Forms and effects of violence in "The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Erasing history as a form of violence

3. Sex, gender and violence

4. Domestic violence and slavery

5. The novel as Zafa – writing as a form of counter violence
5.1. Language as immigrant experience
5.2. Diaz´s way of rewriting history

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Occurring in many different forms in the novel, violence is an important factor in The brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao. It seems that violence in his various forms has its origin in the Spanish colonization, which expands to shape the whole society. This colonial past - which is above all a violent past - of the Dominican Republic and the structures it has left on the current Dominican society influences the life of the characters of the novel enormously. Although the colonial period of the Dominican Republic is over, its effects are still noticeable in various forms and its structures and effects still persist. So the life of the characters of the novel is dominated by a curse named fukú, which is the enduring mark the colonial powers left. This curse, “attributed to the arrival of European colonizers in the New World, perpetually plagues a Dominican family…”.(Shifflette 3).It manifests itself in different forms of violence, such as domestic, political, sexual, racial and historical violence, but also violence in form of enslavement and violence against the identity of individuals. Therefore Antonio Benitez-Rojo establishes the term “plantation machine” as a concept of the despotic colonial influence on the Caribbean society in order to explain the influence of European plantation economies on the Caribbean society. “The machine that Christopher Columbus hammered into shape in Hispaniola was a kind of bricolage, something like a medieval vacuum cleaner.The flow of Nature in the Island was interrupted by the suction of an iron mouth…” (Benitez Rojo5) This influence is not bound to the past or any point in time or to any place because the dynamics of the plantation machine still demonstrate their power by acts of violence that seem to repeat themselves in different forms everywhere.“This machine, this extraordinary machine, exists today, that is, it repeats itself continuously It´s called: the plantation.” (Benitez-Rojo, 4) So the Caribbean became “a cultural meta-archipelago without center and without limits.” (9) Daniela Rogobete even argues that Diaz achieves with his novel “a mixture of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial histories which succeed in bridging several cultural spaces by dint of the Fukúamericanus.” (Rogobete 102) These ideas are also transferable to the acts of violence. This term paper will analyze the structure of the different levels of violence and show in how far all these forms of violence are allegories of colonial categories and structures and a result or part of the plantation machine, and to which extend violence influences the characters. It will also show how Diaz´ novel itself can be seen as a form of counter violence against the fukú and the violence it includes.

2. Erasing history as a form of violence

The history of the Caribbean is a history of “gaps”, which means that a great part of the true history of the Caribbean people was erased or modified by the colonizers or the western historiography, which just reflects the viewpoint of the dominating nations or cultures. So Diaz states in an interview: ”What´s pleasing, we´ll accept; what´s not pleasing we´ll just erase and ignore.” (Armando, Shook 1)Erasing the history of a people also means to destroy their identity, since the history of a people is also a part of their culture and identity. Diaz often uses the motive of the pàgina en blanco or a blank page in his novel to emphasize that Dominican history is a fragmented history.

The narrator describes the arrival of the curse right at the beginning and thereby also names its origin and its devastating effects on the indigenous people and their historical and cultural identity.

They say it came first from Africa, carried in the the screams of the enslaved; that was the death bane of the tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another begun; that it was the demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. […] fukú – generally a curse or a doom of some kind; […] Santo Domingo might be fukús kilometer zero […] but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not.(Diaz, 2)

This part does not only depict the origin of the curse, but also describes the way the colonizers erased another culture and “imposed their own culture on the indigenous people and slaves.” (Shifflette, 1) In other words: They established the plantation machine on the Caribbean society. The western historiography however fills the history books only with the stories of the colonizers and not with the stories of the “one world [that] perished” (Diaz, 2). So the history of the colonized people remains a blank page, “which reveals the Europeans flawed linear vision of history” (Shifflette, 3)

Directly after introducing the fukú, the narrator refers to Trujillo, the dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. Trujillo is depicted as the manifestation of fukú, a kind of embodiment of the plantation machine or of the colonizers. The crimes he commits, his regime and the violent acts against other people seem to be equivalent to the methods of the colonizers. “[His] rule varied little from the previous colonial powers, particularly since he had backing from the United States and Spain.” (Shifflette 7) Trujillo is depicted as an intruder, exploiter and an occupier like the colonizers before.

