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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Yunior uses the Spanish-language phrase páginas en blanco (“blank pages”) to refer both to gaps in history and the power of creativity. Blank pages appear everywhere in Oscar Wao, particularly in relation to the history of the Dominican Republic under Trujillo’s rule. Yunior notes in Chapter 5 that Trujillo and his cronies failed to document the inner workings of their administration. Without a paper trail to guide his account, Yunior describes himself as “trawling in silences” as he attempts to reconstruct the story of the de León/Cabral family. He repeatedly comes up against silences in the family record that he cannot recover and which he must fill in using the power of storytelling. For instance, in Chapter 3, Yunior acknowledges that he has no way to confirm the truth of Beli’s encounter with the golden-eyed mongoose: “Even your Watcher has his silences, his páginas en blanco.” Yunior proceeds with his narrative despite the silences and leaves the reader to decide what to think.
According to Yunior, society in the Dominican Republic imposes a racial hierarchy that privileges lighter skin tones over darker ones. Light skin is associated with European heritage, and it symbolizes wealth, beauty, and privilege. Dark skin indicates African ancestry, which in Dominican society signifies poverty, ugliness, and the humiliations of slavery. Both Oscar and his mother, Beli, have very dark skin, and their Blackness poses problems throughout their lives. When Oscar arrived at college feeling optimistic about his prospects for a social life, he was shocked by the bigotry of his fellow students of color. They looked at his Black skin and afro and declared he wasn’t Dominican, which devastated him. Perhaps the clearest example of this bias against Blackness appears in the scandal that arose after Jack Pujols and Beli were caught having sex. Beli felt attracted to Jack’s light skin and relative privilege, and she made numerous efforts to seduce him. When she finally succeeded, Jack’s family publicly shamed Beli. They worried she might get pregnant and have a dark-skinned child. Beli refused to show any shame and instead reclaimed her Blackness as a source of power.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Yunior’s narrative voice relates to the wide range of allusions he makes to history and culture. As a writer, Yunior alludes primarily to other works of fiction. He shows a penchant for referencing major figures in science fiction and fantasy, including Octavia Butler, Frank Herbert, and J. R. R. Tolkien. He references comics, like The Fantastic Four and Watchmen, and films, like Akira and Star Wars. But Yunior also alludes to more “high-brow” literary figures, both from Europe and the Caribbean. References to William Shakespeare and Marcel Proust appear throughout as do allusions to several towering figures in Caribbean literary and intellectual life, such as Aimé Césaire, Édouard Glissant, and Derek Walcott. Yunior almost never explains his allusions, and few readers will catch them all. But even without understanding Yunior’s references, we can still interpret his tendency to make them. As a member of the Dominican diaspora, Yunior lives between multiple cultures, places, and languages. Thus, his use of a broad variety of allusions allows him to draw disparate literary and cultural influences together in a way that reflects his unique identity.