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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
At various points, Yunior likens Caribbean history to stories found in science fiction and fantasy. He first introduces this theme in the prologue, where he also introduces the fukú curse. According to legend, fukú arrived in the Caribbean with the first slaves who were brought from Africa to work on the European colonial plantations there. The fukú curse has allegedly haunted the island nations of the Caribbean ever since. Although fukú may seem little more than a legend, Yunior sees evidence of its reality in the violence that has characterized Dominican history since the sixteenth century. In particular, he points to the brutal Trujillo regime that terrorized the Dominican Republic between 1930 and 1961. Yunior frequently compares Trujillo to the most notorious science fiction and fantasy villains of all time, including the enormously evil Sauron from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As a living embodiment of evil, Trujillo seems to come straight from a science-fictional or fantasy universe. In these genres, however, the forces of evil rarely outlast the forces of good. Thus, by treating the Caribbean as a land of science fiction and fantasy, Yunior ultimately emphasizes the ability of Caribbean peoples to survive.
Sexuality plays a major thematic role in the novel, particularly as it relates to issues of Dominican masculinity. The first time Yunior introduces Oscar to the reader, he does so in language steeped in stereotypes about Dominican male sexuality. Such stereotypes had a negative impact on Oscar throughout his life. In his early years, Oscar appeared to live up to them, reaching the peak of his youthful swagger at the age of seven when he briefly dated two girls at the same time. However, as he grew into a shy, dorky, overweight adolescent, he felt the loss of his sexual confidence acutely. He felt increasingly ashamed that he couldn’t live up to the hypersexuality displayed by men like his uncle Rudolfo. Yunior was another man in Oscar’s life who had apparently achieved the ideal of Dominican male sexuality. He cultivated a public persona as a jock and a womanizer. Yet despite Yunior’s apparent success, his sexual prowess caused much heartache for the women he frequently cheated on. Whereas Oscar’s inability to live up to these toxic standards of masculinity greatly harmed his self-worth and contributed to his depression, Yunior’s success greatly harmed others.
Yunior frequently emphasizes the power of storytelling as a tool for escape, to both productive and destructive ends. Oscar, for instance, began writing his own science fiction and fantasy stories in high school as a way to create a different reality for himself. Although this practice proved liberating for him, it also contributed to his sense of isolation from the rest of the world. Though no other members of the de León/Cabral family wrote stories, they each engaged in some kind of storytelling. Beli and Lola spent much of their adolescences fantasizing about escape. Beli dreamt of marrying the Gangster, and she told herself that his wealth and status would transform her life for the better. Beli’s father, Abelard, fooled himself into believing that democracy would arrive in the Dominican Republic sooner or later. He ignored the horrific realities of the Trujillo regime and suffered tragically. In contrast to these uses of storytelling as self-deceit, Yunior turns to storytelling for the purpose of redemption. He wrote Oscar Wao not only to grow as an artist but to atone for the mistakes he made in his relationships with Oscar and Lola.