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 4 : Sentimental Education 1988–1992 | Summary



The narrator, Yunior, begins to tell his own story. He is jumped while walking home one night, and Lola helps him recover. They met in college and had a brief fling but remained friends. Yunior also helps out Lola when Oscar sinks into a depression during his sophomore year of college, and Yunior moves in with Oscar to keep an eye on him. Yunior notes that he'd "never in my life met a Dominican like him." Initially, they don't have much to do with each other, but Yunior tries to give Oscar advice on women.

Yunior gets into trouble with his girlfriend Suriyan after she finds out he cheated on her and tells everyone. Yunior lays low, spending more time with Oscar, and decides he is going to fix Oscar's life. Oscar promises to listen to him, and Yunior begins by helping Oscar talk to women, fix his diet, and stop speaking negatively about himself. He also puts Oscar on an exercise regimen, which Oscar quits after a few weeks. They get into an altercation about it, and Yunior shoves Oscar into a wall. Yunior begins to treat Oscar coldly, allowing his friends to make fun of him, and that is how Oscar gets his nickname of Oscar Wao, after Melvin mishears Yunior call him Oscar Wilde.

Oscar falls in love with a girl named Jenni Muñóz, a "hardcore goth." Yunior is shocked when she doesn't immediately reject him but starts spending time with him. He begins reading Oscar's journal to discover what their relationship is like and notices that he is dressing better and exercising. It's not lost on Yunior that he envies Oscar, even though he himself is "the biggest player of them all." Jenni eventually starts paying attention to another boy, which breaks Oscar's heart. Yunior, worried about him when he stops writing, calls Lola, who calls Oscar in turn and tells him to let it go. Yunior promises Lola he will keep an eye on him. A few weeks later Oscar walks in on Jenni with the other boy and destroys her room. He has to attend counseling afterward in order to keep his campus housing. On Yunior and Oscar's last night together in their dorm room, Oscar drinks three bottles of liquor and walks out to a bridge, depressed. He believes he sees a vision of a golden mongoose staring at him, and jumps off the bridge.

Oscar survives his jump, breaking both his legs. Lola flies in from Madrid to visit Oscar in the hospital and berates Yunior for not taking care of him. When Yunior visits Oscar back at home, he tells Yunior that the curse on his family made him do it. They both return to college for their senior year at Rutgers, and Yunior moves back in with Oscar.


Chapter 4 finally introduces the unknown narrator of Chapters 1 and 3, Yunior, and explains his connection to Oscar's family and why he has so much intimate knowledge of them. Yunior's connection to Oscar is through Lola, whom he is in love with and trying to impress. When he agrees to room with Oscar in college, their unlikely and uneasy friendship begins. Yunior is a lady's man, and believes he can take Oscar on as an "improvement project" to shape in his likeness. Yet after he gives up in frustration, Oscar is able to befriend and get close to Jenni, whom Yunior has always had a crush on. This then sets up a strange envy in Yunior, who can't understand how Oscar was able to get close to her without being a "typical" Dominican male. Although Oscar and Yunior couldn't seem more different, some similarities and shared interests emerge when it is revealed that Yunior is also a writer and also seems to have a deep knowledge of science-fiction and fantasy genres. Yet Yunior seems more able to "pass" in the Dominican world, although his ongoing disasters in love are the opposite of Oscar's, stemming from his attitude as a "player" of women, which doesn't seem to bring him any real happiness, and which doesn't impress Lola. In a way Yunior's eventual rejection of Oscar after trying to "fix" him seems to be on some level a rejection of that aspect of his own personality, which he is able to hide. Narrating from the future, Yunior seems ultimately to respect that Oscar owns who he is, even if it makes him miserable to be an outsider.

Oscar's relationship with Jenni is yet another in the long pattern of his obsessive, all-consuming, unrequited loves that drives him to drastic actions. Similarly to Belicia's deluded relationships with Jack Pujols and the Gangster, Oscar seems unable or unwilling to learn from his experiences, expecting all of his fantasies to come true regardless of the reality of his situation. Each experience also seems to get dramatically worse than the previous one, and this time Oscar's delusions about Jenni drive him to attempt suicide.

Oscar also encounters the symbolic mongoose, under similar dire circumstances as Belicia in Chapter 3. Oscar is suicidal and considering jumping from a bridge, and even though the mongoose appears to him, he jumps. But he survives, planting the same "was he cursed or rescued from the curse?" question that hovers over Belicia's survival in the cane fields. Oscar eventually blames the curse for his suicide attempt, highlighting the ways in which belief in the curse can also allow the characters not to take responsibility for their own actions. Yet Díaz poses the possibility of how the curse also affects Lola, who forces herself to return from Spain in order to take care of Oscar. Throughout the novel Lola gives up on her dreams and need for escape in order to return to her family.

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