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 3 : The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral | Summary



Look at the Princess

The story shifts to that of Oscar and Lola's mother, Belicia, before they were born. She is tall and dark and—like her daughter Lola—has "the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres."

Under the Sea

Belicia grows up in Baní and is known by her nickname, Beli. She runs a bakery with her aunt and surrogate mother, La Inca. Even though Belicia has much to be grateful for in her contented life, she feels restless amid the tranquility and yearns for something different. The narrator speculates that even if her life had been different, or better, she would still want to escape it. Yet the Dominican Republic she lives in is considered "escape-proof" under its dictator, Trujillo.

La Chica de Mi Escuela

When Belicia is 13, La Inca gets her a scholarship to one of the best schools in Baní. Even though Belicia's birth family was upper-class, she spent her early years in foster care and is "still crazy rough around the edges" despite La Inca's influence. In order for her to protect herself from criticism at her new school, Belicia must be defensive and aggressive. As a result she is avoided and shunned by her peers. Yet Belicia lies to La Inca and her friend at home, Dorca, telling them she has many friends.


Belicia meets her first boyfriend.

Numero Uno

Jack Pujols is the handsomest boy at Belicia's school and comes from a prestigious family. Later in life he ends up working with the Dominican Republic's ruler Balaguer as an ambassador, but as a boy he is well liked by his peers and teachers. He only begins to notice Belicia the summer her body begins to change into a woman's body. Initially Belicia is ashamed of her growing body, but she soon realizes it means men like her, which gives her newfound power.

Hunt the Light Knight

Back at school Belicia flirts with Jack to no avail, until one day he seems to notice her for the first time, calling her beautiful. He starts giving her rides in his car.


Belicia and Jack's relationship turns physical until they are caught together in a closet at school. The discovery becomes a scandal, since Jack is engaged to a different girl. After the information comes out, the engagement is called off and Jack's father is furious with him and ships him off to a military school. Belicia refuses to admit that she did anything wrong, because she believed that she and Jack would be married after high school—which he had promised her. Belicia is expelled from school and makes a resolution that she will never again do what someone tells her to do—including going to school. Instead, she gets a job as a waitress, where she is a hard worker who earns the respect of her bosses and coworkers. Belicia remains deeply in love with Jack, although she allows herself to be courted by a few suitors.

Politically, the country around her is in turmoil after a failed invasion. Young people are accused of being part of an underground conspiracy and are arrested and tortured. At the restaurant Belicia befriends a new coworker, Constantina, who advises her to forget Jack.

El Hollywood

One night Belicia accompanies Constantina to a club, where she meets a man known as the Gangster. They first get into an altercation after he infuriates Belicia by being rude to her. Belicia can't stop thinking about him, and the next time they meet she asks him to dance with her.

The Gangster We're All Looking For

The Gangster tells Belicia he is a businessman, but in fact he works for the dictator Trujillo. He once murdered a "comunista" as a favor and earned the respect of Trujillo's government. Later he went on to partake in forgery, theft, extortion, money laundering, and ended up opening brothels. He owns three houses and makes a great deal of money, traveling often. Yet he is dealt a blow when Cuba, where he spends a great deal of time, falls to the communists. Belicia is a welcome distraction for him, although she initially has reservations. The Gangster woos and spoils her, and soon she falls in love with him, even though he disappears often, only to return with vague promises of buying Belicia a house. He takes her on vacation, and when they discuss whether or not he wishes he had a family, he tells her that at least he is free. After Belicia returns home, she finds she is pregnant.


Belicia is both terrified and elated at the news she is pregnant, believing that now she and the Gangster will be married. She tells him the news.

Upon Further Reflection

Only in the future does Belicia remember that the Gangster told her to get rid of her pregnancy—at the time she hears only what she wants to.

Name Game

Belicia and the Gangster debate what the baby's name will be if it is a boy.

Truth and Consequences 1

The Gangster has failed to tell Belicia an important detail: he is married.

Truth and Consequences 2

The Gangster is married to the Dominican dictator Trujillo's sister, La Fea, who is told of his affair by a servant.

In the Shadow of the Jacaranda

Belicia wanders around the parque central, brooding over a fight she had with the Gangster. Suddenly she is grabbed by two men, who bring her over to an older woman, who introduces herself as the Gangster's wife, and as a Trujillo. She tells Belicia that the two men will take her to have an abortion and threatens that if she ever sees Belicia again she'll feed her to her dogs. The two men start to drag Belicia to a waiting car, when she spots José Then, who runs over with his brother and the other workers at the restaurant. They subdue the men and Belicia runs away.


Belicia runs home and hides, hoping that the Gangster will fix the mess she is in. She thinks his car pulls up outside, but when she runs to it, it's the same men who tried to take her away earlier.

La Inca, the Divine

The neighbors tell La Inca that the Secret Police have taken Belicia, and La Inca realizes that she must save her. She prays, joined by the other women in the neighborhood.

Choice and Consequences

Meanwhile, the men drive Belicia away from Baní, beating her. Belicia holds out hope that the Gangster will save her. As she is losing consciousness, she sees a creature in the shape of a mongoose telling her to get up, or she will never meet her son and daughter. She stumbles her way out of the cane field where she has been left for dead. A truck pulls over at the side of the road and rescues her.

Fukú vs. Zafa

Many believe that Belicia's near-death experience is evidence of a curse on her family, but others believe she is blessed because of how she survived and was rescued. However, Belicia has a miscarriage.

Back Among the Living

Belicia is treated by doctor friends of La Inca, and when she regains consciousness she is inconsolable. One night she hears the sound of weeping in the street, and La Inca informs her that Trujillo has been assassinated.

