Academic journal article ARIEL

Invoking Joyce, Avoiding Imitation: Junot Diaz's Portrait of Nerds in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Academic journal article ARIEL

Invoking Joyce, Avoiding Imitation: Junot Diaz's Portrait of Nerds in the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Article excerpt

Abstract: There are several hints in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) that Junot Diaz has been more influenced by Irish modernist James Joyce than he declares. As a modernist, Joyce emphasized the importance of detachment and disobedience to the ethos of the modern artist. He felt it was significant for an artist to innovate his own language because doing so invites new aesthetic styles and engenders political resistance to the dominant culture. Joyce's 1916 novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man provides an exposition of how an aesthetic pursuit coincides with a political rebellion against British imperialism. This article argues that, for these reasons, Joyce is an important precursor to Diaz. I read Diaz's novel alongside Joyce's and offer textual sites that suggest Joyce's influence on Diaz. In doing so, I demonstrate that Diaz values and inherits Joyce's literary style while modifying some of his modes. Focusing on the link between Diaz and Joyce can expand our understanding of Diaz's work and place a new emphasis on his connection with the Irish modernist.

Keywords: Junot Diaz, James Joyce, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, nerd, imitation

**********

Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) is the tale of Oscar de Leon and his family, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey. Diaz infuses his novel with events from Dominican history during the era of Rafael Trujillo, the dictator who governed the nation from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. Oscar Wao unveils the political terror of the Trujillato and recounts the tyranny of the Dominican dictatorship by outlining how Trujillo's evil force haunts the De Leon-Cabral family across three generations and uproots them from their homeland. Many critics place the novel in the context of the Caribbean, Latin American, African, or Dominican literary diaspora. However, this scholarship tends to assign Oscar Wao to the category of United States ethnic literature and thus reduce the novel to a project primarily interested in ending the curse of colonialism. For example, Monica Hanna, Ignacio Lopez-Calvo, and Elena Machado Saez each situate Oscar Wao as a fiction written for a Dominican American audience. (1) Similarly, Richard Perez argues that Diaz aims to destroy the Dominican curse, called fiuku and embodied in the novel by the Trujillato, by means of the act of writing, or zafa.

This emphasis on Diaz's Dominican background has led to a discussion of his association with Latin American or diasporic writers or writers of color who occupy the place of the racial Other. Salman Rushdie, a British Indian novelist, and Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott, whose poem "The Schooner's Flight" (1980) is one of Diaz's epigraphs to Oscar Wao, are the most frequently mentioned influences on Diaz. Pamela J. Rader, for instance, links Rushdie and Diaz by suggesting that, like Rushdie, Diaz reinvents history through fiction and turns "national and impersonal" accounts into personal histories (5). Oscar Ortega Montero and Grant Glass, among others, draw on Diaz's use of Walcott's poem, in which the poet says, "I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me" (Walcott 346), to suggest that Oscar Wao presents Diaz's self-formed Latin American diasporic identity. Such readers argue that Diaz's citation of Walcott's poem, which they regard as an embodiment of "the Caribbean melting pot" (Ortega Montero 10), aligns Oscar Wao with the poet's engagement of ethnic identities. Similarly, Lopez-Calvo provides an intertextual reading of Oscar Wao that links Diaz to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Latin American magical realist, and Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian magical realist and author of The Feast of the Goat (2001), a novel about the Trujillato. Lopez-Calvo suggests that Diaz adopts the role of a "native informant" affected by Latin American magical realists (75) and examines Diaz's self-conscious association with those precursors. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.