Drown Summary

Junot Diaz


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Drown Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Drown by Junot Diaz.

Drown is a collection of short stories centered around the themes of immigration and the American Dream. More specifically, Diaz’s stories address the trials and tribulations of Dominican Republic immigrants as they attempt to find some semblance of the American Dream after immigrating to America. The stories are related, though each piece works as a separate, stand-alone piece. The stories are set in the context of 1980s America, and are narrated by an adult who is looking back at his childhood.

The narrative begins with Yunior, the narrator, and his brother, Rafa. The two boys are sent to live with their uncle for the summer so that their mother can work to support them at a chocolate factory, where she must work long stretches of time. It is revealed that their father has abandoned the family when Yunior was only four years old. Now, the family lives in poverty, even having to go without food at times so that the money can be spent on other things, such as clothing. At the time, Yunior is eight and Rafa is twelve.

When Yunior turns nine, his father, Ramon, suddenly returns to the Dominican Republic and brings the entire family to the United States, where he has been living this entire period of time. The family settles in New Jersey, where they still live in poverty. The poverty, however, is not like that of the Dominican Republic. Indeed, Yunior mentions how the family, though poor, has food and necessities, unlike in the Dominican Republic.

The stories are not told in chronological order, thus jumping around in time from past to present. At one point, Diaz’s stories then go back to when Yunior is in high school. While going to school, Yunior also works to help his mother pay the rent for their apartment. His mother is a housekeeper now, but even with her job, Yunior must help to make sure the bills are paid. Yunior eventually moves into his own place after high school, where he makes a living selling marijuana. He also has a girlfriend, Aurora, who has been in juvenile hall. Though the two dream of having a house with kids in the suburbs, their dreams are not to be realized.

The stories shift focus once again, turning to Ramon’s experience in trying to achieve the American Dream after arriving from the Dominican Republic. This story actually takes up a large part of the narrative, and the reader finds that when Ramon initially abandons his family, he arrives in the United States and, after working in Miami, heads to New York. In New York, he eventually marries a United States Citizen to gain citizenship himself. He lives with the woman and the two even have a child together. Ramon then leaves her, where the reader finds him arriving in the Dominican Republic to bring his family back to the United States. He hears from a friend that there is a new apartment complex in New Jersey looking for a supervisor, and offering free rent in addition to the paid job.

Diaz’s narrative shows the determination and endurance of Dominican Republic immigrants who are starting a new life and trying to obtain the often-allusive American Dream. As such, the narrative is symbolic of Dominican Republicans as a group, but also expands outward to include immigrants the world over. The story shows how perception can change depending on the view, and how the American Dream not only looks differently to different people, but how it affects people differently.

For Yunior, his father returns after having abandoned the family when he was four. Yunior and his family are brought to the Unites States, where he must now start life all over again. This shift in place helps to highlight how Yunior, as well as the rest of his family, is thrust into chasing after the American Dream. Additionally, though the poverty in the United States is quite different than the poverty Yunior experienced in the Dominican Republic, Yunior’s family is still poor, and even Yunior must work while in high school to help his mother pay bills and make ends meet.

Yunior’s situation shows how dreams are sometimes far bigger than reality, and is mired in the theme of coming-of-age as well. He eventually starts selling marijuana and gets his own place after high school. He also has an occasional girlfriend. Yunior, too, thinks of making something of himself. He and Aurora imagine having a house in the suburbs. This is shattered, though, and Yunior acknowledges that he not only does not know how to bring this dream about, but that he has failed Aurora as a man, especially when the narrative reveals that he has hit her. In the end, Yunior is no different than the other men who mistreat her.

His coming-of-age also addresses the issue of homosexuality, when Yunior refuses to see an old friend, Beto. Yunior used to engage in homosexual activities with the guy, but does not know how he feels about this period in his life, and so avoids the old friend. As such, he is not able to come to terms with this part of himself. Likewise, as he finishes high school, Yunior comes to understand that the boys in his neighborhood are being exploited by the army recruiter, who is looking for people with little to no talent. Yunior also avoids the army officer. As such, Yunior does not want to get involved with the part of his life where he and Beto stole things and acted out, and he does not want to be exploited and acknowledge failure by giving in to the army recruiter.

Failed dreams are also expertly highlighted with Ramon’s dream of starting fresh in New Jersey. He also receives offers of assistance from friends, including a friend who is willing to give him a hot dog cart. Ramon refuses, thus highlighting that he wants more for his family than the hot dog cart business. Though he wants more, and though his friend actually makes good money with the hot dog cart, Ramon’s dreams are never realized.