“He was our Sauron, our Arawn, our Darkseid, our Once and Future Dictator, a personaje so outlandish, so perverse, so dreadful that not even a scie-fi writer could have made his ass up. Famous for changing ALL THE NAMES of ALL THE LANDMARKS in the Dominican Republic to honor himself.” (Diaz, 3)

The phrase “our Once and Future Dictator” stresses the fact that Trujillo, as a manifestation of the curse, and his impact on society are not bound to the time of his reign. “Fukú appears to be a generator of historic events, of universal explanations for world tragedies and traumatic happenings and its personification in the novel is the Dominican dictator-for-life.” (Rogobete 102) Depicting Trujillo as outlandish, the narrator refers to the fact that Trujillo is not part of the Dominican culture but a foreign force that transforms the culture and society as he wants. His actions do not only influence the past by changing the names of cities or the landmarks, which are part of a cultural identity, but he also influences the presence and the future (so his violence has no chronological center or limit), which can be seen later at the Cabral family in detail. “Trujillo exemplifies the negative forces that have for so long beleaguered the peoples of the New World.” (O´Rourke 1) Giving names to things (e.g. cities or parts of the landscape) also includes implementing your culture in the foreign culture and by this action destroying the foreign culture. So it seems as though the act of colonization repeats itself in a different form and is independent of time and place. Trujillo’s almightiness in the sense of the omnipotence of the curseand the independence of time and place of the plantation machine is also stressed at the beginning of the second part of the novel.

“Men are not indispensable. But Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. He … is a cosmic force … Those who try to compare him to ordinary contemporaries are mistaken. He belongs to… the category of those born to a special destiny.” (Diaz, 210)

The “cosmic force” comparison definitely relates him and the effect of his violent actions to the curse. His special destiny seems to be the fulfillment of the process of colonization or at least to preserve the despotic and violent colonial structures on the Dominican society. In another part the narrator compares Trujillo to a character from a Twilight Zone episode, who has the ability to control everything with his mind.

“Anthony may have isolated Peaksville with the power of his mind, but Trujillo did the same with the power of his office! Almost as soon as he grabbed the presidency, the Failed Cattle Thief sealed the country away from the rest of the world – a forced isolation that we´ll call the platano curtain […] he aspired to become an architect of history, and […] inflicted a true boarder [between Dominican Republic and Haiti] that is carved directly into the histories and imaginaries of a people.” (Diaz, 233)

The architect of history metaphor evokes the imagination of a building transforming the native land on which it is placed, and changing its appearance completely. Its structures are the colonial structures.

Trujillo’s or fukù´s first victim is Abelard and “Diaz critiques the erasing of history through the allegorical indigenous character, Abelard, Oscar´s grandfather” (Shifflette, 3)Abelard is first presented to reader as an intellectual for whom his family is very important, which is why he mimes the conformist with respect to Trujillo.

“When banquets were held in Trujillos honor Abelard always drove to Santiago to attend. He arrived early, left late, smiled endlessly, and didn’t say nothing. Disconnected his intellectual warp engine and operated strictly on impulse power. When the time came, Abelard would shake El Jefe´s hand, cover him in the warm effusion of his adoration…” (Diaz 223)

But Trujillo wants Abelard’s daughter, and as an almighty dictator he gets what he wants. Trujillo does not see women as human beings, but as objects he can use whenever he wants. This is also a significant feature of colonialism. The colonialists also treated the indigenous people like objects and behaved as though they possessed them. For Trujillo this seems to be a common habit. (Shifflette 9)


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Forms and effects of violence in "The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao"
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
Caribbean Literature and Culture
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
563 KB
forms, brief, wonderous, life, oscar
Quote paper
Daniel Greiner (Author), 2012, Forms and effects of violence in "The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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