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1 SCARRED BODIES, SCARRED WRITING: THE TRAUMA OF DICTATORSHIP AND DIASPORA IN THE DEW BREAKER AND THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO By RANDI GILL SADLER A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORI DA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2012
2 2012 Randi Gill Sadler
3 To my family
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank all my professors, current and previous, who have encou raged my growth as a scholar. I would like to thank Dr. Tace Hedrick and Dr. Raul Sanchez for their consistent guidance throughout this entire process. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. June Hobbs and Dr. Cheryl Duffus for their continued mentorshi p. Finally, I would like to extend a special thanks to my family for giving me the confidence and mental fortitude to pursue my dreams.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 TRAUMA AND LANGUAGE ................................ ................................ ..................... 7 2 THE WEIGHT OF GUILT ................................ ................................ ........................ 15 3 HEAVY HEARTS AND BROKEN BODIES ................................ ............................. 27 4 WRITING AS HEALING ................................ ................................ .......................... 42 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 48 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 50
6 Abstract of T hesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts SCARRED BODIES, SCARRED WRITING: THE TRAUMA OF DICTATORSHIP AND DIASPORA IN THE DEW BREAKER AND THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO By Randi Gill Sadler December 2012 Chair: Tace Hedrick Major: English For authors Edwidge Dantica t and Junot Daz, the body is central to understanding dictatorship and diaspora two central threads in the national histories of Haiti and the Dominican Republic In this essay, I will argue that Danticat and Daz use trauma to the body to illustrate the trauma associated with dictatorship and diaspora in The Dew Breaker and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, respectively. Bodily traumas range from torture to excessive weight gain in both novels. While trauma scholars theorize that the scar represents healing, Danticat complicates that notion as her title character, a former prison guard under the Duvalier regime, is still troubled by his past despite the scar on his face. D az furth er complicates that idea by connecting scars to the fuk cur se, the l egacy of colonialism and dictatorship in the Caribbean. Both authors demonstrate that relief from trauma is only achieved by a willingness to speak into the silences that dictatorship and diaspora impose.
7 CHAPTER 1 TRAUMA AND LANGUAGE What is it with wr iters and dictators? Junot D az raises this question in his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Edwidge Danticat raises the question to him during an interview for BOMB Magazine in 2007. Danticat acknowledges that there is an antagonistic dyn amic between dictators and writers that makes her recall Carolyn the end, the dictator pours a bag of human ears I am tired of fooling a r ound he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck 21 (Dant icat 6). But Daz interprets the poem somewhat differently. He explains the F in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao The Dew Breaker published in 2004; the former a narrative about a family that falls prey to guilt stunning his victims into silence with violence. In spite of any differe nces in their understanding the dictatorship and diaspora. As I will argue in this thesis, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Dew Breaker both illustrate the ways t rauma from dictatorship and diaspora metaphorically and physically manifest itself in the body.
8 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the narrator, Yunior, chronicles the tragic story of Oscar Cabral de Len, a ghetto nerd in New Jersey, and his family. are born in the United States. Despite living in America, post Trujillo regime, the whole family is haunted by the dreaded fuk, a curse that, according to t he author, rose out of famous high priest was Dominican dictator, Rafael Leonidas Molina Trujillo, who served as president of the Dominican Republic officially from 1930 1938 and again in 1942 the boundaries of time and space to plague Oscar and his famil y in the United States. tragedy of the Cabral de Len family, shifting from the past and present, often unexpectedly, all in an effort, finally, to perform what he calls a z afa, or counter curse. (504). Dictators eliminate events and people that do not compliment the national narrative they att empt to create. Consequently, conception even if these people are in fact the family, instead of the dictator, Daz is challenging dictato rial power and its legacy.
9 The Dew Breaker highlights the lives of several members of the Haitian diasporic community in America, post Duvalier l, family history is at the are originally from the Caribbean Haiti in this instance while their daughter, Ka, was born in the United States. But unlike the Cabral de Lens, not all members of Bienaim family are victims of dictatorship exclusiv ely. The father in the Bienaim family who is never named in the whole novel is a former Haitian prison guard and chouket lawoze a dew breaker. A bridal seamstress in the nov el, once a victim of the dew breaker, 131). The bridal memories of the dew breaker who now lives in New York and makes a living quietly as barber. But just as his victims cannot s eem to forget the pain that they have suffered at his hands, he cannot forget the pain he has inflicted on them. The sources of trauma for the characters from both novels are varied and complex. For example, memories of violence experienced and inflicted, respectively, trauma, perhaps the most interesting case of all, stems directly from his own experience the origin of the trauma, relocating to or being born in the United States does not
10 the United States not only exacerbate pre well. In one of the most influential works on trauma theory 1 Cathy Caruth defines extremities of (33). Both Herman and Caruth therefore stress that traumatic experiences can create a feeling of a lack of agency in the victim. The lack of agency is not exclusive to how an individual handles trauma; it has significant influen ce on the way that individual expresses his or her trauma thereafter. Herman claims the most commonplace response to atrocities trauma caused by other human beings Characters in both throughout the Islands, five parts denial, five pa z 259) to deal with her past trauma, and the dew breaker and his wife, Anne, live in a similar state 241). Nevertheless, those that do venture to explicate their traumatic experiences often manner that undermines their credibility. (2) Both victims of trauma and witnesses to it find themselves devoid of 1 In Unclaimed Experiences: Trauma, Narrative and History, Cathy Caruth engages and responds to Moses and Monotheism and Beyond the Pleasure Principle Instead of ways that knowing and not knowing are entangled in the l anguage of trauma and in the stories associated
11 Thus, trauma, fundamentally, resists language and active retelling. Elaine Scarry draws a similar conclusion about the relationship between bodily pain and language: Thus pain comes unsharably into our midst as at once that which cannot be denied and that which cannot be confirmed. Whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability and it ensures this unsharability throu gh resistance to language. Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to languag e, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned Its resistance to language is not simply one of its incidental or accidental attributes but is essential to what it is. (5) Consequently, expressing trauma and/or pain become s a challenge in and of itself. The victim is compelled to forget an experience that reemerges spontaneously and forcefully, with so much force, in fact, that whether it is trauma or physical pain, the victim cannot locate the language to describe what ha s happened, or as Caruth argues, the experience has destroyed language. Ironically, psychotherapists cite turning a traumatic experience into a narrative as a way to overcome the trauma. 2 How then does one construct a narrative out of trauma and pain whe n each seems to be inherently opposed to the other? Kathryn Robson further complicates narrating trauma in her discussion of what experiences can actually be recounted and the level of truth that remains thereafter: Are there some traumatic experiences tha t can never fully be recalled and narrated, even in therapy? These questions are even more pressing in light of the massive traumatic events of the twentieth century the Holocaust, Nagasaki, and the list could go on indefi nitely. Certain traumatic events seem so unthinkable that they can never become part of a life 2 memories are the unassimilated scraps of overwhelming experiences which need to be integrate d with existing mental schemes, and be transformed into narrative language. When this is achieved, they add, history, his autobiography (176).
12 of traumatic experience will necessa rily modify, distort, even fictionalize, that experience. (20) from 1957 1971, would have definitely been included. Both regimes were known for their ruth lessness, corruption and violent oppression of anything that even appeared to be resistance to their rule, especially through censorship of literature and writing. If describing the initial trauma of living under dictatorship was not hard enough to narrate fear of the consequences of retelling only intensified the difficulty. Trujillo and Duvalier were known to go to great lengths to prevent individuals from narrating the trauma they inflicted on both Dominicans and Haitians 3 as was the mysterious case of Jesus de Galndez 4 That being said, I would add, the political context of trauma becomes another obstacle in recounting trauma. Political pressure can affect the validity of any narrative of trauma, which Robson aptly points out is already an inhere nt risk since trauma defies narrative cannot come from simply reading and analyzing trauma narratives, it necessitates much more. 3 Truj could be truer. A megalomaniac, Trujillo most famously renamed the capital city, Santo Domingo, and the highest mountain in the country, Pico Duarte, e 4 In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Daz explains the demise of Jesus de Gal ndez. A graduate student at Columbia University, Galndez decided to write his doctoral dissertation on the Trujillo Allegedly, Trujillo attempte d to pay off Galndez, and when that failed, Trujillo had his henchmen kidnap and murder Galndez. His body was never found.
13 In Writing Wounds: The Inscription of Trauma in Post Writing, Robson suggests that literary critics look to the wound as an expression of in effect speaks for (14). Narratives of trauma, Robson adds, develop out of a wound, injury and healing, a time when the effects of the trauma remain as powerful and as enormity of psychic pain, like Scarry, she is careful not to i mply that bodily pain is any more communicable than psychological pain. Instead, Robson explains that the bodily vulnerability and lack of self containment of the traumatized the bodily wound is a starting point, and to explore psychic wounds, she must move past the bodily wound to more complicated bodily figures (32). mentioned previously, personal histories are central to both The Dew Breaker and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao These stories are not told wholly through the actual ors Public Eye Danticat explains how to remain open minded the ability to live with experience rather than to suffer through it, as many people Those of us who have that privilege are lucky. We get to expel it from ourselves We
14 do it with words. We do it with song. We do it with our bodies ey 1). Like Robson, Danticat believes that the body is capable of expressing experience. Daz adds to this idea and contends that understanding the human condition has to start with the body: And look, nothing reminds us beyond just any Caribbean nonsens e and any sort of old ancient history nonsense the body is what reminds us on a struggle with it, you know. And it reveals in curious and in abiding ways how we are not perfect. I (Lopez) body essential to narrative, whether it is a narrative of resistance or simply what it means to be human. Intentionally or not, the bodies in their texts narrate so much more. The traumatized bodies in these novels provide insight into dictatorship and diaspora.
15 CHAPTER 2 THE WEIGHT OF GUI LT Even more than Daz, Danticat is known for incorporating figures that have undergone trauma into her work. Michael Munro and Heather Hewett have addressed The Farming of Bones The novel pinpoints the experience of one woman, Anabelle, as she tries to recover from personal tragedies the drowning of her parents and the political tragedy of the 1937 Dominican massacre of as many as 15, 000 Haitians. Hewett describes the historical unded and disabled individuals whose marked, scarred bodies barriers of class, language The Farming of Bones ; however, she uses The Dew Breaker as an opportunity to shift her focus from the experience of the victim to the experience of the perpetr ator of dictatorial violence. The title character, a former prison guard in Haiti, is most known for two physical is a large scar on his face. But in Haiti, he is most known for his large weight. Typically, thereof. The first significant change him joining the Miliciens, the Volunteers for National Security. Before becoming a to build summer homes (Danticat
16 father could only do one thing: Hope that his son would not suffer similar circumstances. shoulders or a machete in h physical and political stature that he wants his son to surpass. As a farm laborer, identity is overshadowed by production. It is not who the body belongs to, but what the body can do that is mo st important. The body is just as much a tool as the machete for farm laborers. And as such, they have the least political power and practically no of his land an d wife she is believed to have run off with a former lover and walks voiceless, de fenseless, and naked, almost as if he had regressed back to infancy from adulthood. Determined not to suffer the same fate, the dew breaker seizes a portion of political power, one that at least partially manifests itself in weight gain. Although there is a child, one can assume that as a child he is much like the farm laborer he has little to no political power and/or access. Additionally, even if he wanted to, as a child, he is too small p hysically to pose a physical threat to the Miliciens. However, at 19 years old, breaker joins the Miliciens. The dew breaker, formerly a victim, has immediately gained access to totalitarian power through his service to the Duvalier regime. His unprecedented power manifests itself in a lifestyle of excess: Unfortunately, or fortunately as you like, this includes your own
17 these words, restaurants fed him an enormous amount of food, which he ate eagerly several times a day because he enjoyed watching his body grow wider and meatier just as his sense of power did. A doctor, his landlord, gave him two rooms on the lower floor of a two story house for free. Bourgeois married women slept with him on the cash filled mattress in his bedroom floor. Virgins of all castes came and went as well. And the people who had looked down on him and his family in the past, well, now they came all the way from Logne to ask him for favors. (196) Here, there is a direct correlation between the amount of power the dew breaker amasses, pun intended, and his weight. As a member of the famed Miliciens also kn own as the Tonton Macoutes 1 That power intimidates merchants and landlords into giving him free favors and, at the same time, it attracts and entices women married and single alike. The locus of power in Haiti is Dictator Francois Duvalier, otherwise known as Papa Doc. Yet, he never makes an appearance in the novel outside of the Flag Day speech scene. His name is never literally mentioned in the novel (193) It is no coincidence that all the people who beg the dew breaker for favors embodiment of the Duvalier regime. And just as Duvalier had no political limits, the dew br eaker is not limited by finances or institutions like marriage or law he is bigger than them all. The dew breaker goes from being small physically and politically to larger than any pre existing institution in Haiti except for Duvalier, appearing the larg est to his victims. The experiences vary from women who had firsthand experiences of torture for rejecting 1 monster would abduct children who misbehaved at night, put them in his knapsack and carry them away (Danticat 216).
