The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Study Guide

Junot Díaz

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Part 1, Chapter 1 : GhettoNerd at the End of the World 1974–1987 | Summary



The Golden Age

Oscar isn't a "home-run hitter" or a playboy. He hasn't had much luck with girls since he was seven, when he was still encouraged by his family to be a "normal" Dominican boy who pursued girls. He had two girlfriends, Maritza Chacón and Olga Polanco, until Maritza demanded that he choose one or the other. Oscar doesn't have a father to give him advice, and so he decides to break up with Olga. Yet soon Maritza breaks up with Oscar. The narrator notes that years later, both Oscar and Olga turned into "overweight freaks," and Oscar felt pangs of guilt whenever he saw her, feeling responsible for her unhappiness. Oscar feels that from the moment Maritza breaks up with him, his life has gone downhill. He gains weight and deals with acne when he reaches puberty, and his obsession with science fiction brands him a loser. He is shy and avoids girls.

The Moronic Inferno

Oscar goes to an all-boys Catholic high school, Don Bosco Tech, which is "a source of endless anguish" for him. He never quite figures out if he was supposed to have learned any important life lessons from his time there. He becomes the neighborhood "parigüayo," a person who stands on the outside of parties and events looking in. While other boys his age are picking up girls and learning to drive cars, Oscar reads science fiction. The narrator posits that Oscar might have been drawn to the genre of science fiction because of having lived in two very different worlds: the Dominican Republic and New Jersey. Despite his introversion and label as a nerd, Oscar still falls in love with girls, who fail to notice him. His sister, Lola, warns him that he will likely die a virgin unless he does something to change. Oscar half-heartedly tries to exercise, but lapses back into self-pity and gives up. He constantly fantasizes about how he will save Lola's friends from science fiction scenarios, and that they will fall in love with him.

Oscar Is Brave

By senior year both Al and Miggs, Oscar's best friends, have girlfriends. He realizes they are embarrassed by him. He decides to change his appearance, getting a haircut and contact lenses. That summer his mother sends him and Lola to Santo Domingo, where he practices his writing. When he returns, he finds it hard to regain his friendship with Al and Miggs, and he focuses on his writing instead. He begins to show some backbone by not tolerating the abuse of his friends, for which he is proud.

Oscar Comes Close

Oscar falls in love with a girl in his SAT prep class, Ana Obregón.

Amor de Pendejo

Oscar and Ana become friends, spending more time together and talking on the phone. Ana is different because Oscar falls for her as he is getting to know her, and so he doesn't raise his usual wall of self-defense. Instead, he is himself around her and makes her laugh. One night Ana comes over and asks him to the movies on a date.

Oscar in Love

Oscar and Ana begin going to the movies and the mall every week together, but Oscar doesn't realize yet that "he'd fallen into one of those Let's-Be-Friends-Vortexes." He finds out that he is accepted to Rutgers University, and Ana is accepted to Penn State. Her ex-boyfriend, Manny, returns from the army, and things change quickly: she is less available to Oscar. Oscar meets Manny, who tries to embarrass and threaten him. All Ana will talk about with Oscar is Manny: he is abusive and cruel to her. Oscar tries to convince her to break up with him, but she says she is in love. Oscar realizes that he is in love with Ana and begins to lose his focus and act erratically. He hits Miggs one day and steals his uncle's gun and stands in front of Manny's building. His sister makes him pray with her and swear that he'll never do anything like that again. Oscar finally tells Ana that he is in love with her, and she reminds him she has a boyfriend. Oscar graduates high school and heads off to college at Rutgers, full of hope, but soon realizes he doesn't fit in there either.


The author incorporates with ease the Spanish and slang the narrator and other characters slip into throughout the novel, signifying the ease with which Oscar and the others switch between the two cultures and worlds they inhabit. Although the author doesn't translate the Spanish phrases for the reader, it becomes easy to understand that many of the phrases are slang or curse words. The narrator takes care to describe for readers who may not be familiar with Dominican culture just how Oscar stands out within it: "in those days he was (still) a 'normal' Dominican boy raised in a 'typical' Dominican family, his nascent pimp-liness was encouraged by blood and friends alike." This depiction shows how in "normal" Dominican culture, to be a hot-blooded, powerful, masculine male was encouraged and praised. By contrast Oscar is depicted as a passive outsider within his own culture—many of his own peers refuse to believe that he is Dominican. Yet in his depiction of Oscar, the narrator also reveals his own deeply held beliefs about masculinity, which also foreshadow his own struggles with real intimacy.

The narrator sets Oscar up as the "hero" whose journey the reader will follow over the course of the novel, but the way in which Oscar stands out is in direct contrast to the "typical" masculine hero, particularly in relation to Dominican male culture and stereotypes. In this light Oscar can be considered an antihero. He is shy around girls, overweight, and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy, a preoccupation not shared by anyone around him. The narrator notes that Oscar "couldn't have passed for Normal if he'd wanted to." Oscar's trials and tribulations also establish the ongoing theme of unrequited love in the novel, and contribute to Oscar's sense of self-worth and feelings of doom. This theme isn't exclusive to Oscar's life, however, and carries through the generations of his family, showing the ways in which history and heartbreak can repeat itself through the family's curse.

The motif of curses appears again in this chapter, when Oscar's grandmother, La Inca, tells him about the family curse when he visits her in Santo Domingo. In many ways Oscar feels as though he is cursed, and that even the people he interacts with are cursed by proxy, such as the two girls he falls in love with, Ana and Maritza. In this light the curse is used to explain away anything bad that a character feels is beyond his control. Oscar's strong, intensely devotional feelings toward the girls and women he falls in love with will only strengthen over the course of the novel, and his interactions with girls even at this young age foreshadow the doomed light he sees himself in when it comes to finding lasting, true love. His decision to bring a gun to Ana's boyfriend's place demonstrates that his obsession with the girls he loves comes at a detriment to his own well-being and safety.

Oscar's escape into writing and reading science fiction and fantasy serves as both buffer and alienation from the real world. His family and friends don't understand his obsession, constantly teasing and deriding him for it. This lends force to Oscar's status as antihero, and highlights the situational irony that the very thing that gives him solace is also the thing that contributes to his feelings of loneliness. Writing often helps Oscar balance his emotions and feelings, and it's notable that when he retreats from it as a practice throughout the novel, his emotions and actions become increasingly obsessive and dangerous. His obsession with science fiction and fantasy also mark a dividing line between the two cultures he must straddle—Dominican and American. His Dominican culture doesn't understand his fascination with the genre, which is distinctly American in its influence. The narrator also muses that Oscar's obsession with these genres isn't as strange as it might seem, given that relocating from one country to another is the closest one can come to inhabiting a new, alien world. Oscar's ability to identify with the mutant characters in the stories he reads highlights the way he sees himself—unable to fit in.

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