Many of the books we have read this semester have concerned the subject of death and discovering one’s own mortality. Even more, the characters we have all come to know in these books have asked questions rarely voiced out loud in the real world: “How am I going to die?” “Why does no one love me?” “Who will remember me when I am gone?”. Perhaps these questions might impertinently impose themselves on our sub-consciences on occasion, but they stop there, never reaching the level of public discourse.
Oscar Wao attempts to kill himself on p.191. In this simple, tragic act he forces the reader to finally vocalize what Jack and Babette Gladney could not accomplish through there ranting existential crises. Oscar forces the reader to face his or her own mortality because on some level we have all asked the questions that he asks himself. We may not all be nerds or have backgrounds from countries with such tumultuous social situations, but we have all felt the sting of rejection, the pangs of unrequited love (see Oskar Schell), and the sense that we are alone in a world spinning out of control. Oscar Wao is the embodiment of all the little pieces taken from each of us, the audience, he is our hopes, fears, and terror at life and death shaped into a person barely recognizable as ourselves.
But what really sets Oscar Wao apart from the menagerie of characters we have read this semester is his response to his close brush with death. Where the Father in The Road could only hope to pass on the fire to his son, to keep him alive in a world devoid of life, Oscar Wao instead seizes the far from the jaws of death. By chance he misses his seeming certain cessation and in his own words is “regenerated” with a purpose: to become the Dominican Tolkien. This is a step not taken in the other books we have read I think. Where most of the quests in The Road, Parable of the Sower, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, White Noise, and even Lucifer’s Hammer ended in uncertainty as to what the future held in store or ambiguity as to the purpose of quest in the first place, Oscar Wao takes his brush with death and all of our pieces and forges something new.
We are the choosers of the slain he seems to say, and we choose to live and create. This gives us the readers hope, because if he can find the good in all the pain of his existence then surely there must be hope for us as well. But at the last there remains the fuku, which as Oscar says was our parent’s shit but is our shit too. So we have overcome our own mortality or at least come to terms with it, but in the end there is no escaping who we are the consequences of our own existence.