Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Revolves Around Multiple Themes

February 15, 2021 by Essay Writer

Junot Diaz’s, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a book that has received numerous accolades for its style, story, and various themes that it includes or hints at as the story unfolds. Full of effective, even if sometimes confusing and complicated elements, Diaz’s novel is a combination of multiple narratives and stories that come together to present a single whole. The one place where the story is at its most powerful is in its themes, which are as mixed as the many narratives that Diaz touches upon, either briefly or throughout the novel. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao combines within itself a set of multiple narratives and stories, and with them, a set of various themes. The theme of superstitions, known as fuku itself, and there is the direct opposite, referred to in the novel as the safe. While those are the main themes, it should be noted that Diaz makes multiple allusions and references that could be described as themes unto themselves. Because of their multifaceted nature and overarching importance, these themes should be regarded as key elements of the novel that takes precedence to all at comes of the characters, with the most crucial of themes being the self-professed theme of the familial curse or fuku.

In the novel, it is believed that this curse came from Africa carried in the screams of the enslaved and it is known as the “Curse and the Doom of The New World” (1). Junot Diaz describes fukú as “the great American Doom,” brought to the New World by a Genoan explorer who is referred to “the Admiral” and whoever says his name is drowned with sudden calamity (1-2). Diaz also states that Santo Domingo has the curse badly because of Trujillo. People in Santo Domingo know Trujillo as the “fukú king” because if anyone was to plot against him he would send a fukú so powerful in return heading down to generations and beyond. Also, the history of the fukú goes way back to the time of John F. Kennedy, he was even apart of it. Referring to the novel Kennedy was the one who sent the CIA to assassinate Trujillo and in return they say fukú killed J.F. Kennedy. The Kennedy curse was, in truth, a fukú, caused by JFK’s green-lighting an assassination of a Dominican dictator, who according to the narrator was “tight” with the curse.” In addition, The reason why Oscar exemplifies the theme of fuku is exactly in his character arc. The novel is set to be a story of a family cursed by the Fuku as told by the narrator. The only way to get rid of this whirlwind curse is to say the word “Zafa.” The novel soon transitions into the story of Oscar, the main character, who tried hard in school and eventually made his way to Rutgers University. There, it was tough for him to make friends, let alone have a girlfriend, due to his unattractive lifestyle. Despite his initial success with girls as a young boy, he becomes overweight and, as a result, unattractive, reaching the lowest point in his life. His sister and uncle tried to give him advice, but he wouldn’t change. He found himself trying living in fantasy more often than not world. There, he had friends, a girlfriend and most importantly for Oscar, the confidence. Unfortunately, it was a long way from reality. When people would ask Oscar how he ended up so depressed, Oscar would say, “If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know it’s probably better you don’t judge” (55). This attitude that Oscar conveyed is not the best when trying to make friends. Aside from all that, Oscar is described as having a “bad no-love karma,” the origin of which is unknown to the narrator, the exact example of fuku (17). All in all, Oscar’s struggles are a play on the hero story; he himself exemplifies a case of severely bad luck that becomes so difficult to explain that it requires fuku to be explained at all.

Furthermore going to the theme of fuku, it functions effectively as a literary device. It is what pervades the lives of the majority of individuals in the novel, but none more so than the family of Oscar de Leon, including oscar first and foremost. Oscar as a character is an escapist who hides from real life in which he cannot adhere to the societal pressures and fulfill himself. He lacks heroes and worthwhile influences, and the best he can do is a friendship with Yunior, whose moral character and behavior are mostly questionable. Oscar achieves little to no success with the opposite sex, which is a topic he obsesses about but finds himself unable to reach his goals. He does not try to change his ways in any significant manner until his sister Lola warns him that he might “die a virgin” unless he attempts to change (25). Although Oscar avoids that outcome, his ultimate fate has long been decided, and he falls victim to a jealous rival. In other words, Oscar is the epitome of bad luck, showcasing a life full of struggles that ultimately fails to get out of. Furthermore, the wrong choices that Oscar makes when he meets his last lover cause fuku befall him and lead him to death eventually. He meets Ybon, the woman whom he will be mad about. Ybon’s ex-boyfriend—the Capitan is a control freak. He doesn’t allow any man to be with Ybon even though they broke up already. Knowing Oscar having a very close relationship with Ybon, the Capitan orders his men to take Oscar to a canfield and beat him to half dead. Fortunately, he survives and leaves Santo Doming back to the United States. However, he makes the worst and the last choice that he decides to go back to Santo Domingo for Ybon, his love. Once again, he is taken to the canfield except for this time what he gets is not fists but a bullet—death. In short, Oscar’s pathetic life and the way he dies all due to fuku caused by the bad choices he makes.

