It’s our little Secret; The unspoken fukú
“…What he [Yunior] couldn’t say to Lola was that ʻI too have been molestedʼ” (Moya 4) Junot Díaz reveals referring to a part in his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, where the two characters are at a partition. Either Yunior can state the truth or he can keep it stifled within and not only lose his one love, but also submit himself to a lifelong sentence of denial and pain. This sort of fate wasn’t reserved just for Yunior as Díaz also admits the DeLeon family had a very specific fukú, “…rape” (Moya 4). Rape can be defined as any unwanted sexual encounter brought on by force or any sort of gross violation or degradation of a person, place or thing (Rape). The psychological toll it has on a victim varies based on the amount of support they receive toward the healing process (Whealin). No matter the origin there are often feelings of violation, anger, oppression, vengeance, and many other possibilities. Rape or sexual abuse is a physical act that affects the victim’s psychology and is often repressed or unspoken. This reality is handsomely presented within the book as it takes a very critical eye to spot the signs of abuse in each of the characters as any sexual focus is projected onto secondary characters rather than those most affected, the DeLeon family.
The first of many rapes was done through the eviction of their freedom and domicile by racism brought on by years of colonialism. Oppression is a direct effect of a colonized world especially where one race is conquered by another. During the history of the Dominican-Republic there have been many race related conflicts including the Haitian occupation which lasted from 1822 to 1844 and was continuously referred to by the militant dictator Trujillo. Using this to instill fear Trujillo effectively turned the nation against anyone darker than the lightest of the Spanish-Dominicans leading to “conditions of misery, inequality, exploitation, marginalization and social injustices” (127) as Psychologist Prilleltensky describes in one of many dissertations on the effects of colonialism. When Beli is driven from her home and sent to the United States she discovers not just racism but a more specific psychological condition of the people around her, Xenophobia. This fear is described as having a hate of foreigners not just of race but of culture as well (Crossroads 21). The American dream, bare and naked on the shores of New Jersey as if being raped once wasn’t enough. The Dominicans call this fukú, but the DeLeon’s had darker steps to venture down, the sexual act of rape, and not a single member was immune.
The following is a case study of the main characters within Díaz’s novel with particular attention to the aspect of rape, beginning with the matriarch, Beli. Psychologists use case studies to evaluate subjects that have undergone specific psychologically traumatic events to understand the individual effects of which the trigger perpetuated within the subject. Beli, mother of three, only two surviving, is eagerly presented as angry, desolate, and callous. Her remarks toward Oscar when he asks if he’s ugly help portray this image as “she sighed. Well, hijo, you certainly don’t take after me” (30). Beli was initially an innocent young lady with many traumas affecting her including losing both parents, being fostered, sold, burned and scarred, then finally returned to family. In a way “safe” she hits puberty to discover a womanly physique only accepted once the power is discovered. She uses this sexual power as a tool to get what she wants, but then makes choices that place her into an even further psychologically damaging situation with the Gangster. The human want for physical things plus sanctuary creep into play here, as the Gangster is a powerful man and has a way of materializing material possessions. This creates a sense of reward within Beli to keep her coming back for continual self-gratification, hinting at her lack of self worth. In this situation while matrimonial obligations of the Gangster weren’t known, after learning of this she maintained seeking the affection of the same man, claiming “love.” This analysis leads to question if the young Beli, perhaps in the care of her foster parents, might have been subject to some sort of sexual abuse. Out of the population of women, 33% were sexually abused as a child (Hall, Hall 1) and in a country where little to no statistical information on abuse cases is available or organized, it’s assumed the number is higher. This particular case also shows some specific identifying characteristics of the long-term effects such as feelings of worthlessness, externalizing the abuse, difficulty establishing interpersonal boundaries, and getting involved in abusive relationships (Hall, Hall 2-3). If this weren’t enough, it is speculated that her beating in the cane field may have included rape as the narrator states, “was there time for a rape or two? I suspect there was, but we shall never know…” (Díaz 147). It’s also learned that this beating broke her, it completely changed her. So even if there was no sexual rape, she most certainly endured not just the rape of losing a child, but of being beaten and grossly degraded to a point of near death.
