The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Study Guide

Junot Díaz

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao | Symbols


Junot Díaz uses symbols throughout the novel to connect characters through their shared glimpses and interactions with them, emphasizing the family cycles and inherited tendencies of characters.

The Golden Mongoose

The golden mongoose first appears to Belicia while she is on the verge of losing consciousness after being beaten in the cane field. The mongoose tells her she has lost her baby, but if she doesn't get up she will never meet her future children. In this light the mongoose symbolizes hope or a kind of counterspell to the bad luck the characters in this family consistently have. Oscar sees the mongoose three times, in eerily similar circumstances to Belicia. The first occurs when he attempts to commit suicide by jumping off an overpass, an attempt he survives. The second occurs the first time he is taken to the cane fields and beaten unconscious, when the mongoose visits him in his dreams and asks him if he wants "more or less"—would he rather live even if it's unbearable, or would he rather die? Oscar sees the mongoose for the last time before he dies, in a vision in which the mongoose is driving a bus carrying his relatives.

Díaz uses the symbol of the mongoose as a kind of hopeful antidote to the curse the de Leóns' suffer from, and the mongoose is usually witnessed in proximity to the Man Without a Face, a symbol of the curse about to strike. Even though the mongoose seems to appear to save Belicia's and Oscar's lives, Díaz brings up the question of whether or not this is actually the case. Perhaps the mongoose appears in order to bring up the possibility that an argument exists both for the curse and against it. The mongoose exists as a counterpoint, or balance to the Man Without a Face, and therefore to the curse itself. The fact that Oscar's final vision consists of the mongoose driving the bus while the Man Without a Face takes the tickets suggests that the two work together, and one cannot exist without the other. In Chapter 3 the narrator notes the mongoose is "believed to be an ally of Man."

The Man Without a Face

The Man Without a Face appears to both Belicia and Oscar, linking them once again through a powerful symbol. Abelard's wife, Socorro, also sees the Man Without a Face in a dream right before the downfall of their family, hinting that his appearance also marks the beginning of the family's curse. Belicia sees the Man Without a Face when her relationship with the Gangster becomes threatening, resulting in her being beaten unconscious in the cane field. Oscar also sees the Man Without a Face in his dreams after he is attacked. Yunior believes Lola's daughter, Isis, will eventually dream of the Man Without a Face, and she will come to find him, learn about her family's history, and break the curse.

The Man Without a Face represents the blank horror of the family's sense of being cursed, but Díaz also uses him as a counterpoint to the novel's other man symbol, the mongoose. Both symbols seem to appear to the characters in close proximity, and the mongoose seems to have the ability to rescue a character from harm. In Oscar's final vision, which contains the Man Without a Face, he takes the tickets of Oscar's relatives on a bus the mongoose drives, suggesting the two symbols work together in complicity, each balancing the other. The symbol of the Man Without a Face also hints at the ways in which the characters believe bad luck to be something beyond their own circumstances and decisions, which has the effect of their not needing to take full responsibility for their decisions.

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