Drown: A Consideration

Keli Henderson

In Drown, a collection of short stories, author Junot Diaz presents readers with an impoverished group of characters through harsh, but vivid language. Through the voice of Yunior, the narrator throughout the majority of the stories, Diaz places the blame for Yunior?s negativity and rebellious nature on the disappointment caused by his father and the childhood illusion of America. Diaz, through language and symbolism, forces readers into an emotional bond with Yunior while exposing the illusory nature of the American dream. Although intertwined with each story, ?Fiesta, 1980? allows for a more concise discussion of Diaz?s purpose.

Diaz?s language, even at first glance, appears very different from conventional authors:

Mami?s younger sister- my tia Yrma-finally made it to the United States that year. She and Tio Miguel got themselves an apartment in the Bronx?He didn?t say nothing to nobody. (Drown, 23)

Two aspects, his Spanish interjections into the text and his tendency to disregard English rules of grammar, surface in the opening of ?Fiesta, 1980.? Yunior?s narratives contain Spanish words an average of about every other sentence. Diaz uses them to keep readers aware of Yunior?s culture and homeland, attempting to stop the ?stifling? effect America often has on immigrants? cultures. Also, Yunior?s rejection of the norms of English writing, evident in the phrases ?got themselves? and ?nothing to nobody? in the above quote, gives his narratives a certain rebellious quality. Not only does he rebel against America?s tendency to smother cultural values but rebelling against American rules in general, even the rules of grammar. Diaz continues his grammatical attack on the United States? rules with his lack of quotation marks:
Papi pulled me to my feet by my ear.
If you throw up-
I wont I cried, tears in my eyes?
Ya, Ramon, ya. It?s not his fault, Mami said.

All of the conversations are printed in the manner above, without any quotation marks and sometimes even a new paragraph to indicate another speaker. Diaz successfully attacks the United States in Yunior?s defense, but through language style rather than blatant statements.

Yunior?s narration, besides being a political one, also appears very negative, but also extremely personal. His voice is conversational, which has a powerful effect:
?trooped back into the living room with their plates a-heaping and all the adults ducked back into the living room, where the radio was playing loud-ass bachatas. (Drown, 37)

In the above quote Yunior invents the words a-heaping and loud-ass, but the reader understands what he means. Yunior?s casual wording, essential to the tone, creates the illusion that the reader knows him personally and thus demands an emotional response to his suffering. His negativity, undoubtedly stemming from a combination of his father?s abuse and the false hopes of America, adds to the story?s sense of intimacy:

A third-world childhood could give you that?he found me sitting on the couch feeling like hell?I wasn?t that sort of son. (Drown, 25, 29)

Yunior?s frequent references to his difficult childhood and his current discomforts, ?third world?, ?like hell?, ?that sort of son? in the above excerpts; never allow the reader a moment?s relief from what he experiences. Diaz, having established a ?close relationship? between reader and narrator, expects the reader to experience all of this simultaneously with Yunior. The reader suffers a let down in discovering Yunior?s unhappiness. Diaz creates the effect with language to contrast the reader?s disappointment with Yunior?s.

Once again regarding Diaz?s language style, vulgarity and blatant phrases as well as cultural references add to the power of the story:
He was looking at her like she was the last piece of chicken on earth. (Drown, 36)

The word choice often takes the reader by surprise, as it most likely did in the above quote. However blunt, Diaz creates a vivid picture. The wording, strong and punchy, reflects the difficult situation in which the family must live. Vulgarity has the same effect:
It?s the only pussy you?ll ever get, Rafa said to me in English. (Drown, 31)

The word ?pussy?, especially out of the mouth of a young boy, shocks readers with its bluntness. Besides conveying the family?s style of speech, it paints a clear picture of Yunior's lifestyle, even at an age as young as nine. Diaz does inject occasional imagery that contrasts with the nearly constant blatant vulgarity. In the following quote Mami feels less ambitious to have a good time after Papi comes home from work, ready to fight: