our narrator tells us about Johnny Abbes.
  • Johnny Abbes was the head of the secret police in the DR. He basically sounds like a hit man for Trujillo. Then again, pretty much everyone in those days was basically a hit man for Trujillo.
  • After Trujillo was assassinated, Abbes became the consul to Japan. He also worked for another dictator: François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Duvalier ruled Haiti.
  • Bing bang boom, we're back in Beli's day. The waitress Lillian quits the PP. A girl named Constantina replaces her.
  • Constantina gets Beli to tell her the "Sad Ballad of Jack Pujols" (1.3.7.43).
  • The new girl tells Beli to just get over Jack already. She thinks that Beli should come out with her to the club El Hollywood.
  • Beli reluctantly agrees to go.

El Hollywood

  • Beli and Constantina go to the posh nightclub El Hollywood.
  • Beli dances like there's no tomorrow. Even the bandleader says she's on fire.
  • A suave man has his eye on Beli. He's certainly older than Beli. And richer.
    The handsome stranger offers to buy her a drink. Beli turns away and the stranger grabs her arm. That does it. Beli throws her drink, her glass, her purse, then some of those little plastic swords at the guy. She really lets him have it. You go, girl.
  • At this point, our narrator starts calling the stranger "The Gangster."
  • The Gangster doesn't let Beli's fit bother him. Beli leaves the club.
  • When she finally gets home, La Inca is waiting up for her. With a belt.
  • La Inca can't bring herself to hit Beli, but she lets Beli know she's disappointed.
  • Beli tells the Fiat dealer and Arquimedes about The Gangster.
  • There's a party the next day at the PP. After work, Beli asks Constantina if she wants to go back to El Hollywood. Oh dear.
  • Beli and Constantina go back to El Hollywood.
  • For all her whining, Beli goes over to The Gangster and asks him to dance.
  • The chapter ends with Beli and The Gangster on the dance floor. This is how every great relationship begins, right? With the girl throwing stuff at the guy, and generally totally losing it on him, before they both hit the dance floor together the next night? Right.

The Gangster We're All Looking For

  • We get the dirt on The Gangster. He's not a nice fellow, to say the least.
  • Our narrator says he doesn't know everything about The Gangster—people are still uneasy talking about the Trujillo years—but he's going to tell us everything he knows.
  • The Gangster's parents turned him out of house when he was seven. We're not sure why they thought it was okay to leave a seven year-old to fend for himself, but okay.
  • At fourteen, The Gangster did his first hit for the Trujillo regime. This gets The Gangster some recognition.
  • So he becomes friends with some of the nastiest goons in the Trujillo regime, like Johnny Abbes (see above). Just a lot of murder, oppression, and all that.
  • This new love of Beli's also really excels in the Dominican sex trade. He owns brothels and oversees the "binding, selling, and degradation of women" (1.3.9.6). (Come on, Beli. This guy?)
  • He makes lots of money. And survives plenty of shootouts.
  • Plus, The Gangster loves Cuba. He loves Cuban women and feels at home there. So when Castro [big-time Cuban revolutionary] takes over Cuba in 1956, The Gangster is pretty upset.
  • He sees Beli as a way to rebound from the disaster in Cuba. She's his love cure.
  • Beli is hesitant about The Gangster at first. She threw a bunch of stuff at him, remember? But he charms her with fun dates and nice gifts. He takes her to plays and movies; he buys her clothes and jewelry. He even introduces her to some famous people.
  • The Gangster is tender and nice to Beli, but he has the shadiest of shady pasts. So he's complicated, you could say.
  • Beli falls for The Gangster. Hard.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, he reciprocates. (As much as a player can reciprocate.)
  • But he does tell Beli a few lies. For example, how he's going to buy her a house. Beli believes him. And they have a lot of sex.
  • This big love affair is the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as Beli's reputation in Bani. She really burns all of her bridges there.
  • She stays out late, spends a lot of time in "love motels," and generally thinks she's better than everyone else.
  • La Inca begs Beli to change her ways. Beli should respect her parents, she says; they certainly wouldn't want her living this way.
  • Things aren't the same at the PP. First, José fires her. Then he rehires her because The Gangster makes some noise.
  • This doesn't solve anything. No one at the PP will talk to her, so Beli quits.
  • In the DR, there are some dangerous stirrings. People are disappearing and police blockades are up. All this makes The Gangster nervous.
  • His hair is graying, and he's distracted when he's with Beli. He also vanishes for long periods of time doing who-knows-what.
  • Beli tells the Fiat dealer and Arquimedes how happy she is with The Gangster. The Fiat dealer throws a whiskey bottle at Beli and misses. Beli hits him on the head with it. She's really scrappy, ain't she?
  • Arquimedes doesn't say much since he's in hiding—literally, in a closet—from the government.
  • Finally, The Gangster returns. He takes Beli on a vacation.
  • It sounds amazing, truly. There's a beautiful beach, fried fish, walks, heart-to-heart talks.
  • But you know this won't last, right? Before long, a policeman shows up on a motorcycle and The Gangster has to ride off with him. He says he'll send a car for Beli.
  • No car arrives.
  • Beli rustles up a car on her own. On the way back to La Inca's, she sees a man with no face.
  • This particular atrocity—or person, we guess?—will reappear throughout the novel. So take note.
  • After a while, Beli makes it home.
  • For some reason, she keeps vomiting in the morning. She doesn't know what's wrong.
  • La Inca does. Beli is pregnant.