18 ones, to a young man, Dany, who realizes that the barber he rents a room from is the man who murdered his family. Despite the variety of experiences, all of his victims highlight the same detail: name. Similar to the faceless villains in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao the nameless dew breaker is a metaphor for the violence and oppression that undergird and oppression remain hidden and unnamed, the perpetrators remain unpunished and untouchable. As such, the dew identify describe A former prisoner of Casernes presence, however, is the most overwhelming for his last prisoner, the preacher. In an ironic twist, the novel ends with the dew breaker on his last mission to kill a preacher who turns out to be the brother of his future wife, Anne w ho has been The preacher was frankly disappointed when he staggered into the nine by twelve foot must ard colored prison office and forced his bloody, swollen eyes farther apart only to find the same large man who had taken him from the church sitting behind an old desk that took up half the room. The fat
19 man asked the Voice to bring in a chair The chair was much lower than were meant to make the preacher feel smaller than the fat who was a whole mustard d oor was still open, the size of the room made the preacher feel as though it had been suddenly sealed shut. (223) The dew breaker seems to be growing bigger and bigger as t he world around both him reduces the world spatially to the torturer experiences an absence of that annihilating negation, so the more the (36). The dynamic between the preacher and t he dew breaker echoes that idea. The pounded little, wooden chair in the room, afflicted by blood sucking insects digging into his skin, the preacher is helpless as the physical world shrinks in comparison the dew breaker. Even when the dew breaker extends h is hand to help the preacher out of the small
20 chair, the preacher believes it is a subtle torture method, where the dew breaker your side 2 f desperation, the preacher shifts the power from the dew breaker to himself. After pushing back against the wooden chair, steadily moving away from the dew up one of the ropelike scar on his face. In that moment, the preacher has the upper hand over the continues: Just as all aspects of the concrete structure are inevitably assimilated into the process of torture, so too the contents of the room, its furnishi ngs, are converted into weapons. The room, both in its structures and its content, is converted into a weapo n, deconverted, undone. Made to participate in the annihilation of the prisoners, made to demonstrate that everything is a weapon, the objects themselves, and with them the face of civilization, are annihilated: there is no wall, no window, no door, no bat htub, no re frigerator, no chair, no bed. That is, in the conversion of a refrigerator into a bludgeon, the refrigerator disappears; its disappearance objectifies the disappearance of the world (sky, country, bench) experienced by a person in great pa in; and it is the very fact of its disappearance, its transition from a refrigerator into the bludgeon that inflicts the pain. (40 41) The very item that was meant to cause the preacher pain and make him seem insignificant has become a tool of resistance f or the preacher. Perhaps what is most 2 breaker has been ordered to release the preacher. The Duvalier reg ime wanted the preacher killed in the declared tha
21 testicles if they were men or their breasts if they were women (Danticat 198). He also zo or bezik ew breaker uses both the clothespins and the cards to induce pain. The dew breaker uses the loss of a card game as motivation for physical those imprisoned is oft en a fiction so what masquerades as the motive for torture is preacher has, Scarry, undoes the dew br life literally. The dew breaker pulls out his .38 and shoots the preacher repeatedly. Having disobeyed his orders, the dew breaker re alizes that being arrested or executed were real possibilities for him. Always the hunter, the dew breaker could become prey. His fear of the consequences for murdering the preacher causes him to flee the prison regime would do to him but also what former prisoners might do to him. After running e torture chamber adjacent to his the
22 takes care of the dew breaker, and the two are on a flight to New York together the next day. Anne is unaware that the man she is taking care of has just murdered her brother. She asks the dew breaker what happened to him in the years that he was a prisoner in the jail until he reveals that he was actually a guard. But them prefers to live in denial than to collaborati on, a conspiratorial friendship became a marriage and a family. Living as a mar ried man in New York, with one central to understanding the plot of The Dew Breaker On a trip to deliv sculptures to a famous, potential client, the dew breaker goes missing. Ka, obviously fearful, reports her father missing to the police and the hotel manager and describes five, five feet eight inches, one hundred and eight pou peak, thinning salt and p epper hair and velvet brown eyes deep brown, same colors the giant face and overwhelming presence. She also mentio ns that he has partial
23 this narrative of trauma begins with a scar. By her logic, it is the open wound, and not the scar, that me when the effects of trauma remain dentures when describing him to the police and hotel managers; however, she leaves f bed and landed on his face healed, yet his behaviors say otherwise. His tr auma ste ms from the guilt he feels for the crimes he has committed. But that trauma is exacerbated by an overwhelming fear that he will punished for them. Anne shares the overwhelming fear of punishment. At a Christmas Mass, Ka sees someone who she thinks is Emm anuel Constant, a former leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti. He is wanted for the torture, rape and murder of 5,000 Haitians during his tenure in the militia. The more irate Ka gets about Constant evading punishment for his cri mes, the more Anne She realizes that years. Overcome by their guilt, the dew breaker and his wife exhibit the traditional response to trauma: suppression. Ka recounts that