La Inca, In Decline

After Trujillo's death La Inca worries that Belicia may be in danger. She decides to send her away to New York after her dead husband appears in a dream to advise her. Before she does, the two men who kidnapped Belicia return, harassing La Inca and shooting a hole through the door.

The Last Days of the Republic

Before Belicia leaves, she is gripped by darkness and depression. She meets the Gangster one last time in a love motel, and she tells him she is going to New York. Even on the plane she half believes that he will show up to rescue her and apologize. She doesn't know yet that the man sitting next to her on the plane will become her husband and the father of her two children, Oscar and Lola.


The narrator from Chapter 1 returns to tell the life story of Oscar and Lola's mother, Belicia. By dedicating an entire chapter to her early background and life, Díaz highlights the ways in which history influences the future in families in unknown and mysterious ways. Belicia's childhood experience and rescue by La Inca also carves out the question of what might have happened to Belicia otherwise. Although Belicia never reveals what her life was like before La Inca found her, Díaz allows the reader to fill in the worst possible blanks for her through the devastating scar across her back and the few facts La Inca does know. It also leads the reader to wonder how that experience shaped Belicia as a person and as a mother. By leaving this information out, Díaz hints that ignorance can, in fact, help a family's curse or patterns to continue unknown. It's only by confronting the past that one can begin to understand its impact on the current situation.

Coming on the heels of Lola's own dissatisfaction and rebelliousness in Chapter 2, Beli's desire to escape from her own life illuminates their fundamental similarities—their restlessness seems to be almost an inherited trait passed down from mother to daughter. The narrator describes it as "the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres," and this longing seems at times to be a curse that propels bad luck into action. Belicia is also so teased and taunted by her classmates for her dark skin color and background that the reader begins to understand how and why she became the sharp, aggressive mother that Lola and Oscar contend with later in life—nothing slips past her. Her struggles at school with gaining the respect of her peers foreshadow Oscar's own struggles in school, as though Belicia has passed down her "outsider" status to him as yet another hereditary curse. Yet Belicia's struggles are couched in her class status and her skin color—two things she was born into and cannot change. Once Belicia's body changes during puberty, rendering her strikingly beautiful, she "ran into the future that her new body represented and never ever looked back." Like Oscar, she believes that physical transformation will give her a new beginning and a clean slate.

Belicia's delusion about Jack's love for her in high school foreshadows Oscar's delusional, stubborn tendencies in love. Even when Jack embarrasses her and blames her for their getting caught together, she steadfastly maintains that he loves her and will marry her, despite all signs pointing to the opposite. The narrator references a comparison between Belicia and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, whose obsession with an elusive white whale led to his downfall and ruin. Like Oscar's infatuations and obsessions, Belicia's love for Jack is not couched in an actual love for him as a person, but what she thinks he represents and the feelings that are evoked from it. Her next opportunity for love with the Gangster finds her no less steadfast and unwavering in her devotion, which ultimately results in violence and her own life being threatened. As with Jack, Belicia sees what she wants to see in the Gangster, ignoring the alarming facts of his life, as well as the inconvenience of his wife. She builds a similar fantasy around him that he will provide her with the escape she craves from her current situation.

Belicia's decision to drop out of school as a rebellion against La Inca and getting into trouble with Jack also mirrors Lola's own rebellion to come against her years later. It portrays not only Belicia's headstrong, stubborn qualities, but also her quality as a hard worker, a skill that helps her establish and provide a life for her children later in New Jersey. She earns the respect of her bosses and coworkers, and takes the first steps toward the independence she craves. Ultimately, this act will also help save her life, when her boss helps rescue her from Trujillo's henchmen the first time they try to kidnap her. The trials she went through, however, also shed light on her resolve to keep her own daughter from making similar mistakes with men and running away.

The influence of Dominican politics on a cultural and personal scale is emphasized in this chapter, providing a deeper background on the dictator Trujillo who ruled the country for many decades, and whose political influence overlapped with the de León family on a personal scale many times. Dominicans imbue Trujillo with an almost supernatural power because of his far-reaching influence and knowledge, thanks to the use of his Secret Police. Although at first the impact seems to be at the periphery of Belicia's life—such as when a fellow student disappears after writing an essay on democracy—there is a sense that its influence is drawing nearer. That influence finally appears in the form of her love affair with the Gangster, one of Trujillo's henchmen. Yet even after Trujillo's death, his legacy lingered, much as the family curse lingers for generations. The narrator notes that "Trujillo was too powerful, too toxic a radiation to be dispelled so easily." Here, Díaz connects the political on both a cultural and personal scale, noting how Trujillo's actions affected generations of people in their daily lives.

Belicia's violent beating in the cane field at the hands of Trujillo's henchmen can be seen in two lights—as evidence of her family's curse, or as a strange sign of hope. Everyone in La Inca's community believes that Belicia comes from a cursed family. Although Belicia is beaten to near death, she survives, and with supernatural effect—she hears the sound of a woman singing in the form of a golden mongoose, who tells her she has lost her baby but that someday she will have a son and a daughter. It is only with this information that Belicia finds the will to live and her way out of the cane field. After Belicia is home and recovering, Trujillo is killed—perhaps another sign that luck is turning for both Belicia and the country. In mythology, the mongoose is able to win battles by being a trickster and using its intelligence, showing that physical force does not always have the upper hand in the end. Belicia's survival and the takedown of Trujillo are both examples of wit and intelligence being used on both a small and large scale to overcome obstacles. Another supernatural symbol that appears is the "No Face Man." Belicia glimpses him before horrible things happen to her, and he seems to portend the bad luck of the family's curse before it strikes.

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