Revelation

  • The doctor tells Beli that she's pregnant. Beli is overjoyed. Now, she thinks The Gangster will have to marry her. (We're not so optimistic.)
  • La Inca begs Beli not to tell anyone. But word gets out, so The Gangster comes to visit Beli.
  • Guess what, she says. What, The Gangster replies.

Upon Further Reflection

  • Later, Beli will remember that The Gangster did tell her to abort the child.
  • But that's not what she wanted to hear.

Name Game

  • Beli and The Gangster are at a love motel. She tells him that she hopes they'll have a son.
  • He agrees.
  • She says that she wants to name him "Abelard."
  • The Gangster thinks "Manuel" sounds better. It's his grandfather's name.
  • Beli says that she thought The Gangster didn't have a family.
  • The Gangster tells Beli not to mess with him. Um, yeah. We wouldn't mess with him either.

Truth and Consequences 1

  • There's one thing that The Gangster failed to tell Beli. That he's married. To Trujillo's sister.
  • Say what?

Truth and Consequences 2

  • Trujillo's sister? Wowza.
  • The Gangster and Trujillo's sister worked together in the sex trade together. That's how they got together. Really, their marriage should get nominated for, like, Love Story of the Year.
  • Unluckily for Beli, The Gangster's broad sounds tough. She eats businessmen for lunch.
  • Soon, a servant shows up at Beli's door with the news. Beli is in T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

In the Shadow of the Jacaranda

  • Beli is hanging out at the park. Things aren't great at home.
  • She recently had a fight with The Gangster. He tells her that he didn't want to bring a child into this miserable world.
  • Beli says that Miami, where The Gangster has promised to buy her a house, isn't so terrible.
  • The Gangster tells her she can swim to Miami, and she hasn't seen him since.
  • Back to present-day in the park. Two huge men grab Beli and drag her over to a bench.
  • An older lady is sitting there. It's The Gangster's wife.
  • She tells Beli that Beli has an appointment with a doctor. A doctor who is going to abort her and The Gangster's baby. Dun dun dun.
  • Beli tries to yell for help. She notices, however, that the cop nearby doesn't have a face. Weird.
  • Luckily, Beli sees José walking by. So the whole PP crew—Juan, Constantina, Marco Antonio, and Indian Benny—come to help her.
  • PP to the rescue! (Stop giggling, we can hear you.)
  • The Gangster's wife flees.
  • Beli gets away.

Hesitation

  • Beli runs home.
  • She's a wreck: she shuts the door and windows, crouches on her bed, brandishes a knife, cries, trembles, and asks for The Gangster.
  • A neighbor says that Beli's boyfriend is here. Beli runs outside.
  • And who's waiting for her in the car? The same goons who were in the park. Oh jeez.

