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Invoking Joyce, Avoiding Imitation: Junot Díaz’s Portrait of Nerds in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Joori Joyce Lee


There are several hints in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) that Junot Díaz has been more influenced by the Irish modernist James Joyce than he declares. As a modernist, Joyce emphasized the importance of detachment and disobedience in imagining the ethos of a modern artist. For Joyce, it is significant for an artist to innovate his own language not only because it invites new aesthetic styles but it engenders political resistance to a dominant culture. Joyce’s 1916 novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man provides an exposition of how an aesthetic pursuit coincides with a political rebellion against British imperialism. This study argues that Joyce remains a formidable precursor for Díaz due to the above reasons. Reading Díaz’s 2007 novel alongside Joyce’s 1916 fiction, this study offers textual sites which imply the precursor’s influence on Díaz. In doing so, I seek to demonstrate that Díaz values and inherits literary expectations of Joyce while he modifies certain modes of the precursor. Focusing on the link between Díaz and Joyce can expand our awareness of Díaz, placing a new emphasis on Díaz’s drive for creativity to be acquired through receiving and challenging the precursor.


Junot Díaz, James Joyce, nerd, creation, imitation

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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