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 | Themes


The American Dream

As is true of most immigration-themed literature, the stories in Drown address—both overtly and obliquely—the idea of "the American dream," in which immigrants perceive America as the place where all their dreams of prosperity can come true. Even when Papi leaves Santo Domingo in the story "Negocios" because his infidelities have caught up to him, he interprets the idea of a fresh start in a new land as a possible route to redemption.

However, Díaz shows powerfully that America is no promised land for the characters. Papi's struggles with poverty and backbreaking labor in America, as portrayed in "Negocios," seem as dire as the conditions his Dominican family is in when he leaves. Only through dishonesty, in his marriage to Nilda, can he get ahead. In "Drown" Yunior is a drug dealer, still living with his mother, unable to pull himself out of a lifetime cycle of poverty and broken relationships. At best America seems to offer a lifestyle in which some of the shockingly brutal experiences portrayed in the scenes set in Santo Domingo would not occur. A pig probably would not eat a child's face in the United States, although a toilet might be in such bad repair that the toilet paper cannot be flushed.


Díaz excels at showing the dual nature of his characters, especially Yunior, to show the depth of their humanity. In "Drown," in particular, Yunior is a drug dealer who is isolated from his old friends. At the same time he helps care for his mother and gives her money to shop. In "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie," Yunior is a calculating little con man who knows exactly how to flatter and lie to get what he wants from his family and from girls. He is also practical and amusing, gaining the reader's sympathy with his uncanny awareness of his culture's approach to race and romance.

Minor characters also display dual natures. In "Aurora," the narrator and the title character are violent addicts. At the same time, they have an affectionate romantic relationship—which is doomed by their shiftless lives. The most poignant example of duality in a secondary character is Ysrael, the boy with a face disfigured from a childhood attack by a pig. In "Ysrael" he is bullied by Rafa and Yunior; in "No Face" he is taunted, beaten up, threatened, and presumably abused by his father, his only protector a kind priest. The story shows the child's courageous response to his isolation. He works on making himself physically strong and sustains himself with dreams of having superpowers. Even Díaz's most broken characters, like Ysrael, are capable of surviving their tough circumstances with just scraps of affection and support.

Male Sexuality and Self-Image

The pressure to conform to the "macho" sexual standards of Dominican culture is prevalent throughout the stories in Drown. In "Ysrael," 12-year-old Rafa is already trumpeting his supposed sexual conquests to his younger brother. Similarly, sexual competition is presented as common among adult men. Elements of sexual one-upmanship help define adult male friendships in "Edison, New Jersey," "Aurora," "Aguantando," and "Negocios."

Male sexual identity includes a double standard in which Papi is welcomed back by his family despite a lifelong pattern of sexual infidelity. By contrast, Yunior's sexual encounters with his best friend Beto are transgressive to the sexual ethic in which he is immersed. They are also a shocking betrayal of the friendship. Yunior tolerates them at first to maintain the friendship but then breaks it off. The encounters continue to haunt him, as readers see in the story "Drown." They help explain his stunted emotional development and may contribute to his difficulty in sustaining relationships.

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