Study Guide

Yunior in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Díaz


The Mystery Man in My Head

What's that, omnipresent voice in our heads? Oh, hey, Yunior. Listen, you can stop talking to us now, we're done reading that novel you narrated. Thanks.

You know, for all the talking Yunior he does to us in Wao, he is a difficult character to talk about. He narrates the novel, but he's also tangled up with the main characters. So, surely his relationships influence how he recounts the novel's main happenings.

He's close to Oscar and Lola. He becomes Oscar's best friend—while Yunior's got a lot of other friends, presumably, Oscar does not—and he dates Lola for a good chunk of the book. However, we don't feel like we really know Yunior as well as the other main characters.

Case in point: when Yunior mentions that his mom is godmother to Lola's daughter, we pause. Yunior has a mother? We mean, of course he has a mother. But Yunior spends so much time talking about the Cabral family that he disappears inside of their story.

This doesn't mean that we don't know anything about Yunior. We do get to know him, in a way, because most of the novel is from his perspective. It's his backstory that remains mostly hidden. So in order to get cozy with our dude Yunior, we have to infer a lot from his writing.

The Man Who Knows What He Doesn't Like

Yunior's kind of a hater. He has some major hangups. So we think it makes more sense to start describing our narrator by talking about what he doesn't like, rather than what he does like.

For one, he's really uncomfortable with "the genres." These "genres" include comic books, Japanese anime, sci-fi TV shows, and fantasy novels—a few of Oscar's favorite things.

On the one hand, Yunior references the genres constantly. The book is stuffed with nerdy references. Bascially, Wao has only two kinds of allusions: allusions to Dominican history and allusions to "the genres."

On the other hand, Yunior claims to not like geeky and kiddie pop culture at all. Lie detectors should be going off in your head right about now. Beep, beep, beep. The guy who narrates the novel constantly references "the genres," but he says that he's not a nerd?

At first, we thought Yunior was a player and a jock who couldn't care less about "white kid" literature and hobbies. We were wrong. He's just a liar, liar, pants on fire.

Yunior only presents himself as cool because he knows that's how other people want him to act—especially the ladies. He tells us that he would never live in Demarest Dorm if it weren't for Oscar; he tells us about all the women he sleeps with; he tells us how much he can bench press.

This stuff might be true. But most likely, it's half-true.

Mostly, Yunior just wants us to see him as a player and a jock, and to see Oscar as a nerd. And above all, he doesn't want us to see him as nerd.

Just Your Average Ladies' Man

Like most of the Dominican men Díaz describes in the novel, Yunior seems totally obsessed with getting jiggy with it. Lola describes the Domincan Republic's fixation on sex in this way:

One thing you can count on in Santo Domingo. Not the lights, the law. Sex. That never goes away. (2.preface.8-2.preface.10)

When Yunior tells the stories of Oscar's relationships, he often pauses to remind us that Oscar isn't having sex. To Yunior, and maybe even to Lola and other characters in the book, a relationship doesn't really count unless it includes sex.

So we think that sex becomes an obsession of the book because it's an obsession of Yunior's. And of Domican culture. Not because it's necessarily all that important to Yunior, or Oscar, deep-down.

Yunior's obsession with women also gets him into some serious trouble from time to time. He cheats on Lola—the only girl, it seems, he has ever loved. So he ruins his chances with her, despite all that effort he spent chasing her around and trying to get date her to date him early on in the novel.

(We think that Yunior's eventual regret over messing up his relationship with Lola is positively heartbreaking.)

Like other Domican men in Wao, Yunior also objectifies women. Like, a lot. We're not saying that a guy can't notice a good-looking woman. Rather, we're saying that, when you put all of Yunior's constant descriptions of women's bodies together, they amount to something kind of creepy and bigoted.

Although we love Yunior, his character does reveal some of the perceived flaws of Dominican, Dominican-American, and American masculinity.

So, while Yunior is often likeable, he is also potentially an unreliable narrator. He's too much a product of his cultures not to go off about how hot the ladies are, or rag on Oscar to a cruel degree.

He just is who he is, you know?