24 beyond what she could get access to. Anne and the dew breaker are actively attempting to suppress their personal memories; but they also take it a step further. Herman explains that individuals who inflict trauma on others will do anything they can to ta rnish the credibility of the victim. If done successfully, the perpetrator can evade having to taking responsibility or being punished. The dew from everyone else, narrate their own story, and cast the dew breaker as the victim, not the perpetrator. Ka is raised her whole life to believe that her father was a prisoner back in Haiti, not a guard. Inadvertently, his wife and daughter have enabled the dew breaker to suppress his past. Anne even admits as much when she explains to Ka that people. They have been shields that keep him from confronting his past as a murderer and allow him face may hint at healing, but one unexpected object brings the past rushing back to the dew breaker and his family. As I mentioned, the purpose of the trip that Ka and her father are on is to show A three foot mahogany figure naked, kneeling on a half foot square base, his back arched like the curve of a crescent moon, his downcast eyes fixed on his very long fingers and the large palms of his hands a piece of mahogany that was naturally flawed, with a few superficial cracks along what was now the back. made no effort to sand or polish them away, as they seemed like the 7)
25 the dew breaker to shame. And in that shame, he steals the statue from their hotel room and throws it in a lake (15). This scene speaks to the scene where the dew breaker kills the preacher perhaps foreshadows it since it comes first in the novel. Simil ar to the small chair that the preacher sat in, the purpose of the statue gets misconstrued. The little chair was meant to restrain the preacher, and the statue was meant to honor the dew breaker; however, each one ended up causing the dew breaker pain th e former physical pain and the latter psychological pain and undoing his world. The blow from image of the sculpture has disrupted the reality the dew breaker has cre ated for himself as a lowly barber in New York. The dew breaker cannot see himself in the statue as Ka intends; instead, his victims are forcefully brought back to his consciousness in the figure of the statue. Being forced to remember his victims provok es a flood of emotion that include, I argue, shame, guilt and repentance. Miliciens is a journey littered with bodies. Some of those bodies are used for sex, others used for torture and some bodies just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless of their purpose, these bodies represent the canvases on which members of a dictatorship can display their excessive power. And as such, the body in such a context becomes, to echo Corrine Duboin when she cites Pierre Nora, a lieux de memoire emblematic representation or symbolic site where collective memory
26 overwhelming power and excessive lifestyle of the leaders of the Duvalier regime. But just as the dictatorship lost its power, so does the dew breaker. The dew breaker was once a large man who slept on a mattress filled with money, and now he is a thin, meek barber in New Yor k with little to no political access. Instead, Egyptian myths about the icat 19). He anticipates the punishment in the afterlife that he has managed to escape his whole life thus far. While the power of dictatorship caused the dew breaker forgiveness for his past.
27 CHAPTER 3 HEAVY HEARTS AND BRO KEN BODIES overwhelming fear of potential punishment, the Cabral d legacy of dictatorial violence, one manifestation the fuk curse, according to Yunior. on Hispaniola unleashed the fuk on mastered the fuk better than Dicta tor Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (D az 12). Yunior explicitly connects the Trujillo dictatorship to the legacy of colonialism, a legacy built in part on the power and processes hegemon ic masculinity As a dark skinned woman and an overweight, nerdy male, Beli and Oscar, respectively, fall outside the realm of hegemonic masculinity. Consequently, the dictatorial figures in the novel locate Beli and body is used and misused sexually as a site to establish masculinity, and Oscar is constantly confronted by figures of hegemonic masculinity and pressured to conform to such standards. Ironically, Beli and Osc ar have parallel experiences with violence in dictatorship and diaspora, all rooted in trauma to the body. dark skin. Her dark skin was viewed as a bad omen, and as Monica Ha s 1 Beli is shipped to 1 days before she was scheduled to leave for medical school in France. All deaths are believed to be a result of the fuk (248 249)
28 Inca, rescues her. But by the time La Inca retrieves Beli, significant damage has splashed hot oil on ruination extending from the back of he r neck to the base of her spine a bomb crater, a world na explains that such a violence because she lost her family at the han Anne Mahler adds that the bomb crater from the atomic burning is an extension of the larger state sponsored violence. The burning sensation in the novel. Despite the scar being indirectly connected to the Trujillo regime, ironically, that experience crea tes a longing for escape that pushes Beli right into the arms of men associated with Trujillo. For Beli, escape meant a whirlwind romance: In her favorite Maria Monts daydream, a dashing European of the Jean Pierre Aumont variety (who happened to look ex actly like Jack Pu jols) would catch sight of her in the bakery and fall madly in love with her and sweep her off to his chateau in France surprising Beli could think of anything else, what with that heavy rotation of bolero s [love songs], canci nes [songs] and versos [lyrics] spinning in her head She stared at the young bravos on the bus, secretly kissed the bread of the buenmosos [handsome men] who frequented the bakery, sang to herself all those beautiful Cuban love songs. (87 88) Beli is obsessed with being in love. For her, love is the perfect escape from the Dominican Republic, which has become painfully routine. She wanted to leave behind
29 ass Bani, sharing a bed with her madre [mother], the inability to buy the dress she wante d, having to wait until she was 15 to straighten her hair, the impossible looking man with wealth and status. The songs that she listens to not only perpetuate this ideal, but th escape from Santo Domingo, and (assumedly) resulting happiness, is contingent on the male body reveals the uneven gender politics of dictatorship and, more widely, populari zed hegemonic masculinity. Within the Trujillo and Duvalier dictatorships, it is very difficult for women, in particular, to maintain wealth and status independently, let alone maintain it 2 In most cases, women simply become another space for men to ass Pujols and the Gangster, use her body for this purpose and leave Beli more broken than before. eyed, blonde haired son of a c olonel in fantasizing over him, the most Jack did was ignore her. That was until the summer of their sophomore year when Beli gangly ibis (92 93) Her nerous souls pity their bearer culo [as s] that could tear words (92). Needless to say, Beli caught the attention of everyone 2 The women who did have wealth and status were usually married to high ranking officials in the dictatorial regimes, or they were part of these regimes themselves thro ugh familial relations. Both D az and Danticat include women in the latter category.
