Odds are you have seen some variation of Family Feud clips wherein the current host, Steve Harvey asks groups of people to determine the answers given by groups of 100 people polled on multiple topics. Many of these clips are hilarious in their own right but one in particular caught my eye, a group of men were tasked with figuring out the answers to what would guys do for sex. The answers are quite encompassing of particular gender roles though one stands out above the rest, the one that no one was able to guess: “I would die for sex”. The audience laughs, Steve Harvey can’t believe someone would even suggest it and then lo and behold it’s there.
That answer comes to mind whenever I ponder about the finale of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life. This novel which I love to hate has been part of my classes for some time though I remember being mesmerized by this text as a student. With every new reading I see how the younger version of me was so much like the protagonist and just how clueless I was to what actually mattered in life.
Oscar as a kid seems to be “normal” according to the Dominican standards set upon him by his family. However, as puberty set in you see how the long-awaited expectation of engaging with the ladies needed a plan of action. Oscar was good at planning, or rather he focused on the planning knowing full well that the execution would probably not pan out. In many ways, he played out the ill-conceived definition of insanity and hoped that this next random attractive female within his vicinity would react positively to his cringe inducing pick up lines. Interestingly enough, whatever minor depression ensues after each rejection is brushed off with the new hopes of another lady passing by. We do see Oscar going off the deep end when it comes to the lady friends he had kind of a chance with but never really took off.
With the closest thing he had to a high school sweetheart, Oscar confessed his love for a woman who already had a boyfriend (even if he was super abusive) and he was let down as gently as possible. Still, our protagonist went out of his way to face the bad guy because he saw it as a heroic duty. In Oscar’s world of fantasy, to defeat evil is to obtain love and by facing Manny he could do just that, though who know what would have happened had he actually appeared on that rainy night. Later in college, Oscar spent lots of time with La Jablese and thought there was a real chance at there being an actual relationship with her. Rather than going into Batman brooding vengeance, he goes full Hulk rage and starts flailing violently everywhere and getting him labeled as even more of a freak by the college community. This failure and stigma lead Oscar towards leaping, not just as a way to end the misery but as a way to showcase just how much he cared about her.
That’s the problem with Oscar and in large part with several aspects of toxic masculinity. Oscar’s infatuation with the ladies is one that leads to him pledging his allegiance to anyone who gives him the hope of a chance at a physical relationship existing. His loyalty is so unflinching that he considers it an honorable sacrifice for the sake of love. In other words, he would die for sex. The ending provides a silver lining in that it shows that Oscar learned that the little things about love were more important than the sex that Yunior and society keeps telling him that he needs to have. However, he didn’t have to die for Ybon to feel that with her or anyone else. Perhaps it is that same level of sacrifice that gets him so emotional towards the previous ladies of his desire. He was willing to die for them and that somehow wasn’t enough to get them interested. He never quite figured out that loyalty can be offered but it can be rejected as well. All the good intentions in the world don’t stop it from being creepy. Had Oscar lowered sex and love from the idealized pedestal he built on his own then maybe he could have changed his ways and lived the good life that Yunior and Lola were able to build as they each continued on their own path. Much like a soldier with the fatal combo of patriotism and a death wish, he died for an ideal he could have better served had he not been so gung ho about his “need” to love and be loved in return.