La Inca, the Divine

  • La Inca knows Beli is in trouble.
  • She almost gives into despair over her daughter's impending doom, a despair that's "like a tangle of seagrape beyond the bright reef of her faith and into the dark reaches" (1.3.17.1).
  • But she snaps out of it. Instead, she does what most Dominican women of her era would do: she prays. And prays. and prays.
  • She prays all night.
  • Some of the women who stop by to pray with La Inca collapse from spiritual exhaustion.
  • The devil himself has to stay away from Baní. La Inca's prayers are that strong.
  • Eventually, only two other people remain with La Inca. The praying is that intense.
  • Who are these other women? A neighbor who can cure warts, and a seven year-old spiritual prodigy. Alrighty then.
  • Even La Inca is feeling exhausted.

Choice and Consequences

  • Beli finds herself in a car with the two goons who kidnapped her.
  • She's in a sorry state. They've beaten her pretty badly. Her eye and breast are swollen; her lip is split. She doesn't cry while they beat her. She yells. But she doesn't cry.
  • Beli tries to protect her belly—to protect her unborn child.
  • But the goons take her out into the middle of a canefield. This is going to be bad.
  • Here's some of the damage: "five ribs, broken; left kidney, bruised; right lung, collapsed; front teeth, blown out" (1.3.18.9).
  • They may even have raped Beli. It's not clear.
  • But poor Beli still thinks The Gangster is going to come and save her. She even fantasizes about their wedding.
  • She sees, in her mind's eye, La Inca praying. Just for one instant.
  • See, Beli is really close to death. But then she realizes something: The Gangster played her. He made a fool of her.
  • Righteous anger rises up in Beli. She's madder than a wet hen. And it's her anger that saves her. She comes to in the canefield.
  • Okay, Shmoopsters. This next part gets really strange. Be warned.
  • Beli is lying there half-dead in the canefield, and what shows up? You guessed it. A talking mongoose. Fine, there's no possible way that you could have guessed that.
  • The mongoose tells Beli that she has to get up. Her baby is dead, but if she doesn't get up, the mongoose says, she'll never have the kids she's supposed to have in the future. (Don't even bother trying to figure out the space-time continuum on this.)
  • Beli follows the mongoose out of the canefield. The mongoose, who is singing, safely leads her out somehow.
  • When Beli makes it out to the road, she collapses. She's had a pretty rough time, almost being beaten to death and all.
  • Some musicians find her in the middle of the road.
  • At first they want to leave her; they don't know who (or what) she is.
  • Beli is able to whisper one word: "Trujillo."
  • This doesn't help Beli's case for being saved. The musicians consider leaving her there. If Trujillo did this, then Beli must be a subversive. Trujillo might come after them.
  • It's the singer of the band who finally convinces the other musicians to help Beli.
  • Finally, there's a brief footnote at the end. It's on mongooses. Apparently, the mongoose species traveled on a ship from Africa to India and from there to the Caribbean.
  • The mongoose is supposedly an enemy of hierarchy and a friend of man. Some think that the mongoose is really from another planet.
  • Obviously, this footnote is a mixture of fact and wild speculation. But given that we've just read about a talking, singing mongoose, we're willing to accept pretty much anything at this point.

Fukú vs. Zafa [Curse vs. Charm]

  • Is Beli proof that the Cabral House—a.k.a. Beli's family line—has a major fukú on it?
  • On one hand, Beli was nearly beaten to death by Trujillo's goons.
  • On the other hand, Beli did drag herself out of the canefield, and she was picked up by sympathetic musicians who ended up saving her life.
  • We also find out that Beli's unborn son was definitely killed in the beating. Mr. Mongoose was right about that one.
  • La Inca thinks that Beli met God in the canefield.
  • Beli only says: "I met something" (1.3.19.5).

