Proposal Title

Significance of Hair as a Means of Racial Identity in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Primary Faculty Mentor’s Name

Anastasia Lin

Proposal Track

Student

Session Format

Paper Presentation

Abstract

Historical connotations of slavery set the racially underlined tone for Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Dominican ghetto-nerd protagonist Oscar battles with his Dominican-American identity. The reader shadows Oscar and members of his family throughout time, shifting from 1980s New Jersey to mid-20th century Dominican Republic. Diaz uses the history of racial oppression in the Dominican Republic as well as the inherent and subsequent denial of Africanness to further Oscar’s search for his true self.

Considering Junot Diaz’s sexy and thought provoking novel, I will analyze the fashion in which he utilizes underlying racial conflict in the Dominican Republic throughout the development of not only Oscar, but many of the other characters as well. By investigating the history of Africans in early Dominican Republic and the racial profiling that led to cultural oppression, I unearth a more profound understanding of the complexity of Oscar’s psyche and his battles uncovering the truth behind the self. Not only do I hone in on Oscar’s identity issues, but I also shine a light on his mother and his sister Lola, who both individually redefine what it means to be considered a “Dominican” woman. I dive into the concept of “otherness”—specifically “black” versus “not black” and more specifically “Dominican” versus “Haitian.” The false acceptance of Europeanness drives the racial issues in the novel and in Dominican society overall.

In an unorthodox fashion, Diaz uses hair to illustrate racial differences and identity amongst the characters of the novel. Diaz’s keen attention to hair, his characters’ attitudes towards hair, and its correlation to racial identity combined serves as a microcosm of Dominican society. The description of hair is utilized in order to label a character, elevate a character, or beautify a character (and vice versa). I will address how the historical oppression of Dominican Africanness is reflected in the characterization in Oscar Wao, how hair is used as a mechanism to describe ethnic identity, and lastly, how Dominicans in and out of the novel use hair as a representation (or denial) of their racial identity.

Keywords

Race, Identity, Analysis, Literature

Award Consideration

1

Location

Room 2904

Presentation Year

2014

Start Date

11-15-2014 8:30 AM

End Date

11-15-2014 9:30 AM

Publication Type and Release Option

Presentation (Open Access)

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Nov 15th, 8:30 AM Nov 15th, 9:30 AM

Significance of Hair as a Means of Racial Identity in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Room 2904

Historical connotations of slavery set the racially underlined tone for Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Dominican ghetto-nerd protagonist Oscar battles with his Dominican-American identity. The reader shadows Oscar and members of his family throughout time, shifting from 1980s New Jersey to mid-20th century Dominican Republic. Diaz uses the history of racial oppression in the Dominican Republic as well as the inherent and subsequent denial of Africanness to further Oscar’s search for his true self.

Considering Junot Diaz’s sexy and thought provoking novel, I will analyze the fashion in which he utilizes underlying racial conflict in the Dominican Republic throughout the development of not only Oscar, but many of the other characters as well. By investigating the history of Africans in early Dominican Republic and the racial profiling that led to cultural oppression, I unearth a more profound understanding of the complexity of Oscar’s psyche and his battles uncovering the truth behind the self. Not only do I hone in on Oscar’s identity issues, but I also shine a light on his mother and his sister Lola, who both individually redefine what it means to be considered a “Dominican” woman. I dive into the concept of “otherness”—specifically “black” versus “not black” and more specifically “Dominican” versus “Haitian.” The false acceptance of Europeanness drives the racial issues in the novel and in Dominican society overall.

In an unorthodox fashion, Diaz uses hair to illustrate racial differences and identity amongst the characters of the novel. Diaz’s keen attention to hair, his characters’ attitudes towards hair, and its correlation to racial identity combined serves as a microcosm of Dominican society. The description of hair is utilized in order to label a character, elevate a character, or beautify a character (and vice versa). I will address how the historical oppression of Dominican Africanness is reflected in the characterization in Oscar Wao, how hair is used as a mechanism to describe ethnic identity, and lastly, how Dominicans in and out of the novel use hair as a representation (or denial) of their racial identity.