The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Study Guide

Junot Díaz

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Land of the Lost 1992–1995 | Summary

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Summary

The Dark Age

After graduation Oscar moves back home, still a virgin. His substitute teaching turns into a full-time job at his former high school. His students make fun of him, much like his peers did when he was still a student there. He sees himself in the unpopular kids, and how they are also tortured and bullied by their more popular peers. After his only friend on staff, Nataly, is transferred, Oscar has little social life to speak of and worries he will become a permanent bachelor. Outwardly, Oscar just looks tired, but inside "he was in a world of hurt." He doesn't want his life, but he doesn't know a way out of it.

Oscar Takes a Vacation

Oscar loses 20 pounds and is feeling better. Surprising everyone, he agrees to accompany Belicia to Santo Domingo for the summer to visit La Inca.

The Condensed Notebook of a Return to a Nativeland

In Santo Domingo the landscape has changed, and La Inca has moved to the Capital.

Evidence of a Brother's Past

In pictures from their trip Oscar looks happy.

Oscar Goes Native

Oscar decides to stay in Santo Domingo for the rest of the summer rather than go home with Lola and soon falls in love with a woman named Ybón Pimentel.

La Beba

Ybón is La Inca's neighbor and is a former prostitute. She approaches Oscar first, asking him what he is reading at the café. The next time they run into each other, she invites him inside for a drink, where for hours she tells him about her life. When he returns home, his mother and grandmother are furious that he associated with a prostitute.

A Note From Your Author

The author interjects to acknowledge that many Dominicans wouldn't find Ybón a believable character, since she is older and hasn't become some kind of drug addict yet. Nevertheless, he implores the reader to believe this is a true account.

The Girl From Sabana Iglesia

Ybón shows Oscar pictures of herself when she was younger, and he begins visiting her every day. She tells him about her two sons who live with their grandparents and who she sees only on holidays. She also tells him about her many boyfriends, all of whom are married.

La Inca Speaks

La Inca claims Oscar didn't meet Ybón on the street but in a cabaret.

Ybón, as Recorded by Oscar

Ybón didn't want to return to Santo Domingo, but she returned to take care of her sick mother.

What Never Changes

Despite spending all of their time together, nothing happens between Ybón and Oscar.

Oscar at the Rubicon

Ybón tells Oscar that one of her boyfriends, the police captain, wants to meet him, and that he's jealous of Oscar. She worries they shouldn't spend so much time together. Oscar realizes he is falling deeply in love with her.

Last Chance

Oscar's uncle discovers someone has shot at their front door.

Oscar Gets Beat

One night when Oscar is driving Ybón home from an outing, they are pulled over by the police. Before Oscar can get out of the car, Ybón kisses him. Oscar doesn't realize the policeman staring into their car is the police captain, Ybón's boyfriend. He asks Oscar if he knows who he is, and Oscar pleads that he hasn't done anything. The police captain grabs him by the throat, but then takes pity on him, punching him only a few times. He tells Oscar to never touch Ybón again. The other policemen shove Oscar in their car and drive him to the cane fields, where they hit Oscar with the butts of their pistols and beat him until he loses consciousness.

Clives to the Rescue

Oscar doesn't know Clives has followed the men in his taxi. He searches for Oscar in the cane fields, guided by the sound of someone singing. He finds Oscar, who is too heavy for Clives to drag, so he drives to the nearest town and recruits some men to help him.

Close Encounters of the Caribbean Kind

Oscar dreams of a mongoose, who asks him if he wants more or less. Oscar says he wants more, and the mongoose replies with something unintelligible.

Dead or Alive

Oscar has suffered a broken nose and teeth, as well as bone and nerve damage. La Inca and Belicia don't acknowledge the similarity to Belicia's own beating in the cane fields decades earlier.

Briefing for a Descent Into Hell

Oscar doesn't regain consciousness for three days, but he remembers the image of the mongoose with the golden eyes. The first words he says when he regains consciousness are "the book is blank."

Alive

Belicia makes immediate plans for them to fly home, but Oscar protests, asking about Ybón. He believes—because the police captain had him assaulted—that it meant Oscar and Ybón were actually in a relationship. Oscar also realizes his family's curse might actually be true. Ybón finally comes to visit him, and the Capitán has also beaten her. She tells Oscar she can never be with him again, and that she and the Capitán are getting married. Belicia finally convinces Oscar to leave for the airport and go back to the United States. Back home, Oscar tells Yunior it was the family curse, fukú.

Paterson, Again

Back home, Oscar stays in bed, healing. He is still in love with Ybón and still dreams about the cane field.

Analysis

The novel jumps far forward in time, to Oscar's graduation from college. This jumping back and forth in time—with multiple characters and generations of family members—serves to show the ways in which the past is inextricably linked with the future, and the ways in which the family curse has trickled down through the years. Placing Oscar's story on the heels of Abelard's highlights some of their similarities as well, with their love of writing and their tendency toward inaction.

Oscar's return to Don Bosco as a teacher is not a triumphant one, since he is still treated as an outcast by his students and peers. In a sense this seems to verify the curse in his life, since he never seems able to overcome his past and make a fresh start despite his best efforts. He repeats the same mistakes and habits in love, doing the same thing but expecting different results only to have his worldview reaffirmed by the results. Yunior notes Oscar "didn't want this future but he couldn't see how it could be avoided, couldn't figure his way out of it." Oscar feels helpless to change the direction of his life, so surrendering to it is easier. He also continues to suffer from depression, another "curse" he seems to have inherited from his mother, who suffered a similar period of darkness after her beating in the cane field. Yunior connects Oscar's ability and drive to write with his depression, since his ceasing to write is usually a harbinger of his depression. Díaz illuminates here the ways in which writing is a coping skill that normally keeps Oscar afloat—it's essential to his well-being and has life-giving properties.

Although Oscar settles back into his old life and habits in Paterson, he does begin to make some significant changes, which signal he is ready for a transformation. He loses weight, and agrees to visit Santo Domingo. Yet Oscar's infatuation and obsession with La Inca's neighbor, Ybón, shows how little his fundamental nature has changed and, in some ways, has grown even more detrimental to his well-being. Oscar's return to Santo Domingo also highlights the ways in which he feels he doesn't belong fully to either American or Dominican culture, since neither seems to accept him for who he is. Díaz points out the alienation and isolation common among immigrants, who are torn between two cultures they aren't fully able to inhabit, making it hard to gain acceptance in either.

Oscar's experience with Ybón highlights the way in which he believes love will completely transform him—he even goes so far as to call meeting Ybón the start of his real life. Once again Oscar ignores all the warning signs that Ybón might not be the right woman for him: she is a prostitute and has a boyfriend. Like many of Oscar's other unrequited loves, Ybón seems to use Oscar for his companionship because he makes her feel good about herself, while offering him nothing in return. The fact that her boyfriend is a police officer serves as an ominous echo of the police who ruined both Abelard and Belicia's lives, and Díaz has primed the reader with other familial coincidences to realize an encounter between Oscar and Ybón's boyfriend is inevitable. When Oscar sees the bullet holes in La Inca's front door, he experiences a similar sense of foreboding other characters in the novel have—such as Lola and Socorro—but he ignores the advice of his grandmother and uncle to leave Ybón alone.

When Oscar is taken by the Capitán's henchmen to the cane field and sees the Man Without a Face, it serves as a strong sense of déjà vu for the reader, and a reminder that in this family, history repeats itself. Here Díaz brings up the notion that, curse or no curse, hereditary tendencies are strong. This seems to be a comment on how people are products of their own environment and upbringing, and how even if there is no such thing as a curse, humans are in some ways chained to their ancestors and histories, doomed to play out similar mistakes because of the things they have learned. Oscar hears the same singing Belicia heard in the cane fields and dreams about the mongoose while he is unconscious. With these coincidences Díaz shifts the sense of the curse repeating itself back to the realm of the magical and supernatural. He also allows the reader to once again fill in the páginas en blanco, or blank pages, with the words the mongoose says to Oscar in the dream. Oscar also dreams of the Man Without a Face holding a book of blank pages, which could indicate either that Oscar needs to write on the blank pages in order to escape the curse, or that he is doomed unless he fills in the blank pages of his family's history. The fact that Oscar's experience of being beaten only confirms his belief that he is meant to be with Ybón seems like another sign of the curse at work, since now he is making decisions that go against his own self-interest and safety. Another significance is that neither Belicia nor La Inca tells Oscar how closely his own beating resembles Belicia's experience, and with their silence Díaz indicates history is doomed to repeat itself when it isn't told. Yunior relays, "if they noticed the similarities between Past and Present they did not speak it," and it's unclear if they remain silent because they don't want to confirm the connection or because they come from a family of silence about the atrocities of the past.

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