Back Among the Living

  • Beli wakes up screaming.
  • Doctors and La Inca's prayer group have been attending to Beli.
  • Still, this beatdown was serious.
  • Beli calls for La Inca. La Inca tries to comfort her, but Beli is inconsolable because her child is dead. It's a rough night. Beli wails and suffers and then wails some more.
  • Then, when she wakes up the next day, she hears a funeral song.
  • Beli asks La Inca: "Mamá, is that for me? Am I dying?" (1.3.20.14)
  • She's not dying. It's for Trujillo, who was assassinated the same night that the goons beat Beli.
  • The chapter ends with a really long footnote recounting Trujillo's assassination.
  • Here's what it says:
  • So, Trujillo is out on a booty call. A black Chevrolet flashes its lights to pass Trujillo's car.
  • Trujillo's driver Zacarías obliges. He thinks it's the Secret Police.
  • It's not. The assassins spray Trujillo's car with bullets, wounding the driver.
  • Trujillo calls for his guns.
  • Trujillo walks toward his assassins with a .38 pistol.
  • They shoot Trujillo twenty-seven times. That's a lot of times. Zacarías survives even though he's hit again.
  • Finally, one assassin, Antonio de la Maza, takes Trujillo's .38 pistol and shoots Trujillo in the face. You really gotta hate a guy to do that.
  • Antonio de la Maza says to Trujillo: "Este guaraguao ya no comerá más pollito [This hawk will eat no more chicken]" (1.3.20.17).
  • That's the end of the footnote. And the end of Trujillo. Well, at least the living, breathing version of Trujillo, rather than the generally terrible plague of terribleness he let loose in the DR.

La Inca, in Decline

  • This section begins with an extended comparison between La Inca and Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings.
  • So... how are these two alike? Is Galadriel the elvish princess really anything like La Inca the Dominican grandmother?
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Galadriel's powers begin to diminish after she's tempted to wear the ring of power.
  • Likewise, La Inca begins to show signs of age after Beli leaves the DR.
  • Wait a second. Beli left the DR? When?
  • Let's backtrack. La Inca just saved Beli's life through some serious prayer.
  • Beli is alive, but La Inca knows Trujillo's men might come back (even though Trujillo himself has been assassinated).
  • Trujillo is evil, and his evil is radioactive. Trujillo's powerful minions will continue to wreak havoc even after his death just like weapons-grade plutonium.
  • How can La Inca keep Beli safe? She prays. She fasts. She asks her dead ancestors for help.
  • And then, her dead husband appears on the third day.
  • He tells her that she should send Beli to New York.
  • La Inca isn't ready to do something so extreme. New York is a scary place.
  • Instead, she prays and fasts some more.
  • But then Trujillo's goons show up again. In fact, it's the same two guys who beat the living daylights out of Beli.
  • La Inca chases 'em off with a machete. Wow, she is one bad mamajama.
  • And she doesn't need any more convincing. She decides that Beli will fly to New York. ASAP.

The Last Days of the Republic

  • Beli doesn't remember much from those final months before she leaves the DR.
  • In her head, she's already peaced out.
  • The only time Beli feels anything is when she sees Trujillo's goons in the neighborhood. Or when she has nightmares about the canefields.
  • La Inca gets Beli's immigration stuff in order. It's not that hard since the country is in chaos.
  • For reasons we cannot understand even remotely, except that love makes people totally bonkers, Beli meets up with The Gangster before she leaves.
  • They get together in a love motel and have sex. He's a real jerk about Beli's near-death experience. He tells Beli that they were betrayed.
  • He doesn't seem to regret the loss of their child at all.
  • Beli tells The Gangster that she's moving to New York. Like a true deadbeat boyfriend, he doesn't plead with her to stay.
  • La Inca takes Beli to the airport. Right before Beli gets in line to board, La Inca tells her that she can stay in the DR.
  • Beli doesn't want to stay. She wants to get out. This place has done nothing good for her.
  • She half-believes that The Gangster will show up and whisk her away. Of course he doesn't.
  • On the plane, Beli sits next to the man who will father her two children and leave her. Um, okay then. So that's that.
  • The chapter ends with Beli looking down at the lights of New York.