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Masculinism in Junot Díaz’s “Drown” Short Stories Essay

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Updated: Oct 25th, 2021

Introduction

In the collection of stories, Junot Diaz portrays African-American experience, focusing on how characters struggle to find their unique self and their cultural identity living in an unjust society, Díaz portrays the great human loss of identity and self. In this collection, masculinities help the author to create an atmosphere of struggle and fight, poverty and hardship faced by men in the Dominican Republic. Diaz does not use such popular devices as fantasy and poetic style but concentrates on with depicting the humiliation and everyday problems of inner-city life. The theme of masculinities involves description of poverty and hardship, youth struggling against the conditions of life for urban Africa-American youth.

Main body

In the collection, Diaz omits political intentions and struggle but concentrates on exploitation of immigrants and racism as themes of masculinity. His descriptions are passionate and impassive. The book depicts accusation against those forces in American society that condemned some ethnic minorities to alienation, discrimination, and disillusionment, it was also a book that assumed that these conditions could be altered through political action. In this book, there is little semblance of a community–in the sense of groups living lives of multileveled communication with each other. There are friends and neighbors who come across each other from time to time in these tales, but they merge and separate, like the proverbial ships that pass in the night, leaving little in their wake. Five of the stories in Drown share the same narrator, Ramón de las Casas, known as Yunior, a young boy whose narratives of a somewhat blighted Dominican childhood become the tales of a rather traumatized inner-city New Jersey adolescent. In the New Jersey-based stories, the narrators, all of whom may or may not be Yunior, share Yunior’s sensibility: the suspicious watchfulness and defensive stance, the blighted relationship with the father figure, and the uneasiness in relationships with women, which move from tenderness to violence. In this black comedy, Díaz depicts the life of a Dominican boy who never quite becomes the traditional macho male. In addition, instead of the tale of an immigrant family moving north, from the island to the mainland, it portrays an established Dominican family in the 1970s. “Fiesta, 1980” takes place in New Jersey. The family has been in the United States for three years. The story describes Yunior and his family visiting their tía and tío, the newly arrived members of the family, for a big party. Spanish is spoken by Yunior’s family, except when Rafa wants to tell Yunior something in secret. The story, although about a family party, is actually about the father, Ramón de las Casas, who is not only abusive toward his children, especially Yunior, but who also has a mistress and is in the process of leaving the family. Yunior tells about how he met his father’s mistress, “the Puerto Rican woman.” While his father is upstairs with the mistress, Yunior sits in the living room, “ashamed, expecting something big and fiery to crash down on our heads” (Drown 36). The reader discovers that the father takes the boys to the Puerto Rican woman’s house frequently: “The affair was like a hole in our living room floor, one we’d gotten so used to circumnavigating that we sometimes forgot it was there” (Drown 39–40). As in “Ysrael,” the story ends with Yunior’s insight and awareness of the family dynamic and struggle. This time Yunior’s awareness is that his family will not remain intact.

The element that sets Drown apart from other texts about immigrant life in the American inner city is a pointed and succinct, almost minimalist, style that is purged of any tendency to rhetorical flights of fancy, despite occasional lapses into questionable metaphors in describing the gritty landscape in which the various characters wait out their lives. On the whole, however, reviewers and readers agree that the collection’s true originality lies in having created “a non-literary vernacular, compounded of African American slang, loosened Spanish and standard American storytelling” for his “cool and grimy” portrayals of contemporary urban America. “Ysrael,” which takes place in the Dominican Republic, introduces the reader to Yunior and Rafa, aged nine and twelve, who spend their summers in the campo (country) while their mother works in a chocolate factory in the city. We learn that their father has been in New York for six years and that this arouses mixed feelings in the two boys. Although in the summer Yunior is close to his brother, back in the city, in Santo Domingo, they do not get along. In this other environment, Rafa behaves like a bully and a young macho. Yunior, on the other hand, is much more innocent, sensitive, and impressionable. The plot of the story unfolds around the brothers’ desire to unmask Ysrael, whose face was half-eaten by a pig when he was a baby. Ysrael’s face is the topic of town rumors, “He was something to talk about, a name that set the kids to screaming, worse than el Cuco [the boogeyman] or la Vieja Calusa” (Drown 7). In discussions of Díaz’s spare language and style in Drown, much attention has been given to the impact of the lack of quotation marks or italics to identify dialogue or his use of four-letter words as part of his appeal “as an authentic voice of his community.” There is in this merging of voices, in this lack of distinction between narration and dialogue in Díaz’s spare sentences, a brittleness that mirrors the bleakness and misery of the lives portrayed. Díaz claims to write “for the people he grew up with,” in the language of immigrant adolescents with no desire to learn from or about the world. All of the stories in Drown, with the exception of “No Face,” are narrated in the first person, which attests to their autobiographical nature. Drown, although not autobiography per se, is clearly an autobiographical book; the stories have their basis in Díaz’s own experiences growing up in the Dominican Republic and, after age seven, in a tough Latino neighborhood in Perth Amboy. Five of the stories in Drown share the same narrator Ramón de las Casas, known as Yunior, a young boy whose narratives of a somewhat blighted Dominican childhood become the tales of a rather traumatized inner-city New Jersey adolescent. In the New Jersey-based stories, the narrators, all of whom may or may not be Yunior, share Yunior’s sensibility: the suspicious watchfulness and defensive stance, the blighted relationship with the father figure, and the uneasiness in relationships with women, which move from tenderness to violence.

Conclusion

In sum, the theme of masculinity sets Drown apart from other texts about immigrant life in the American inner city is a pointed and succinct, almost minimalist, style that is purged of any tendency to rhetorical flights of fancy, despite occasional lapses into questionable metaphors in describing the gritty landscape in which the various characters wait out their lives. Drown centers on the hardships stemming from masculinities and poverty.

Works Cited

Diaz, D. Down. Riverhead Trade, 1997.

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IvyPanda. "Masculinism in Junot Díaz's "Drown" Short Stories." October 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/masculinism-in-junot-dazs-drown-short-stories/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Masculinism in Junot Díaz's "Drown" Short Stories." October 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/masculinism-in-junot-dazs-drown-short-stories/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Masculinism in Junot Díaz's "Drown" Short Stories'. 25 October.

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