One effect of trauma is it touches those closest to the victim and Lola was first born after that terrible incident. Beli’s high stress levels after her rapes certainly affected their relationship as Lola is in continuous rebellion toward her mother, but there is more than just that to show. The narrator also ensures to tell us that, “when she [Lola] was in the fourth grade she’d been attacked by an older acquaintance,” (Díaz 25). Some on-line sites have the word attacked as raped, which may have been used in an alternate copy of this work, or may have been deduced by reading on to see that it was known within the family but leaked publicly making it harder to handle. It is common for children to be molested by someone the child knows and often loves and trusts (Hall, Hall 3) which would make this harder to deal with, especially publicly, than if it were just a beating. The book also states that she changed aspects of her appearance including shaving her hair. Often times after an attack the victim will feel dirty or guilty (Hall, Hall 2-3) which accounts for this action as being an attempt at redemption. Lola doesn’t stop here; she also runs away and continues to act out especially against her mother which is yet another sign of sexual abuse (Whealin, Barnett). Even though Díaz does not explicitly state that she was raped, this is one hidden assault that isn’t as concealed as Oscar’s.
Oscar Wao, born into the DeLeon family and only later given the name Wao by antagonistic friends, goes about life with a mysterious set of issues halting him from taking some opportunities presented. As the main character of this book the observational lens is set most closely on him yet a certain grave detail goes without notice as it’s cleverly placed innocently at the beginning of the book. Oscar has changed since he was a young boy and now remains detached from others, but also finds basic attention from a girl as a possibility of a future romance. He is unable to maintain relationships let alone develop any new ones; this fuses with the depression and eventual suicidal thoughts. Each of these main characteristics of Oscar are also the biggest symptoms of child sexual abuse (Gartner; Whealin, Barnett; Hall, Hall 2-4; Dube et al.). Many studies have been done to determine a set of adult characteristics that directly correspond to child sexual abuse and a study published in 2005 found convincing and significant leaps in percentile of suicide attempts, depression, and family problems are at least 40% greater than those who have not been abused (Dube et al.). There could be other factors to attribute some of these behaviors, but Díaz already acted as an informant into this disturbing reality. Here, we look to the narrator for tips and find one. It’s hidden at the beginning of the book as if it’s just common discourse, which is the genius in which this theme was interwoven, as it would be in real life, stifled and suppressed. Yunior, the narrator, tells how Oscar was a very handsome child and all the women noticed him, “even their neighbor, Mari Colón a thirty something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass – all purportedly fell for him” (12-13). When he talks about the other women they’re simply “Lola’s friends” or “his mother’s friends” (12), but this one woman has a name with very specific recollections about physical features especially sexually associated parts. It is quite possible for a woman to sexually abuse a child and was recently found that almost 40% of male victims were abused by female perpetrators (Dube et al.). It is necessary to understand that the effects can be very detrimental if not treated, and as is apparent in the book there was no treatment provided. Often victims of sexual abuse close in on themselves but there are times when the opposite is true. Perhaps that is why Yunior and Oscar wound up bonding on a repressed level as that’s where both kept their abuse.
Yunior reveals himself later in the book when he begins telling about his college experience with Oscar. He’s immediately identified as a womanizer and a “macho” man who makes it a point to display his manliness whenever possible. In his moment of weakness when he’s about to lose Lola he, however can not face his own molestation (Moya 4). Richard B. Gartner, Ph.D believes that the first thing to conquering past trauma is acknowledging that it happened. Yunior can’t do that as “acknowledging victimization means admitting they’re weak or ‘not male’” (Gartner). He also shows many of the more aggressive symptoms through the book including acting out in incessant pursuance of women and engaging in frequent promiscuous acts with them all and though desires love, especially with Lola, often finds no sense of love after the act is done (Gartner).
Even through the specific examples of how these characters were affected by the fukú of rape it still took a second read in order to really see the connections. Each story strongly harps on the sexual tension, fallacies, or intention of everyone around with nothing more than behaviors left to be examined to find the truth of the main characters. Looking at the book through a psychological lens with the object of rape being in scope there is a plethora of hints and case study specific effects impressed upon each character. Choosing to look through the book with a psychological lens we can see the lasting effects sexual abuse and rape have on a victim. The negative effects are vast and terribly impeding upon the victim until they take the first steps to becoming a survivor. We see the effects of rape, racism, and colonialism displayed in each of the characters by the end of the book. It is so entirely well played out you have to wonder at the ability of authors to create and flesh out such intricate characters to where one can apply such a psychological lens and still have plenty more to talk about than is limited within a five page paper.
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