Stagnation and Routine in Junot Diaz’s “Drown”

Throughout this portion from Junot Diaz’s Drown, there is a pervading sense of stagnation. The characters within the story seem to be unmoving. Though the narrator “tries to explain, all wise-like, that everything changes” (1668) to his mother, the reality of the situation is that for him, nothing really actually does change. The narrator’s life is very much stagnant and routine in the way he describes his life and activities. For example, he states, “In the mornings I run” (1670). The way he describes the things he does are described as if he does them routinely, with frequency, every day. Additionally, in his life, nothing has really changed since his teenage years. The main illustration of this being in the way that he still frequents the pool where he used to hang out with Beto and his other rowdy friends. The narrator himself even comments on how “little has changed, not the stink of the chlorine, not the bottles exploding against the lifeguard station” (1667).

Yet, it seems that this sense of stagnation and all-consuming routine to come was foreshadowed in the narrator’s high school teacher’s statement that, “A few of you are going to make it. Those are the orbiters. But the majority of you are just going to burn out. Going nowhere…” (1672-1673). This statement obviously deeply affected the narrator as he “could already see [him]self losing altitude, fading, the earth spread out beneath [him], hard and bright” (1673). He felt he could already see his bleak, going-nowhere-fast future in this teacher’s statement. He would, he was certain, not be an orbiter.

Perhaps, then, in order to deal with this crushing sense that he has already “burnt out”, and that his dreams – whether they be that he could potentially leave this place and make something out of himself or even that he could find and make amends with Beto – are unattainable, the narrator attempts to get lost in routine. For example, though “with the air conditioner on” his mother and him “never open the windows” in the first place, when his mother asks him to make sure the windows are locked, he “goes through the routine anyway” (1668), just for the pure purpose of the mundane-ness of it. This attempt to get lost in routine is echoed further by the narrator’s mother who, when she falls asleep while watching the television, gets lost in dreams of her old life with her husband “strolling under the jacarandas” in her home of Boca Raton (1673). Yet, once she wakes up from the dream to return to her reality, she feels that she must gain a sense of purpose and control again in the routine, and so she demands the narrator, “you better check those windows” (1673).

The story serves the purpose of depicting how easy it is to fall into a routine in order to escape from the possibility of unattainable, seemingly ridiculous dreams, or in order to escape from a very real sense that one is destined to burn out and fail. This idea is perfectly summed up when the narrator thinks about stopping by Beto’s apartment but then simply doesn’t, stating, “I can go back to my dinner and two years will become three” (1667). This means to point to the absolute easiness with which one can completely undo any attempts to change the path they are currently on, and thus continue on that same path, keeping everything just the same.

One thought on “Stagnation and Routine in Junot Diaz’s “Drown””

  1. I definitely agree with you that the concept of stagnation plays a huge role in the story. I think that both the mother and the narrator use their routines as a way to retreat from the bleak outcomes of the reality of their situation as immigrants. As mentioned in class, both character’s actions are depicted silently: the mother can “pour café without a splash” (1668) and the narrator swims in the pool, too without “making a splash” (1667). To me, this lack of noticeable motion in water conjures up images of a drowned body, floating still on the surface. It’s true that their mutual desire to blend in to their surroundings through routine behaviors is in fact responsible for the less appealing aspects of their societal situation.

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