Drown | Study Guide

Junot Díaz

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Course Hero. "Drown Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 June 2019. Web. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Drown/>.

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Course Hero. (2019, June 14). Drown Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Drown/

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(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Drown Study Guide." June 14, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Drown/.


Course Hero, "Drown Study Guide," June 14, 2019, accessed September 25, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Drown/.

Drown | Symbols


Buses and Cars

Buses and cars are contrasted in various stories in Drown. Buses merely shuttle back and forth characters who are stuck in behavioral ruts, while car ownership affords freedom and status.

In "Ysrael," the collection's first story, buses provide the means for Yunior and Rafa to go into the town of Ocoa to bully the disfigured boy who lives there. However, the bus merely takes them on a cruel mission and then returns them to their bleak home.

Similarly, in "Edison, New Jersey," the narrator notes that back when he had a girlfriend, he pilfered money from his workplace to spend on her. Since they've broken up, however, he no longer has the need to impress her and therefore now takes the bus home while keeping the cash he pilfers. In the same story, a mysterious woman solicits a ride from a customer's house into town, offering to pay the narrator for transportation in the company van. The van represents free agency and is presented as a commodity with monetary value.

In "Fiesta, 1980," which takes place after Yunior's family has reunited in America, a car is also a symbol of freedom and status. Much is made by Papi of the Volkswagen van he has managed to buy. He assigns so much value to the vehicle, in fact, that he forbids Yunior to eat either before they leave for the party, or at the party itself, so he can't get sick and vomit on the car.

Drug and Alcohol Use and Abuse

Indulgence in drugs, particularly marijuana, and alcohol is depicted in many of the stories in Drown. While drug use is sometimes portrayed as normal or relatively harmless, heavy use is inevitably paired with alienation. Symbolizing the characters' need to escape the violence and poverty of their lives, overuse of drugs and alcohol in turn traps the characters and perpetuates those conditions.

As a child, Yunior listens to the activities of drunken neighbors on a nightly basis. In "Fiesta, 1980," he describes his family's celebration of tía Yrma and tío Miguel's relocation to America as "twenty moms and dads dancing and drinking beer." It is common for the adults in Yunior's life to use alcohol to relax and blow off steam.

Alcohol abuse, however, is also common. Among the grownups, it manifests along a scale ranging from tía Miranda's cryptic criticisms of Papi after she's had a couple of shots of rum to Papi's hard-core alcoholism. Tía Miranda's indulgence is depicted as fairly sedate—she gets a little nasty when she's had a few drinks—while Papi's alcohol intake is both a contributor to and a relief from the never-ending self-complication of his own life. In contrast, Mami—obviously the more fit of Yunior's parents—seems to have no vices.

While the older characters in Drown limit their recreational consumption to alcohol, that is not the case with Yunior and his generation. Marijuana use in particular is common among them. Here too, indulgence occurs at various levels. The narrator of the story "Boyfriend" is so overcome by marijuana at one point that he passes out in the hallway of his apartment building.

Yunior himself smokes marijuana as a teenager and young adult and unashamedly sells lower-grade drugs to a regular clientele to provide himself with an income. In the story "Drown," his use of drugs and alcohol is a sign of his stagnation. The most disturbing depiction of drug use in the collection, however, is in the story "Aurora." The title character and Lucero cope with aimlessness and hopelessness by almost constant indulgence in any drug they can obtain. Their relationship, although arguably a loving one in its own way, is marred and ultimately dissolved by drug-fueled confusion, infidelity, and violence.


In multiple stories, television is presented as a symbol of comfortable living and, for better or worse, intimacy. Yunior cites its absence at tía Yrma and tío Miguel's home in Ocoa as a reason Rafa feels "pissy and dissatisfied" at their having to stay there. In "Fiesta, 1980," Wilquins's father reprimands his son for taking it upon himself to turn up the television volume at someone else's home. The implication is that the television is part of a family's personal environment.

In "Aurora" the characters watch television together as they hold their confused conversations. And in "Drown," watching television is a way in which Yunior finds intimacy with both Beto and his mother. With Beto, television-watching provides a cover for Beto's unwelcome sexual advances toward Yunior. "We sat in front of his television, in our towels," Yunior states, before launching into a description of oral sex. As a young adult living with his mother, Yunior finds watching a television movie with Mami "makes us friendly." She puts her hand on his.

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