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Society’s Expectations In Both The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao And The Namesake - With A Free Essay Review
Society’s Expectations And Their Effect On How People View Themselves
Expectations others put on us, whether we like it or not, have a huge influence on our everyday life and who we grow to be as a person. The main characters in both The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Namesake have trouble dealing with the expectations society puts on them. Oscar Wao, a man raised in the Dominican Republic is expected to be good with the females and or good at sports. His failure to do so leads him into a lifetime of depression and isolation. Oscar lives with knowledge that he is different than most other Dominican men and is forced into difficult situations along the way. Gogol Ganguli is an Indian American man who is raised with the Indian culture his parents know so well while at the same trying to live an American lifestyle. Rather than trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations like Oscar, Gogol tries to stray away from his Indian culture and assimilate himself to the American world around him. His conflicts over fitting in are more cultural while his inner conflict has a great deal to do with the name given to him and is negative views on it. Both these men live their lives with trouble accepting who they are compared to who society thinks they should be. Although both Oscar and Gogol have trouble accepting their cultural values, Oscar tries to embrace his culture while Gogol tries to deny his because they both want to fit into their communities.
Most of Oscar’s feelings about himself come from his inability to embody the role of a masculine Dominican Man both mentally and physically. He is not able to find a woman who will love him back the same as he loves her. His relationships have affected him enormously and probably the most influential happened when he was only seven years old. After being cheated on by his girlfriend he went into a depression, which made him eat and eventually become fat. This affected his relationships with not only the girls, but with his friends also. He begins to stray away from everything that society depicts a Dominican man to be. Gogol on the other hand has trouble with deciding whether to resort to his Indian or Indian American identity when dealing with women. We see it early on when Gogol is self-conscious about his name and is constantly thinking about what others are thinking about it. Much of his insecurities come from his name, which lead to his attempts at being an American rather than an Indian American. We see how Gogol clings to his American culture when Ashoke walks in to him listening to his new Beatles album. Ashoke had given him albums before, which he had never listened to and he realizes that Gogol is trying to keep up with the American culture more than his own Indian culture. Both Gogol and Oscar strive to fit into their societies and try to forge relationships while at the same time dealing with the question of what their true identity is in their society.
Oscar’s family life is not a normal one even for a Dominican family. His mother Beli’s rough upbringing molded her into a very strong woman who shows love in a very different way. His mother’s harsh parenting style leads to his insecurity because he doesn’t receive the nurturing care that may have helped him early on. Oscar’s sister Lola is very caring toward him and tries to help out whenever she can. Oscar wants to live the life of a stereotypical Dominican man, but at the same time he is not willing to give up his science fiction books and videogames, which sometimes hold him back. One-day Oscar’s friend Yunior tells him that Dominican men are known for their sexual prowess hoping to encourage him. Instead, Oscar takes the wrong way and develops a fear of dying a virgin. This only makes him desperate and gives him a harder time with women. Gogol’s family affects him in a different way. His parents constantly remind him of how they expect him to marry an Indian woman and have a traditional Bengali wedding. With so much emphasis on tradition Gogol is led to the opposite of that. He is attracted to stereotypical American women and tries to hide parts of himself to seem more presentable to their taste. The fear of showing himself for who he is entirely, shows how he nervous that showing his Indian culture will lead to him being an outcast. His struggle to fit in with his friends, classmates, and women leads to him feeling embarrassed and confused about his true Indian heritage. Oscar has a more difficult family life, which leaves him to fend for himself at times while Gogol has a family that can be over caring at times, which leads him to slight rebellion. Both of their families add to the chaos of attempting to discover themselves in a society where they are unique to the people around them.
These two stories, yet so different, are very common in the way that the main characters are affected by the expectations put upon them by society, family, and friends. Both Oscar and Gogol have trouble identifying what will really make them happy. Oscar searches for the answer in his quest for courtship. His fear of dying a virgin puts fear into his heart and only adds to his awkwardness. Gogol too searches for what will make him happy in the women he chooses and the people he surrounds himself with. They both live in fear of being who they are comfortable being. For Oscar he is comfortable with being a “geek,” and doesn’t feel pressure to change until he sees what he is missing out on. Gogol is more comfortable being whatever people want from him. At times he adjusts himself to the people he is surrounded by to fit in. These two characters find themselves trying to become something they are not. The pressure to fit in and to be like everyone else puts a great deal of pressure on their backs and ends up adding to their stress. For Oscar and Gogol trying to assimilate into a group of people that they’re not completely comfortable with is very difficult. These two characters are the same in the way that neither of them are capable of completely accepting their piece in society until they have already suffered the consequences of a difficult time growing up and for Oscar a difficult life.
This essay is a pretty good comparative character analysis, although it would be a lot stronger, I think, if it were rooted in critical analysis of quoted passages from the texts. (Note that I don't say it would be stronger if it just included quotations; it would be stronger if it included analysis of quotations). The essay remains tightly focused on the task of describing how Gogol and Oscar respond to the expectations of those around them, and it does quite a good job of demonstrating the similarities and differences in their relative responses.
What the essay doesn't do so well is make me care! That's not as bad a thing as it sounds, because it's hard to make me care, especially in an essay devoted largely to synopsis and description. Your essay doesn't have an argument; it just tells me what goes on in two thematically similar stories. It does that in a good, focused way (insofar as, for the most part, you tell me only what is related to the theme of living with expectations) but the study seems like an artificial exercise in character description, rather than an argument-driven, interpretive analysis. And obviously I would get more excited about the latter. I guess the question you need to ask, then, is what, if anything, does one actually learn from this comparison? Are you comparing Oscar and Gogol for the sake of it, or because doing so sheds some particular light on a particular topic. In your case, of course, the first topic you are interested in is dealing with expectations. So is there a way to generalize from the two specific cases of Oscar and Gogol to arrive at an insight into that topic that a reader, uninterested in the particular fates of Oscar and Gogol, would still care to know? I cannot give you any guidance in that respect because I don't know these stories, but you seem in the last few sentences of your essay to be getting close to the kind of thing I'm talking about. For instance, a "generalized" version of your last sentnece, might be something like this: "The stories teach us that finding one's place [I take it you meant "place"] in society involves sacrificing a part of oneself, the part that must be rejected because it does not conform to expectations of the group. We therefore get what we want only by becoming something other than what we are. Belonging to others can mean losing oneself" That's very rough, and presumably inaccurate, though i've tried to keep it reasonably close to the spirit of your remarks. Now imagine an essay that starts with the purpose of showing both that and how the stories teach us this lesson about the risks of assimilation. Imagine that every decision made in the process of writing such an essay is determined by the desire to accomplish that purpose. What do you end up with? Obviously, a purpose-driven essay; i.e., an essay with a point.
Best wishes, EJ.