Comparison Of Protagonists In The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao And Things Fall Apart

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While Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart take place in utterly contrasting place and time, the protagonists of their respective stories find themselves bound and being haunted by their identities. Whilst being drawn towards the idea of being a “man”, which they believe to be the solution for everything, what they truly seek is acceptance by society. Junot Diaz illustrates the life and challenges of an immigrant family from the Dominican Republic, where Oscar is trying to find himself and also love. Whereas Achebe describes the life of a man, Okonkwo, running away from his past to prove to the world that he is anything but weak.

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The title character of Diaz’s story is Oscar; a man of Dominican descent born and raised in the U.S. As an adolescent he is absolutely unsuccessful with the women that he finds attractive. He desires to live and experience the life of a stereotypical Dominican machismo man, which is something that he is not. The Dominican machismo is defined as a strong sense of masculine pride or exaggerated exertion of masculinity. Moreover, he is not willing to rectify this problem by trying to give up his science fiction books and videogames, which sometimes hold him back from being socializing and interacting with women. Oscar desires to be like the other men around him, however, he only gets rejections from the opposite sex every time he tries. To make matters worse the other males around him, even his friend Yunior, make fun of his masculinity. All this causes him to be depressed and self-critical, and even lead him to attempt suicide.

In contrast to Oscar’s lack of machismo, Achebe’s central character Okonkwo grew up poor without any financial or emotional backing. He successfully made his way up to the top of the Umuofia society that seems to value manliness. He is extremely short-tempered and prefers to solve things with violence rather than words. All his successes, every title, piece of land is the direct result of his sweat and blood alone. He marries three women and fathers several children. His version of manliness leaves him with a strong desire to be respected and he never settles for anything less. He beats everyone who defies him, even his wives and children are not spared. He beats them without hesitation just to keep them in check, even during the “Week of Peace” (Achebe 29) when it’s forbidden. This is not representative of the clan as a whole.

Growing up Oscar did not have any father figure to look up to, as he grew up without a father or elder brothers. The only male with whom he could talk about girls and seek advice, as a result making him more masculine, was his friend Yunior. He is a hypersexualized Dominican who sleeps with every woman he runs into. He is very proud of his sexual encounters and even goes on to describe how he is “fucking with not one, not two, but three fine-ass bitches at the same time, and that wasn’t even counting the side-sluts I scooped at the parties and the clubs” (Diaz 185). He even says something that remains with Oscar until his death; it is “against the laws of nature for a Dominicano to die without fucking at least once (Diaz 174). This shows into what kind of popularized Dominican culture Oscar and Yunior have grown-up in.

In contrast Okonkwo grew-up with a father. His father was lazy and not considered a man by his fellow clansman. He had no wealth to show for, no land and was a gentle coward who loved music and conversation. Okonkwo’s relationship with his father shapes a great deal of his aggressive and ambitious behavior. As he strived to become a man that not even remotely resembled his father. His hatred for everything that reminds him of his weak and lazy father, led him to create his own version of manliness. He adopted the complete opposite ideals and became productive, brave and violent. He formed a direct connection with everything that his father stood for and being a woman. He bluntly calls out a fellow clansman at a meeting by saying ‘This meeting is for men.’ As the man who had contradicted him had no titles. He would rather prefer death than to show any signs of weakness or ‘being a woman’.

Oscar’s lack of Dominican machismo and Okonkwo’s’ ‘over masculinity’ originated from the same bud; not being respected and accepted for who they really are. Both of them were denied this and felt a desire to change as they were not content with themselves. The society and people around them are a major cause of this.

Oscar was considered a ‘nerd’, and despite his tries, he could not get a member of the opposite sex to like him. His self-criticism and low opinion of himself thwarted him socially and this made him prone to depression. The pressure of being a ‘Dominican man’ further worsened his situation where he feared of dying a virgin or a looser. Whereas Okonkwo, on the other hand, saw how his father was treated by everyone and detested it, and vowed to never be like him. Despite achieving everything that he yearned for, he was still insecure and this reflected in his volatile behavior. This idea of “manliness” which they thought would magically fix all the problems, along with social pressure, in reality, prevented them from being happy by not accepting who they are. 

10 Jun 2021

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