The Journal for Scholars, Students, Community Leaders and Sustainable Developers

Volume 17 No. 1 Fall 2016
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The End as the Beginning with Isis

 

Monica Hanna argues that The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao “echoes Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967) [One Hundred Years of Solitude], [as the] successive generations, each ignorant of the history of its ancestors, seem doomed to re-live the violence and evil wrought by the family’s curse” (500). While I agree that Oscar Wao does present history as a cyclical and, in its darkest of moments, a haunting that claims family member after family member, Oscar Wao’s project of remembrance ends with an optimism unmatched in Márquez’s Cien años. Aureliano Babilonia deciphers Melquiades’ parchments and with it the Buendía family prophecy “El primero de la estirpe está amarrado en un árbol y al último se lo éstan comiendo las hormigas” (349);18 the longer excerpt quoted

below narrates how he dies in the great winds while reading his prophetic ending. Knowledge is thus eradicated with the possessor, and what he learns is the darkness of his own soul and ancestry. Márquez’s immortal words as he

narrates not only Aureliano Babilonia’s very mortality, but also the Buendía’s doomed eradication from memory and history, are as follows:

 

Sin embargo, antes de llegar al verso final ya había comprendido que no saldría jamás de ese cuarto, pues estaba previsto que la ciudad de los espejos (o los espejismos) sería arrasada por el viento y desterrada de la memoria de los hombres en el instante en que Aureliano Babilonia acabara de decifrar los pergaminos, y que todo lo escrito en ellos era irrepetible desde siempre y para

 

 

18 The translation is as follows: “The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is eaten by ants” (446).

 

 

 

siempre, porque las estirpes condenados a cien años de soledad no tenían una segunda oportunidad sobre la tierra. (351)19

,

The final lines “no tenían una segunda oportunidad sobre la tierra” ([the condemned] did not have a second opportunity on earth) are inverted in Oscar Wao as Isis is the embodiment of a second chance. Oscar Wao ends with Yunior imagining that Lola’s daughter, Isis, would one day visit him and gain the knowledge to relieve them all.20 It is Yunior’s hope that “she’ll take all we’ve done and all we’ve learned and add her own insights and she’ll put an end to it” (331). While Yunior also fears that 1) she will not visit him and read her uncle’s works, and 2) that the “elder magic” that guards her, the “three azabaches: the one that

 

19 The translation is as follows: “Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth” (448).

20 While I do not focus on the popular cultural elements nor the science fiction references, it is productive to consider Isis as a cultural figure evoked prior to even being a protagonist in the text. When Oscar is seven-years-old he boasts a brief love triangle with Maritza Chacón and Olga Polanco. However, once Yunior is recounting the tragic end he mentions how beautiful Maritza became stating that “before you could say Oh Mighty Isis, Maritza blew up into the flyest guapa in Paterson” (17). “Oh Might Isis” was Andrea Thomas’ catch phrase in the series, The Secrets of Isis (1977). Thomas was a high school teacher turned superhero when she put on her ancient Egyptian amulet. According to Varla Ventura each episode began with the statement, “With this amulet, you shall have powers over the forces of nature and the animals. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles, and command the elements of the earth. To summon the powers you must say aloud the words, ‘OH MIGHTY ISIS’” (318).

 

 

 

Oscar wore as a baby, the one that Lola wore as a baby, and the one that Beli was given by La Inca upon reaching Sanctuary” hung on her neck will one day not be strong enough to protect her from dreaming of the “No Face Man” (329). However, what Yunior as narrator cannot seem to fathom is Isis’ ontological relationship with knowledge.

