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  • Michael Rickard II

Magical Realism and "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."

Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a work rich in fantasy worlds, with characters’ lives blurring the line between fantasy and reality. While Oscar Wao seems immersed in a world of make-believe, it can be argued that Belicia (“Beli”), Yunior, and Abelard are the characters lost in fantasy worlds. The novel contains magical realism, an element sometimes found in postmodernist literature. This blurring of fantasy and reality lead the reader to question which characters live in reality and which live in fantasy.

Magical realism is defined as “A kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report” (“magic realism”). Magical realism should not be confused with the fantasy world that Oscar entertains himself with such as anime, role-playing games, and science fiction. Magical realism is a world where the fantastic is presented as part of everyday life as seen in Toni Morrison’s Beloved where the title character returns from the dead.

Here, Beli finds herself living in a fantasy world she has deluded herself into believing. Her love for the gangster has blinded her to reality and on the last paragraph of page 147, she begins fantasizing of a rescue that the reader knows is not going to happen but it does, and it comes in a way that defies reality. Beli wills herself to drag herself to safety and seems to be aided by some sort of magical mongoose-like creature (page 149). Yunior cagily dodges the question of whether or not Beli is rescued by supernatural means when she is left to die in the sugarcane fields.

Yunior, it can be argued, lives in a fantasy world, ignoring reality as he chases woman after woman, ignoring the true love he secretly wants. This becomes apparent when he acknowledges that he, one of the greatest players, is also a player-hater, jealous of his lowly roommate Oscar.

It can be argued Abelard lives in a fantasy world, blinding himself to the inevitable confrontation with the real-life danger of the murderous Rafael Trujillo. Abelard knows Trujillo’s reputation for taking the beautiful daughters of men in his “court” yet deludes himself into thinking things will work out.

A lax reading of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao might suggest Oscar loses himself in a fantasy world. Oscar certainly embraces entertainment based on fantasy, adventure, and science fiction. Throughout the novel, Yunior discusses Oscar’s obsession with games like Dungeons and Dragons, anime, and science fiction and fantasy novels. It is easy to argue that Oscar immerses himself into a world of make-believe because he cannot deal with reality. However, the text suggests otherwise.

Oscar enjoys the world of the fantastic but he seems aware of his own shortcomings. Oscar does not have an unrealistic image of himself as a great lover. His shortcomings in romance aren’t from lack of trying but arguably from trying too hard. His quest to find love is admirable and heroic, fitting in with the heroes he admires in the world of the fantastic. The world Oscar embraces is not so much for escapism as it is to embrace the ideals he knows he cannot find in the world he lives in.

Another sign of Oscar’s feet being grounded is his writing ambition. Oscar dreams of being a great writer of fantastic fiction, “The Dominican Stephen King.” However, Oscar does more than dream, he writes every day and while he doesn’t get published, it is not from lack of trying.

This passage with Beli illustrates the novel’s recurring theme of the blurred line between fantasy and reality as Beli cannot believe the Gangster has abandoned her. It parallels other instances of fantasy dominating reality as seen when Yunior deludes himself he is a man who does not need love and Abelard deludes himself to the dangers facing him and his family. Finally, this passage serves as a contrast to the perception that Oscar is lost in a fantasy world when it can be argued his life is grounded in reality.

Works Cited

Baldick, Chris. "magic realism." The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. : Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference. 2008. 12 Apr. 2017

Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead Books, 2008.

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