Full title  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author  Junot Díaz

Type of work  Novel

Genre  Domestic fiction; coming-of-age novel; magical realism

Language  English

Time and place written  New York and Massachusetts, 1996–2006

Date of first publication  September 6, 2007

Publisher  Riverhead Books

Narrator  The primary narrator is Yunior, and he speaks from his own perspective using the first-person pronoun “I.” Lola also narrates two short sections. Like Yunior, she usually uses the first-person pronoun “I” to speak from her own perspective.

Point of view  Yunior’s point of view dominates the novel. He positions himself as an outside observer, a “humble watcher,” who tells of a curse that appears to have followed the de León/Cabral family across three generations. Yunior bases his account of the family on evidence gathered from personal experience, witness testimony, and historical research. Although he has privileged insider knowledge, much of his account relies on speculation.

Tone  Dark and ironic. Yunior’s narrative speculates that a curse has followed the de León/Cabral family through multiple generations. During this period, the family has suffered tremendous pain and loss, the accumulation of which gives the novel a dark, tragic tone. Yet Yunior’s storytelling style also has an irreverent sense of humor that brings a hint of bitter irony to the novel’s darkness.

Tense  Past

Setting (time)  The novel covers three periods, each centering on one character: 1944–1946 (Abelard), 1955–1962 (Beli), and 1974–1995 (Oscar).

Setting (place)  New Jersey and the Dominican Republic

Protagonist  The main protagonist is Oscar. However, since the novel recounts the history of three generations of the de León/Cabral family, it could be argued that the family serves as a collective protagonist.

Major conflict  The novel’s major conflict plays out between Oscar and the world. As an overweight, brown-skinned, and nerdy boy, Oscar struggles to find a sense of love and belonging in a society that either ignores or outright rejects him. This struggle is compounded by his family’s traumatic history in the Dominican Republic and as members of the Dominican diaspora in the United States.

Rising action  Oscar passes through a series of obsessive crushes on girls who never reciprocate his interest. In college, when his crush on a fellow student goes awry, the experience leaves him depressed and suicidal. Meanwhile, Yunior recounts the life stories of Oscar’s mother, Beli, and grandfather, Abelard. He tells of how Beli escaped to New York after her relationship with a man attached to the Trujillo regime resulted in a near-fatal beating. He also tells of how the family curse began when Trujillo had Abelard arrested and tortured. Oscar visits the Dominican Republic and falls hopelessly in love with a middle-aged, semiretired prostitute named Ybón who already has a relationship with a violently jealous police officer.

Climax  After a beating, Oscar returns to the Dominican Republic to be with Ybón and is captured and murdered by her boyfriend’s thugs.

Falling action  Beli dies, and Yunior and Lola break up. Lola has a daughter with another man. Yunior collects and protects Oscar’s belongings and hopes that one day Lola’s daughter will break the curse on the family.

Themes  Magic and fantasy; sexuality; the escapism of storytelling

Motifs  Páginas en blanco (“blank pages”); blackness; historical and cultural references

Symbols  The fukú curse; the man without a face and the mongoose; the Fall

Foreshadowing  History repeats itself across the generations of the de León/Cabral family. As such, traumatic events that happen to one family member often foreshadow the revelations of other traumas that Yunior relates in later chapters. For example, Beli’s attack foreshadows Oscar’s, and it also foreshadows the story of Abelard’s “Fall”—even though Abelard’s story precedes Beli’s in chronological time. More examples of foreshadowing include Jack’s failed promise to marry Beli and buy her a house, which foreshadows the same promises made later by the Gangster. Beli calling Lola “fea” also foreshadows the revelation that she got brutally beaten because she was dating a man married to one of Trujillo’s sisters, nicknamed “La Fea.”