According to Barbara S. Lesko, Egyptian goddess, Isis “was the most humane of deities…she was also known for her sympathetic magic. She could cure as well as protect, and the major medical papyrus of the New Kingdom, dating from the very beginning of the glorious Eighteenth Dynasty, if not earlier, hails Isis as the divinity of cures” (Lesko 170). One of her enduring myths is that, in order to garner power over her father, Re, Isis molds a snake from mud which then bites Re.21 In dire pain, Re begs his daughter to use her magic and cure him; Isis tells her father than she would cure him if he divulges his secret name, for in his secret name lies ultimate knowledge. At first he refuses, but acquiesces and Isis cures him: “Thus Isis truly became Great of Magic or as some texts call her, The Greatest, for in gaining knowledge of Re’s real name she knew everything” (Lesko 177). Isis’ myth is most pertinent to contextualizing the act of gaining knowledge through naming as a positive and hopeful notion. In a novel where names tend to further obscure a person’s identity from their actions, Isis is cast as an inverse protagonist. With her name and its Egyptian mythological connotations of magical greatness, Isis is specifically named but her actions to correct the effects of the family’s tragedies are not divulged. This is the first instance where the “páginas en blanco” the novel is littered with should be considered a hopeful and temporary absence (119; 149).

 

 

21 Although unrelated, an interesting point is that she wields a snake to carry out her deception which is the very animal that is fashioned as the mongoose’s natural enemy.

 

 

 

Our most humble Watcher may not be able to relay Isis’ role in the family history, but his imaginings of her countering the family’s fukú with her own zafa is beyond the scope of the novel itself, which is Yunior’s attempt at his own zafa (7). At most, she is positioned as the one to establish a sustainable connection among the marvellous elements of terror and grace, to debrief the de León clan of their misery, and to dispatch the grief they have endured by connecting past, present, and future actions. She would break the cyclicality of political occurrences that keep repeating through the absence of connectivity. In the least, her name connotes a person who will not be crippled by inactivity when confronted with knowledge of the past. She can one day, as Yunior fears, “have a dream of the No Face Man” and hopefully name him and the abuses he witnesses, therefore defeating the unequal powers that be, while taking credit for her role in history (329). While Isis is the family’s hope, Yunior’s project exorcises his conscience while simultaneously creating a new Latino archive of cultural memory.

 

Works Cited

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Amherst: Cambria P, 2011. Print.

 

 

 

Blackburn, Stuart. “The Brahmin and the Mongoose: The Narrative Context of a Well-Travelled Tale” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. U of London. 59. 3 (1996): 494-507. Web.

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Caminero-Santangelo, Marta. On Latinidad: U.S. Latino Literature and the Construction of Ethnicity.

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Carpentier, Alejo. “On the Marvelous Real in America (1949).” Magical Realism: Theory, History, and Community. Ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy

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---. “Ysrael.” Drown. New York: Riverhead, 1996. 3-20.

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Garcia-Marquez, Gabriel. Cien años de soledad. 1967.

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---. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. Print.

 

Hanna, Monica. “Reassembling the Fragments”: Battling Historiographies, Caribbean Discourse,

and Nerd Genres in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Callaloo 33. 2 (April 2010): 498-520. Print.

 

Lesko, Barbara S. The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1999. Print.

 

 

 

Machado-Saez, Elena. “Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as Foundational Romance.”

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555. Print.

 

Mackenzie, Donald A. Myths of Pre-Columbian American. London: The Gresham Publishing Company LTD, 1924. Print.

 

Morales, Ed. Living in Spanglish: The Search for Latino Identity in America. New York: St.Martin’s, 2002. Print.

 

Moss, Corey. “Shakira Calls for Peace, Explains Mongoose Mystery: Colombian Pop Singer’s Current Tour Includes Anti-War Message.” MTV.com. n.p. 5 Feb. 2003. Web. 1 May 2013

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Perez, Richard. Racial Spills and Disfigured Faces in Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets and Junot Díaz’s ‘Ysrael.’” Contemporary U.S. Latino/a Literary Criticism. Ed. Lyn Di Iorio Sandín and Richard Perez. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 93-114. Print.

 

Pérez-Firmat, Gustavo. Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio. Miami: Ediciones Nacional, 2000. Print.

 

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“Wildlife Damage Management.” USDA Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center. Colorado State U. 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 May 2013.

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Ventura, Varla. Sheroes: Bold, Brash (And Absolutely Unabashed) Women Superheroes: From Susan B. Anthony to Xena. Berkeley: Conari, 1998. Print.

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