Dictating Masculinities and Its Discontents : Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)


Soo Yeon Kim

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is not easy to summarize; it crisscrosses time and space, from the 1940s Dominican Republic to the 1990s Paterson, New Jersey, and interweaves the story of Oscar, Dominican American “fat” “nerd,” and his other family members. Narrated by an unnamed narrator, Oscar Wao moves back and forth between the horrifying lives in the DR under dictatorship and Oscar’s quest to lose virginity—both sad and farcical—to become a “Dominican” man. In addition to tortuous plots, Díaz’s novel presents a gala of narrative techniques, such as untranslated Spanish, footnotes on Dominican history, and numerous “otaku” references to sci-fi and fantasy. While the novel’s title suggests a link to Oscar Wilde, the author has little interest in gay themes or queer desire. Using the curious absence of the Wilde reference as a jumpstart, the first part of the essay examines how the author’s correlating of narrative and power via masculinity risks perpetuating the reductive notion of dominant masculinity. The second half of the essay tackles the novel’s “wondrous” ending. Oscar falls in love with an aging prostitute, makes love to her, and is shot to death by her boyfriend’s thugs. The “little intimacies” Oscar discovers on the novel’s last page paint his violent death as meaningful and even wonderful. Despite Díaz’s emphasis on intimacy as an antidote to hyper-masculinity, however, I argue that this romanticized ending reproduces a heterosexual fantasy. Inasmuch as it fails to open up a queer realm of love which resides outside the “grand narrative” of heteronormative relationship, Oscar Wao’s clichéd ending compromises the radical rethinking of history, form, and narrative successfully undertaken throughout the novel.


I. Introduction : The Curious Absence of Oscar Wilde
 II. Narrative and Dominant Masculinity
 III. A "Wondrous" Ending and Its Discontents
 IV. A Coda
 Works Cited


  • Soo Yeon Kim 김수연. 한국외국어대학교


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