30 in Bani, including Jack. But her sexual encounters with Jack were anything but the romantic fantasies she envisioned: she finally understood why the other boys had given him the nickname Jack the Ripio; he had what even she knew to be an enormous penis, a Shiva sized lingam, a des troyer of worlds. But since she had nothing to compare it to at the time she assumed f ucking was supposed to feel like she was b eing run through with a cutlass. Afterward she tried to embrace him, to touch his silken hair, but he shook off her caresses. Hurry up and get dressed. If we get caught my ass will be in the fire. Which was (100 101) even outright painful. Jack neither gives nor receives affection from Beli; he simply inflicts physical pain on her through sex. Although this type of sexual experience could occur in a number of contexts, the socioeconomic disparities between Jack and Beli suggest the uneven gender and racial politics associated with hegemonic masculinity. Beli stands out at El Re dentor as a poor, Black girl on scholarship in a student body ladronazos giving her rides in his brand new Mercedes and buying her helados [ice enough to drive, but as the son of a colonel in the Trujillo regime, Jack has privileges and access to resou rces that Beli can never have because of her marginal political position within the dictatorship. Jack lures Beli into a sexual relationship with his displays of wealth, power and a promise of marriage of escape; however their sexual encounters only happen in broom closets at school. Jack conceals his relationship with Beli, primarily, because he is already engaged unbeknownst to Beli. Additionally, Beli is not part of the elite class in society, and
31 having a public re desire to conceal his relationship with Beli is another example of the oppression this time sexual that is hidden in a dictatorship. Jack promises to marry Beli, which would be econo mically and politically advantageous for Beli, only in an effort to use her for his own sexual pleasures. His actions parallel the way dictators use nationalistic rhetoric to disguise their own totalitarian agenda and commit crimes. After being caught ha ving sex in school, Beli is expelled from El Redentor, but Jack only receives a beating and is sent to a military school. Beli never goes back to school, while Jack escapes shame and position. Lacking political or economic agency, Beli is susceptible to exploitation from dictatorial figures under the guise of commitments of love Jack being the first, the Gangster being the last. Sex might have meant pleasure for Jack, but for the Gan gster, it was all business. Caracaracol of Culo imported the women from Venezuela, Colombia, and his favorite plac e, Cuba. But after the unexpected fall of Cuban dictator and the rise of Castro to power, the Gangster was forced to flee Cuba. His departure did not just have financial consequences; it affected at country had fallen to a rabble opportunity for the Gangster to redeem himself from the debacle in Cuba. The ssy unt il it was a mango juice swamp
32 (124). Spoiling Beli and having sex with Beli are opportunities for the Gangster to reassert his masculinity a masculinity that privileges acqu iring and spending wealth and dominating women Though he showered her with lavish dates and the best sex she ever had, all of it was an effort to rebuild his masculinity and faith in the dominance of the Trujillo dictatorship. During sex, the Gangster w when gazing at Beli. And instead of being repulsed compared it to a painting of a cicln tormenta en la madruga tion of the unbearable pain are irrelevant to the Gangster; instead, he erases her oth erness in an effort to rebuild Thus, in conquering Beli sexually, the Gangster can redeem himself from his own symbolic conquering at the hands of the Communists in Cuba. But just like her pain. er, known as La discovered that Beli was pregnant with his child. When La Fea tells Beli that she is
33 going to be taken to have an abortion, the burning sensation returns as Bel i feels like to the cane fields and beat her almost to the point of death. Here, even the location of r claims the goons beat into her flank and clawed her thighs, and its sweet stench she attempted to escape. Over five ribs, broken; left kidney, miscarriage. In a mysterious twist, a mongoose app ears to lead Beli out of the cane [and] has proven to be an enemy of kingly chariots, chains and hierarchies an ally of he fifth day when she woke up to her arm recurring feeling of burning links all of constantly susceptible to the pain of dictatorship, even in the most intimate moments, even in the farthest of p laces. Even in America, the fuk of breast cancer, the body parts that garnered the most attention while she was in the
34 presented by Yunior is that of love, while a ruling principle of the Trujillan model is that 4). Even though Yunior is attempting to highlight an alternative history, the violence of the Trujillo regime is just as intrusive in his narrative as it is in the lives of the Cabral de Lens as it follows them to American and plagues the next generation of the family Oscar bearing the biggest brunt of it. As a child, Oscar exudes the most coveted characteristic of traditional, Dominican always trying to kiss the girls, always coming up behind them during a merengue and giving them the pelvic hump Oscar got, the more weight h e gained. While his mother peaked in her attractiveness by her sophomore year in high school, at 16, Oscar weighed 245 pounds, 260 at his heaviest, and had none of the High Powers of your typical Dominican male minoes, was beyond uncoordinated, threw a ball like a girl. Had no knack for music or business or dance, no hustle, no rap, no G. And most 19). Oscar's nerdy interests, overweight body and unattractive looks mark him as an Yunior points out that "everyone noticed his lack of game and because they were Dominican everybody talked about it" (24). Oscar's uncle, Rudolf o, encourages him to simply grab a muchacha y meteselo C oje that fea y meteselo [grab a girl and put it in her get that ugly girl and put it in her] (24). his ways. While Beli reassures Oscar that he only needs to worry abo ut his school work