Moreover, it should be noted that fuku is a familial curse. It would be impossible to treat this as more than a folklore-style idea within the story if this sort of bad luck did not also accompany Oscar’s mother Beli, or even his sister Lola. In the case of Lola, she is “darker than your darkest grandma,” which is not the Dominican ideal at all (168). She is stuck with Yunior, who does not treat her well at all. Beli, the mother of Oscar and Lola was an orphan due to Trujillo’s actions against her family, is in no better situation either. However, Beli is the only character for whom the idea of zafa comes to mind. She had survived her horrible ordeal in the canefields and was apparently guided out by an image of the golden mongoose, a recurring mystical image throughout the story (190). In a twist, Oscar becomes a victim of fuku, is denied zafa and ends up dying; Beli, on the other hand, is offered zafa and saved. All characters involved with Oscar, including Oscar himself, are forced into negative circumstances that they can barely get out of or that follow them incessantly. In other words, if not for the familial nature of fuku, one could argue that Oscar’s fate was simply an unfortunate case of personal failure; the mysterious trend of bad luck surrounding his family appears to prove otherwise.

The narrator, Yunior, illustrates fuku as a theme in a number of ways. For one, he brings up the seemingly unexplainable nature of the family’s misfortunes. Whenever Yunior struggles to clarify something, he pulls out a “fuku” or “zafa” card, which is his go-to answer for any of these events (250). In a way, it is a recurring idea as well: despite Yunior effectively knowing everything, he is not as omniscient as he appears to be, leaving the reader to interpret one event or the other on their own. Overall, “fuku” is Yunior’s answer to anything he fails or does not wish to explain, further adding to its mysticism.

In conclusion, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao revolves around multiple themes and motifs, including masculinity, violence, and numerous instances of unexplained misfortune. The latter is what the narrator Yunior keeps referring to as fuku, a familial curse typical in the Dominican-Caribbean tradition. The natural opposite of fuku is the idea of zafa, which exemplifies its exact opposites. Although fuku is not really understood as a tangible conception, it plays a considerable role in the story. Oscar de Leon, the title character, exemplifies it the most: he struggles throughout the story and, in spite of his relative success, ends up losing life, the result that is indicative of bad luck surrounding his family. Although fuku is often overlooked as the central cause for the character downfalls, there seems little to no explanation for such tragic luck.


Writing this theme analysis was not always an easy task. The nature of the story, with its literary allusions, overall mysticism, and the combination of various, seemingly disparate themes made the larger picture difficult to decipher or otherwise interpret. Diaz’s style and typical approach to writing was and is not that simple in terms of following it along. His lines of thought mix and come together in ways that result in them being as tangled as some of the story elements themselves. Diaz makes the story additionally authentic through his admixture of Spanish into the story, but this also creates a pattern that quickly becomes repetitive, even if ultimately necessary. Beyond all that, because of the multitude of themes in the novel, choosing just one particular theme was also not as easy as it would seem. Nevertheless, the story itself was complex and enjoyable enough to warrant a deep analysis.

With regard to the theme of fuku, it is a curious literary device in the novel itself, but, when applied to real life, it becomes a counterintuitive piece of social commentary. It is necessary to remember that the novel’s plot is told by Yunior, who is the book’s character on par with the rest. He utilizes fuku and zafa whenever he does not appear capable of explaining an event or paradigm. In this way, fuku becomes just a catch-all term for what is simply a set of unconnected cases and random events, united together only by a familial thread that connects Oscar and his family. Because of this, fuku should also be treated as a throwaway explanation for things that are within the individual’s control, but appear not to be, as it becomes easier to blame one’s misfortunes on fate as opposed to personal choice or possibly even random chance.


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