"I'm not a bad guy": Junot Díaz and the Intimate Legacies of Authoritarianism
AuthorMcHugh-Dillon, Ruth Mahalia
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2019 Ruth Mahalia McHugh-Dillon
This thesis analyses how Junot Diaz’s fiction “takes on” the legacies of the Dominican Republic’s Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961). Analysing Diaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) alongside his short story collections, Drown (1996) and This is How You Lose Her (2012), this thesis argues that Trujillo’s patriarchal legacy pervades even the stories about Diaz’s recurring narrator, Yunior de las Casas, that do not overtly reference the dictatorship. The study aims to demonstrate how Trujillo’s hypersexual, heterosexual script of totalitarian masculinity lives on in ordinary Dominican lives, particularly in intimate relationships; how individuals relate to one another and to themselves. My research proposes that the entanglement of authority, authorship, and authoritarianism in fact implicates not only Diaz’s recurring narrator Yunior, but Diaz himself. I analyse Diaz’s authorial persona to argue that his paratextual participation in the MeToo movement—as both survivor of assault and powerful man accused of harassment and misconduct—further problematises cultural and political dynamics that position one man as the voice of dominicanidad. First, this thesis analyses the period of Trujillo’s dictatorship (the Trujillato, 1930-1961), outlining the union of cultural and political power under the regime that promoted a hegemonic notion of dominicanidad and established Trujillo as its master symbol. I interrogate Diaz’s self-declared “contrahistoria” against Mario Vargas Llosa’s dictator novel about Trujillo, The Feast of the Goat (2000), outlining Diaz’s view that The Feast is seduced by the dictator’s myth of personal—and sexual—power. Instead, Diaz proposes a vision of systemic power in Oscar Wao, represented in a supernatural curse, the Fuku americanus which precedes and postdates Trujillo in haunting the DR. “Trujillo” thus lives on as a disembodied, violent script of identity in the voice of Yunior, often celebrated for its subversive language games but in this thesis analysed for the violence and silence that scar the text. What is absent or unspoken in Diaz’s narratives, I propose, dominates and dictates the text: the patriarchal legacies of Trujillo; Yunior’s absent, womanising father and brother; his inability to voice queer desire or speak out against abuse. Yunior’s obsession over typical Dominican manhood and his own behaviour causes an abyss within; he anxiously borders dominicanidad in his personal life according to the sexist, homophobic, and racialised script laid down by Trujillo. In exploring the damage this script wreaks in ordinary Dominicans’ intimate lives, Diaz uses metatextual strategies such as second-person narration to draw the reader into an uneasy dynamic of complicity with hypermasculine misbehaviour. Yunior’s confessional narratives also serve an ambivalent role by simultaneously exposing and maintaining authorial control. Diaz’s use of similar techniques in his paratextual persona—analysing, interpreting, and adding to his texts in interviews and public appearances—makes him the focus of similar scrutiny in this thesis. I analyse Diaz’s autobiographical contribution to the MeToo movement, the essay “The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma,” as well as its reception and subsequent allegations made against him. The singular position Diaz has maintained as voice of US domininicanidad has been exposed, I argue, through the critiques about the union of cultural and political power—and the role of “great men”—stimulated not only by his fiction but through still-unfolding interrogations of his authorial authority.
KeywordsJunot Díaz; Trujillo; authoritarianism; masculinity; MeToo
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