35 in his teenage years, when she notices him crying about a girl as a child, she "hauled Oscar by his ear threw him to the floor" and commanded him to dale un galletazo [bitch slap her] then see if that little puta respects y ou" (14). Antonio De Moya explains this behavior as a recurring method of gendering males in Latin American households: From early childhood, males are led to become self conscious about those verbal and non verbal behaviors that could lead others to susp ect that they are not true or real males. This self consciousness which may become quasi paranoid by adolescence for non conforming males, is the product of an ongoing process of stringent, totalitarian "gender work," orienting towards the structure of a hegemonic masculinity. (24) De Moya acknowledges that an individual can be born male, but the veracity of that masculinity is always subject to question by those around him. His masculinity is never definite. It is constantly susceptible to critique, eve n when the criteria are imbalanced. As such, having sex with an ugly girl can establish Oscar's masculinity, and something as small as crying over a girl can eradicate it. John Riofrio notes that such gendering turns the young male into a "well trained su bject 'unconsciously' aware of the 'natural' De Moya adds that the description of this type of gendering as totalitarian is particularly apt because, as Riofrio points out, "it implies, via the association of the political, the severity of the consequences engendered by non conformity" (26). For Oscar, the consequences are loneliness, isolation and marginalization. The lack of genuine relationships creates a void in Oscar's life, and Oscar fills that void with consumption. In lieu of true friends or a girlfriend, Oscar spends the majority of his time reading science fiction literature, watching television and eating. Despite Oscar outwardly enjoying a sedentary life filled with Tolkien and Margaret Weis, Oscar's body
36 demonstrat es the trauma he is experiencing inwardly. After realizing that his only two friends, Al and Miggs, were embarrassed by him, Oscar strips down naked to look at himself in the mirror. of his proportions" (29). The excess stretching and weight Oscar sees are, metaphorically, results of his inability to "fit" into the hegemonic standards of masculinity despite all his efforts. No matter how much food, science fiction or television Oscar consum es, none of it can fill the void. The same holds true for Beli, who watches telenovelas as if they "were the only thing that mattered" (69). Mahler describes Beli and Oscar's over consumpt ion as another layer to the fuk She explains: In this way, the pop culture and the consumption of images constitute, for the characters, a mode of escape or a way to repress the reality of their suffering. However, as consumption forms an integral part of capital power structures, the very mechanism through which Da z represents the fuk as continuing to exercise its power, the attempts by Oscar and his family members to escape through consumption merely feed the curse's perpetuation. (127) Popular culture becomes just another method to reinforce hegemonic gender stan dards. Thus, Beli and Oscar are doubly afflicted. They are victimized by hegemonic masculinity, and then left unfulfilled when they attempt to rectify their suffering with consumption. Unable to alter his circumstances, Oscar rewrites his experiences in an effort to garner the agency he lacks in his own life. Oscar's obsessions with being in love caused him heartbreak daily due to the several "secret loves he had all around town" (25). But during his senior year, Oscar genuinely fell for a girl, Ana Obr egn, in his SAT prep class. Ana and Oscar develop a close relationship and share a love of books and science fiction. But once Ana reveals that her boyfriend, Manny, is getting out of prison, things change drastically between the two. Outside of Ana's answering machine, Oscar had very little contact with Ana.
37 When they did talk in person, Ana talked about "how big Manny's cock was" (42). Oscar is immediately threatened and insecure. Unable to change Ana's feelings, he creates a story where he is the charge genius and his by then ectomorphic nging from a light fixture in his apartment I koona taek it Oscar uses his writing to alleviate his traumatic experience. In his retelling of the situation between himself, Ana and Manny, Oscar meets several criteria of hegemonic masculinity: intelligence, strength and the ability to attract women. On the other hand, have enough courage to withsta nd the ensuing danger. Additionally, Manny lacks a to please or attract wom en a characteristic once unique to Oscar. Oscar projects that quality onto Manny. Despite his ability to rewrite scenarios, the pressure to adhere to hegemonic masculinity begins to overwhelm Oscar physically. Oscar literally writes his way out of his hea rtbreak with Ana; however, his failed relationship with Jenni at Rutgers is too devastating to rewrite. Jenni and Oscar shared a love of films and literature; but Jenni was in not exclusive with Oscar at all. s dorm room and finds Oscar face down crying in his bed, most likely because of Jenni. Yunior assumes that Oscar will handle this disappointment like he handles all the others
38 ped writing completely. Whereas previously Oscar could rewrite his experience, the recurring rejection becomes so overwhelming that Oscar cannot even reimagine the experience, let alone rewrite. During that ten day period not only does Oscar stop writing, all he does is talk about dreams of oblivion (187). That dream almost becomes reality when Oscar walks in on Jenni having sex with another guy. With Ana, Oscar heard stories of sexual encounters second hand, but seeing Jenni having sex with another man is the ultimate blow to again, Oscar uses overconsumption as a remedy to his problems; unfortunately, the alcohol pushes him even father over the edge. He goes to the New Brunswick train failed suicide attempt is what he thinks right before ju Oscar implicitly blames his body for his struggles in life, but the irony is that Oscar fails to realize how his own overconsumption has exacerbated his unhappiness with his body. Oscar seeks to alleviate the pain he associates with his body by causing his body he does end up with two broken legs and a separated shoulder his final attempt at love would end his life. In what would become one of his last trips to the Dominican Republic, Oscar falls
39 immediately, and Ybn reciprocates with an interest in Oscar. From the beginning, mother and grandmother tell Oscar that Ybn is puta house culeando continu es to pursue Ybn until the fuk catches up with him. While taking Ybn home one night after a date, Oscar is stopped by the capitn and two of his goons. Although the capitn is not a member of the Trujillato, he certainly has continued that legacy of violence: Was very busy under Demon Bala guer. Shooting at sindicatos [labor Smashi In 1974 he held an old he died (she tried to organize some peasants for lan d rights in San Juan); in 1977 he played mazel tov on a fifteen year (another Communist troublemaker .) (294 295) Even with Trujillo dead, the legacy of dictatorship is very much alive in the Dominican Trujillo was one manifestation of hegemonic masculinity, the capitn is another. And anyone i s susceptible to the violence associated with that brand of hypermasculinity, even Dominicans who return from diaspora. Oscar constantly explains to the capitn that he did not do anything wrong and that he is an American citizen. But Oscar quickly finds out that his status as an American means nothing to the capitn. In a much larger wi llingness to turn a blind eye to the state sponsored violence that results.
