Summary: Part 1, Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, which covers the period 1982–1985, Lola takes over from the primary narrator. Chapter 2 opens with an italicized section in which Lola addresses herself with the second-person pronoun “you.” She describes an incident in her youth when she was reading the novel Watership Down and her mother called her into the bathroom. Hesitantly, Lola put down her book and got up. She found her mother standing in front the mirror, topless and examining one of her breasts with a frown.

Lola remarks on the immense size of her mother’s breasts and notes how their size embarrassed her when they walked in public. She also reflects on how she dreaded conversations with her mother, which typically ended up being “one-sided dressing-downs.” But this time, her mother didn’t want to argue. Instead, she placed Lola’s hand on her breast and asked if she could feel a lump. Lola felt an immediate sense that something in her life was about to change. That winter, doctors removed her mother’s breast and started her on chemotherapy. The italicized section concludes with Lola declaring: “it’s in that bathroom where it all began.”

Now speaking with the first-person pronoun “I,” Lola describes her teenaged self as a “punk chick” who dressed in dark clothes and listened to the goth band Siouxsie and the Banshees. Lola’s mother hated her appearance and called her ugly. Her nickname became “Fea” (Spanish for “ugly”). Lola comments that she and Oscar grew up afraid of their mother, who had a bad temper and was quick to violence. Lola recounts several instances where her mother had caused her to seriously doubt herself or had treated her unjustly. Lola observes that, as an “Old World Dominican mother,” it was her duty to keep her only daughter “crushed under her heel.” In spite of all this, Lola warns the reader not to judge.

When she was twelve years old and learned of her mother’s sickness, Lola had the “witchy” feeling that her life was about to change. Specifically, she sensed that she had an inner wildness that would burst out. One day, she had her goth friend Karen Cepeda shave her head, and then she declared herself a punk. When her mother demanded that she wear a wig, Lola set the wig on fire.

In the ensuing period, the tension between Lola and her mother amplified. Lola ran away with a nineteen-year-old white boy named Aldo who lived with his elderly father at the Jersey Shore. She lost her virginity to Aldo and immediately regretted it. Aldo told offensive jokes, and his father, who had served in World War II, frequently made racist remarks about “Japs.”

Life with Aldo became intolerable. Lola called home and asked Oscar to meet her at a coffeeshop on the boardwalk and bring her money. Lola had planned to convince her brother to run away with her, but when Oscar arrived at the coffeeshop, he brought their mother. Lola tried to escape, and after a tussle, her mother fell to the ground in tears. Moved by her mother’s pain, Lola relented. But her mother had faked her tears. She stood up, smiled, and said: “Yo te tengo” (“I’ve got you”).

As retribution, Lola’s mother sent her to live with La Inca in Santo Domingo. There, she attended school, befriended a girl named Rosío, and became a valuable athlete on her school’s track team. Eventually, she made up with her mother but decided to stay longer in the Dominican Republic.

Around this time, Lola had another bout of the “witchy” feeling she’d had when her mother got sick. At first, she thought the feeling related to her Dominican boyfriend, Max Sánchez, who had a job running movie reels from theater to theater. But one night, when Lola came home from a date with Max, she found La Inca looking over old photographs of her mother. Lola remarked on her mother’s beauty. La Inca confessed that she and Lola’s mother didn’t get along when her mother was a teenager. Lola’s witchy feeling came back again as La Inca began to tell her the story of her mother’s youth.

Analysis: Part 1, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 shifts to a new narrator and introduces an important new perspective to the story. The character who narrates this chapter is Oscar’s older sister, Lola. It may surprise some readers that a book titled The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao would focus on characters other than the one named in the title. However, Díaz’s novel focuses on several key figures in Oscar’s family, including his sister, Lola, as well as their mother, Beli, and their grandfather, Abelard. Thus, though the shift to Lola’s story may surprise the reader, it also prepares us to see the novel as a story about a family, told from multiple angles. Another element that sets Lola’s voice apart has to do with her narrative style. In particular, the chapter opens with a brief section written in italics and using the second-person “you.” In this section, Lola appears to address herself, though it remains unclear if the text comes from a diary entry she wrote in her youth or if she’s speaking as an adult looking back on her younger self. Either way, Lola’s use of the second person indicates an attempt to distance herself from a painful experience.

Whereas her brother contends with unreachable standards of Dominican masculinity, Lola struggles against the cruelties of her overbearing Dominican mother. According to Lola’s account, nothing she did could ever make her mother happy or win her affection. Virtually all of their conversations turned into an argument that would leave Lola feeling disempowered and humiliated. Perhaps nothing encapsulates her mother’s apparently casual cruelty better than the fact that she gave her daughter the nickname Fea, meaning “ugly.” Lola understands this cruelty as a stereotypical feature of Dominican motherhood. Her mother was shaped by values that came from another place and time. These values dictated that a mother should retain full control of a daughter to protect her from the dangers of the outside world. From her more enlightened adult perspective, Lola sees that her mother wasn’t cruel for the sake of cruelty, and for this reason she issues a stern warning to the reader against judging her. Even so, it remains clear that Lola struggled intensely against her mother and eventually found it necessary to rebel against her.

Wrapped up in Lola’s rebellion against her mother was a search for her own unique identity. For example, when her mother tried to exert control over Lola’s appearance, she rebelled by turning to the goth-punk music scene. At the time, she had a friend named Karen Cepeda whose black clothes and punk look appealed to Lola. One day, in a fit of rage, Lola had Karen shave her head. Her attempt to become a punk went hand in hand with her desire to establish her own identity outside her mother’s control. In another attempt to define herself, Lola defied the rules of the house and ran away to live with an older boy to whom she lost her virginity. Yet each of these attempts to assert her identity failed since, for Lola, the primary goal was less to find herself and more to spite her mother. As such, Lola didn’t really begin to define her identity until she spent time living with La Inca in the Dominican Republic. Far away from her mother and hence less reactive to her influence, Lola could finally become her own person.

The “witchy” feeling Lola mentions throughout Chapter 2 recalls the fukú curse the primary narrator described in the prologue. For Lola, the odd sensation came to her in moments just before something in her life suddenly changed. The first time she felt “the bruja feeling” was when her mother asked her to check her breast for a lump. Lola knew instantly that a great change was afoot, both for herself and her mother. And things did indeed change. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, her mother had a breast removed and suffered through chemotherapy. Throughout this period, Lola’s relationship with her mother deteriorated rapidly, sending her into a spiral of rebelliousness. Lola felt the witchy feeling once again just before La Inca began to tell her the story of her mother’s youth, a tragic tale that will be the subject of the next chapter. In both of these examples, the witchy feeling foreshadows moments of difficulty, struggle, and even tragedy that redefine the lives of the de León family. As such, they have an important link to the fukú curse that has followed the family across multiple generations.