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Alfredo Gonzalez

Andrea Malouf

ENGL-2600

27 March 2017

Critical Literary Analysis Essay on How to Date a Brown Girl (Black

Girl, White Girl or Halfie) by Junot Diaz through Cultural and Historical

Criticism

When first reading Junot Diaz How to Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl,

White Girl or Halfie) a reader will find a narrative thats amusing,

witty, satirical, and irreverent. Like all other literary works preceding it,

some consumers will praise it as brilliant while others condemn it for

being, in this case, sexist, distasteful, or flat out offensive. The short

story was published on Christmas day 1996; Diaz would later go on to

become a creative writing professor at MIT, would be awarded the

2008 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the 2012 National Book Critics Circle

Award, and be named the 2012 MacArthur Fellow. Given his many

accomplishments, it is highly unlikely that Diaz would have written a

short story that garnered such varied criticism, by accident. So what is

the hidden meaning behind How to Date a Brown Girl? The

significance of Diaz short story is found in the subtle details, not in the

facets of the plot. Upon closer inspection, through the lens of historical
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and cultural criticism, the reader will realize that Diaz work is riddled

with subtle hints and allusions to much more profound topics. How to

Date a Brown Girl is more than a sardonic short story about an inner

city teens romantic hopes; it is a complex social commentary about

immigration, identity, sex, race, and social class.

For those who are unfamiliar with this particular work of metafiction,

the story is told through a set of mental instructions made out by the

nameless narrator to himself. These instructions explore different

possible outcomes to his evening depending on the type (color) of girl

he invites over and include a detailed description of the behavior he

must adopt with each one if he is to romantically engage them, or as

the protagonist puts it, if they are to give it up. The story is written in

the second person and reveals a lot about the protagonist as the

different scenarios are played out; in the end however, it is unclear if

the nameless protagonist followed through with any of his day plans.

One thing worth pointing out is how much the reader learns about the

narrator and his story without ever learning his name. One reason the

author may have chosen to not give the narrator a name is that he

wanted him to be an average, a model, or a median of a larger

demographic. By leaving out the characters individual identity, the

story is able to speak to a wider audience. It is able to paint a picture


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of the life of an average, inner city, pubescent, immigrant teen with all

its quirks and frivolities.

The story opens with a simple three-sentence paragraph. The

narrators mother and brother are leaving their apartment to go visit

an aunt, the narrator claims he is ill and is excused from the visit (it is

immediately revealed that he is not actually sick and is faking), his

mother reproaches him with a single Spanish word, malcriado. In this

very short introductory paragraph, the author has already given the

reader a sizeable amount of information that can be deconstructed

through cultural analysis.

The first key elements to note are the words mother, brother, and

apartment (these words are used multiple times throughout the

story). Several times throughout the narrative, there is mention of

family, aunts (tias), cousins (primos), mother (moms), brother, but

hardly any mention of a father figure. The only time the protagonist

mentions his father is when he sips the Bermudez (Dominican Rum) in

the cabinet, which nobody ever touches; with the line Leave yourself

a reminder to get it out [the government cheese] before morning or

your moms will kick your ass it is clear that the father figure is largely

if not absolutely absent.Secondly, based on evidence throughout the

story such as the government cheese, the location of the apartment


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(the Terrace, where people get stabbed), and the fact that the narrator

only has one bathroom and one television set, it can be inferred that

he resides in a lower class neighborhood of New Jersey. It is also made

known in this paragraph that the narrator is of immigrant descent. His

mother speaking to him in Spanish is proof of this (about halfway

through the story the reader finds out the protagonist is Dominican).

Another two pieces of valuable information found in the first paragraph

are his awkward relationship to his extended family such as his aunt

who likes to squeeze [his] nuts; and secondly, Union City (to where

his mother and brother leave to). Union City is one of the most densely

populated cities in America; it is located in Hudson County, New Jersey

and has a population of 69,156 according to the United States Census

Bureau. 84.7% of the residents of Union City are Hispanic or Latino and

24.9% of all residents live beneath the national poverty line; the reader

can conclude, based on this information, that his aunt and extended

family share a similar lifestyle. All the information put together: The

protagonist is a young, colored, inner-city teen that feels a certain

disconnection from his family roots, and is at a point in his life where

innocence and sexual maturity meet.

As stated above, most of the memories and artifacts that are casually

brought up throughout the rest of the story serve to reinforce the two
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main cultural motifs that Diaz so simply, yet effectively, exposed in the

opening paragraph: the narrators socioeconomic reality and his ethnic

origins. To further elaborate on the former, the story begins and ends

with mention of Government cheese, which is provided to welfare

beneficiaries. Then there is a geographical juxtaposition between the

Terrace (remember people get stabbed there) and Society Hill, a

relatively more affluent suburb of New Jersey, he then mentions the

Out-of-Towners, girls who grew up dancing ballet, going to Girl

Scouts, and have three cars in their driveway; the implication being

they live in a house, not an apartment, and can afford to own cars

which in a place like New Jersey can be costly. Another example is the

crapped-on-toilet-paper which in higher-end bathrooms or newer

buildings would not be there at all due to better infrastructure and

plumbing which would allow it to be flushed.

The other primary motif, and arguably the more important and relevant

one deals with identity and ethnic origin. The narrator is a young

Dominican who has integrated into the normal American teenage life

to the best of his abilities. It is obvious however; that he sometimes

struggles with his identity (being Dominican) and feels like it is

something he is burdened with and at times has to hide from others.

This, perhaps unintentionally, reveals a great deal about the author;

Diaz, an American-Dominican writer, changes his rhetoric to a much


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more poetic approach in this whimsical story when writing about the

symbols that relate to the Dominican Republic. The audience first gets

a feel for this motif early on when the protagonist instructs himself to

hide the pictures of him with an Afro and the picture of the halfnaked

kids [his cousins] dragging a goat on a leash. It is implied that those

pictures are old and were taken on the island.

The most powerful, yet ever-subtle, references to this latter motif are

when the protagonist says before meeting a girls mother, Run a hand

through your hair like the whiteboys do even though the only thing

that runs easily through your hair is Africa, it is a poetic statement of

the narrators struggle with himself and the mixture of his race. This is

later reaffirmed in a beautifully symbolic line to the story, which reads:

Tell her that you love her hair, that you love her skin, her lips,

because, in truth, you love them more than you love your own.. Lastly

one of the most transcendental allusions in the story is regarding the

invasion of the Dominican Republic by the United States. The author

instructs himself to not tell a girl about the tear gas incident in his

neighborhood and how his mother recognized its smell from the year

the United States invaded your island. Not only is this a powerful and

overlooked statement in the story but also the use of the word your

(in reference to the narrator) is of absolute relevance to who he is.


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In conclusion Junot Diaz, How to Date a Brown Girl is much more

than a satirical work. Its a story that first appeals to anyone whos

ever struggled with identity and growing up. Its about being different

and about trying to make sense of ones condition. Upon closer

inspection the reader will realize that its an in depth commentary

about heritage and growing up as an American foreigner. It is, put

simply, a brilliantly layered work of art.

Sources and Link to the Full Story

http://www.junotdiaz.com/about/
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http://cmsw.mit.edu/people/faculty/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Date_a_Brown_Girl_(Black_G
irl,_White_Girl,_or_Halfie)
https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/LND110210/3474630
http://engl-boston-culture-
course.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/Diaz,HowTo.pdf