40 who Oscar nicknames Grod and Grundy, take Oscar to the same cane fields where his mother was n early beaten to death years earlier. The result is the same. The men struck him with the butt of a pistol, and even when Oscar was about to go unconscious, mother, Osc ar is taken back t o one of the sources of the fuk The legacy of violence has come full circle as Oscar lays bloody in the cane field, the same place where Dominicans suffered great violence and injustice during slavery. Ironically, Oscar But all he sees is a lone, faceless man in a rocking chair the same faceless man Beli saw when she was beaten Trujillo. Once again, Oscar looks to America to lend some type of aid, bu t all he sees is Trujillo. His body is just as susceptible to pain and trauma in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States, be it via dictatorial violence or self inflicted overconsumption. Oscar clings to what little life he has left by liste ning to crushed seventh cranial nerve, three of his teeth snapped off at the gum, [and a] co will protect him. But six weeks later, Oscar returns to the Dominican Republic to pursue a relationship with Ybn. In his final trip to the Dominican Republic, Grod and Grundy
41 her abandoned Oscar as an infant. Riofrio argues that the within the context of diaspora, ng for affirmation of his masculinity from his family, the women he pursues and the few friends he does have. When Oscar does not receive that affirmation, he punishes his body. As members of diaspora, both Oscar and Beli have internalized the legacies o f violence associated with dictatorship and diaspora, been victims of it and re enacted that violence against their own bodies.
42 CHAPTER 4 WRITING AS HEALING Judith Herman posits that traumatic experiences "shatter the construction of self that is formed in relation to others" (51). Homi Bhabha comes to a similar conclusion in looking at trauma caused specifically by colonial and postcolonial conditions in his displacement where the private and the public become part of each other" that results the "traumatic ambivalences of a personal, psychic history to the wider disjunctions of politic al existence" (11). Thus, the lives of Beli, Oscar and the dew breaker become more than a series of unfortunate events; instead, they serve as testaments to the violence that dictatorships are rooted in, yet attempt to conceal. Even in the midst of silen ce, whether imposed or voluntary, these characters' bodies refuse to be silent about what they have suffered. Their bodies are constantly remembering and retelling the initial traumas of dictatorship and new wounds produced by diaspora. With such an empha sis on the suffering, violence and pain, both novels beg the question where and how can victims of dictatorial violence and its legacy find healing? Yunior reveals that there is one way to protect oneself from the fuk the zafa, or counter spell. Yunior e ntertains the question of whether or not his own writing is a zafa of sorts. I would argue that both The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Dew Breaker though the latter is not framed as such are zafas to the curse of univocal historiographies of th e Caribbean. The dictatorial historiography, Hanna explains, is "characterized by silences, denials and the violent repression of voices that might contradict the official narrative of heroic nationalism and the continuity of progress"
43 (504). That silenc ing manifested itself as literal writing through continuismo which power in a Latin American country by the process of a constitutional amendment or a provision in a new Calvo19) and through metaphorically writing potential opponents out of history with torture and viol ence. D az suggests why they so thoro ughly seek to control, negate and exterminate the narrative The Dew Breaker the preacher is tortured in efforts to force him to stop writing sermons that encourage the Haitians to rebel against the dictatorship. In The Brie f Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao arrested, tortured and killed for writing a book that exposed the supernatural origin of Trujillo and his regime. These are stories that would traditionally be left out of dictatorial historio graphies. But in recognizing and acknowledging the violence that Abela rd and the preacher suffered, D az and Danticat's narratives are "way[s] to exorcise its [violence] detrimental power" (Hanna 503) over both the characters in the novels and the Dominica n Republic and Haiti. Both novels speak to t he power of scriptotherapy, which is the process of recovering from a traumatic experience through writing Henke xii). Suzette Henke explains why life writing is an example of scriptotherapy and a valuable to ol in dealing with trauma: As a genre, life writing encourages the author/narrator to reassess the past and interpret the intertextual codes inscribed on the personal consciousness by society and culture. Because the author can instantiate the alienated o r marginal self into the pliable body of a protean text, the newly revised subject, emerging as the semifictive protagonist of an enabling counternarrative, is free to rebel against the values and practices of a dominant culture and to assume an empowered position of political agency in the world. (xvi).
44 Cabral de Leon would never be the center of a story on the Dominican experience. He would be a marginal character if he was included at all. Even D az admits that Oscar's "compassion, his outr interests, his dearth of traditional masculine marke rs these were the things that also guaranteed that no one would ever happily connect him to the nation he grew up o ut of. (Danticat 3). But in Yunior's retelling, Oscar is representative of the Dominican Republic and a hero, willing and courageous enough to confront the legacy of dictatorship, even if the result is tragedy. o nerd to a hero is strongly connected to his development as a writer. In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Daz uses the metaphor of pginas en blancos [blank pages] to illustrate the exclusion of resistant figures. But writing on these blank pages, gesture in which the placement of ink in the pages reveals that which the tyrannical power seeks Republic. He writes to his sister that the new book he is writing, and plans to mail later, must retrieve the family history tha t was ravaged and silenced by dictatorial violence. Only through speaking into that silence can Oscar potentially resist the persistence of his writing, Oscar att ains the courage to speak courageously in the cane fields, and,
45 Yunior is capable of finishing what Oscar started by telling the "whole story." Yunior and cultural climate that allowed this to happen to Oscar and his family. Similarly, Ka, the members" her parents by forcing them to confront their past in the novel. The dew breaker and his wife cannot simply concentrate on the present part of their lives in Brooklyn. To rectify the brokenness that trauma has caused them, the dew breaker and Anne must acknowledge their past in Haiti, no matter how painful. While there is no definitive narrator like Yunior throughout The Dew Breaker telling the fictional story of a former Tonton Macoute is therapeutic for D anticat. She reveals that "I grew up under a dictatorship. Maybe that's a bigger scar than even I realized w hen I was a child or even now. Maybe I was traumatized and that trauma is now surfacing in this way (Munro 85). Telling the dew breaker's st ory allows Danticat a space to speak to and against the violence she witnessed firsthand, an opportunity she may not have had otherwise. Both Danticat and D az use fictional life writing as what Henke calls a "protective space of itera tion to share an unutterable tale of pain and suffering, of transgression or victimization, in a discursive medium that can be addr essed to everyone or no one. (xix). Thus, the validity of the texts becomes secondary, and the texts' ability to resist traditional hegemonic power structures and give a voice to those who were and continue to be oppressed is most important. Danticat's and D az's use of non linear, fragmented structures to tell these narratives has been characterized as a suggestion of "the disrupted memory of the traumatized individual a deliberately disjointed juxtaposition of the traumatizing past
46 and the traumatized present" (Munro 91). However, I would argue that the disjointedness suggests a step toward healing. As Herman points out, "th e goal of recounting the trauma story is integration, not exorcism," and as such, reconstructing the trauma story only makes it "more present and more real" (181). These authors are recounting a traumatic story, a history rather, that integrates the exper iences of men and women, Haitians and Dominican s, victims and perpetrators. D az and Danticat "re member" the fragments of an untold history to create a new "body" of history. Much like the necklace that Isis 1 Lola's daughter, wears around her neck, mad e of three azabaches 2 one for Lola, Oscar and Beli and the sculpture that Ka 3 makes of fragmented wood, these texts are monuments made of fragments that memorialize what Lucia Suarez calls the tears of Hispaniola tears being symbolic of "depression, disil lusion e xasperation and powerlessness [and] the sociocultural, political mechanisms that tear apart individual lives, families, communities, and nations" (7). As monuments, these texts acknowledge lives of people like Oscar, Abelard, Beli and the pr eacher who are silenced by the violence of dictatorship and diaspora. Furthermore as monuments, they restore power and control to survivors by making their sufferings 1 Interestingly, Isis is the Egyptian earth goddess and the goddess of magic. She is believed to have taught mankind medicine and is portrayed on coffins with long wings to protect the deceased. In the context of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Isis could a source of healing for the Cabral de take all [they] have done and all the protector of the deceased, Isis prote cts her dead uncle and mother from being forgotten and thus silenced forever by memorializing them by wearing their azabaches. 2 Azabaches are black or red coral charms, usually in the shape of a fist, believed to protect the person 3 conscience. For the dew breaker, Ka i confront the past he has tried so long to conceal.
47 visible and tangible to others and members of the upcoming generation like Ka and Isis. These untraditional monuments and "bodies" of history are fragmented, non linear, and at times disjointed. But most importantly, they are resistant, resilient and refuse to be silenced. Danticat and D az memorialize traumatic bodies as markers of untold are dictatorship and diaspora.
48 LIST OF REFERENCES Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 2004. Print. Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Tra uma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. 26.1 (2011) Web. 19 Jan 2012 Danticat, Edwidge. The Dew Breaker New York: Vintage Books, 2005. D antica t, Edwidge. 2007. Junot D az. BOMB (Fall): 89 95. k: Riverhead Books, 2007. Print. Duboin, Corinne. "Trauma Narrative, Memorialization, and Mourning in Phyllis Alesia Perry's Stigmata." Southern Literary Journal 40.2 (2008): 284 304. Academic Sear ch Premier Web. 3 Mar. 2012. Forche, Carolyn. n of International Journal of Sexual and Gender Studies 7.1 (2002): 1 22. JSTOR Web. 1 Mar. 2012 Hanna, Monica. "Reassembling The Fragments": Battling Historiographies, Caribbean Discourse, And Nerd Genres In Junot Daz's The Bri ef Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao." Callaloo 33.2 (2010): 498 520. Academic S earch Premier. Web. 17 Feb. 2012. Henke, Suzette A. Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women's Life Writing. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Print. Herman, Judith L. Trauma and Recovery. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1992. Print. Hewitt, Heathe MELUS 31.3 (Fall 2006): 123 45. Calvo, Ignacio. God and Trujillo: Literary and Cultural Representations of the Dominican Dictator. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005. Print. Mahler, Anne Garland. "The Writer As Superhero: Fightin g The Colonial Curse In Junot D az's The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao." Journal Of Latin American Cultural Studies (13569325) 19.2 (2010): 119 140. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2012.
49 The Farming of Bo 98. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2012. Reddock, Rhoda. Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2004. Print. Riofrio, John. "Situating Latin American Masculinity: Immigration, Empathy And Emasculation In Junot Daz's Drown." Atenea 28.1 (2008): 23 36. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Jan. 2012. Robson, Kathryn. Writing Wounds: The Inscription of Trauma in Post 1968 French Women 's Life Writing. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004. Internet resource Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Print. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Print.
50 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Randi Gill Sadler holds a Masters of Arts in English from the University of Florida. Her resear ch interests include Caribbean literature, postcolon ial studies and trauma studies. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at the University of Florida.