A Freudian Analysis of Monstro by Junot Díaz: Trauma and the Psyche

Michael Shay

“Monstro”, a short story by Junot Díaz, delves into the complexities of human nature and the consequences of trauma on the psyche in the midst of a zombie-like pandemic. Being a character driven story in the midst of this setting, “Monstro” provides an ideal opportunity for an in-depth analysis through the Freudian psychological lens. This analysis will focus on various aspects of Freudian theory, including intellectualization, parental relationships, sexuality, and repression, to reveal the layers of meaning within the story. Additionally, it is crucial to consider Díaz’s personal experiences, particularly his childhood trauma and accusations of sexual assault, as these aspects may have influenced the story and provide valuable context for understanding the characters. By employing a Freudian approach and considering the author’s personal experiences, this analysis will offer a comprehensive and nuanced analysis of “Monstro” and the psychological depths of its narrative.

“Monstro” is a story set on the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, focused on the experiences of a young group of friends amidst the devastating impacts of a mysterious disease plaguing the region. The narrative weaves between telling the story of these young people and the story of the world and its reaction to this pandemic. The main character and narrator of the story goes unnamed. He is in the Dominican Republic because his mother has become sick with a parasitic disease, different to the one causing the pandemic. He does not come from a wealthy background, and is only there because his family could not afford medical treatment in the United States. The story also focuses on Alex, a very wealthy friend, and Mysty, a friend of Alex, who becomes the narrator’s love interest. The three friends attempt to live a normal life amidst this pandemic setting, which could be viewed as a byproduct of intellectualization.

Intellectualization, a Freudian defense mechanism, is a process through which individuals distance themselves from their emotions by focusing on abstract thoughts, generalizations, or logic. This psychological tactic is evident early on in “Monstro”, particularly in the narrator’s relationship with his sick mother. The narrator admits, “…if you want the truth, I didn’t feel comfortable hanging around the house with Mom all sick” (Díaz, 2012). He justifies his feelings by explaining that his mother has a nurse, and a woman who cooks and cleans, so there is nothing he can do. He also exhibits some self-awareness of his intellectualization, stating, “Maybe I’m just saying this to cover my failings as a son” (Díaz, 2012). Intellectualizing behaviors can be seen in all the main characters in this story. The three friends respond to the traumatic scenario by withdrawing to Alex’s luxury apartment, where they simply hang out and smoke weed all day. This tendency to intellectualize their emotions serves as a precursor to the examination of deeper psychological themes, such as the role of parental relationships and the Oedipus complex, which further illuminate the intricacies of the characters’ emotional landscapes in “Monstro”.

The Oedipus complex is a psychological concept first introduced by Sigmund Freud. On a basic level, it refers to a child’s unconscious desire for their parent of the opposite sex, as well as the desire to replace the same-sex parent as a rival. In “Monstro”, a Freudian interpretation of the narrator’s actions, particularly his decision to leave his sick mother and pursue Mysty, could be viewed as representative of the Oedipus complex. The narrator is infatuated with Mysty, stating, “In those days she was my Wonder Woman, my Queen of Jaragua…” (Díaz, 2012). Freud might argue that this infatuation symbolizes the narrator’s unresolved Oedipal complex, as he projects his desire for his mother onto Mysty, especially in light of his mother’s illness.

Towards the end of the story, the narrator shares a passionate moment with Mysty, in which she stops abruptly. In response the narrator almost says, “…I forgot to bring your dad with me” (Díaz, 2012), a reference to Alex’s earlier comment that Mysty was raped by her father until she was twelve. This thoughtless remark not only highlights the narrator’s insensitivity but also exhibits a manifestation of the Oedipus complex. The narrator’s envy of Mysty’s father could be interpreted as a projection of his envy towards his own father’s relationship with his mother, symbolically represented by Mysty. This leads into a deeper analysis of the themes of sex and trauma within “Monstro”, and how some of these themes could be a representation of Junot Díaz’s own experience.

In April of 2018, Díaz published an essay in The New Yorker titled, “The Silence: Legacy of Childhood Trauma”, in which he shares his experiences of childhood sexual abuse and its impact on his life and writing. In it he writes, “That violación. Not enough pages in the world to describe what it did to me. The whole planet could be my inkstand and it still wouldn’t be enough” (Díaz, 2018). Díaz’s willingness to confront his own traumatic past in “The Silence” offers an additional layer of understanding when analyzing the characters in Monstro. For instance, Mysty’s history of sexual abuse by her father and the guarded nature of her character could be seen as a reflection of Díaz’s own struggles with trauma and its long-lasting effects. Mysty’s abrupt end to the kiss parallels Díaz’s inability to be intimate when he was younger, “We never had sex. Not once. I couldn’t. Every time we would get close to fucking the intrusions would cut right through me…” (Díaz, 2018). Díaz’s personal insights into the complexities of relationships in the face of trauma contribute to the emotional depth and psychological realism of the characters in Monstro.

Colleen Flaherty’s article, “Junot Díaz, Feminism and Ethnicity,” presents critical insights that enrich our analysis, adding an additional layer of complexity. In her article, Flaherty details some of the uncomfortable interactions that Díaz has had with female colleagues, “Soon after the essay’s April publication, a small group of female writers publicly accused Diaz of unwanted physical contact, sexual harassment, and bulling behavior throughout his career” (Flaherty). These accusations shed light on a darker side of Diaz’s interpersonal relationships, which cannot be overlooked when exploring his work. While it is not within the scope of this analysis to pass moral judgment on his actions, they offer a compelling avenue of exploration when viewed through a Freudian lens.

Moreover, the accusations against Díaz offer further insight into some of the complex relationships depicted in “Monstro”. If we consider that an author’s experiences can influence their work, then it is plausible to suggest that Díaz’s personal interactions could inform the dynamics between his characters. We can use a Freudian lens to view these actions and see some commonalities between Díaz’s experience and that of the characters.

Freud would likely consider Díaz’s behavior to be a manifestation of his unresolved trauma stemming from his experiences of childhood sexual abuse. He might consider this behavior to be a neurosis stemming from a conflict between the id and the super-ego (Edwardes 12). The behavior discussed in Díaz’s essay and Flaherty’s response could be connected to “Monstro” by considering the role of Freudian defense mechanisms, such as intellectualization, in shaping the narrative and the author’s personal life. Freud might argue that Díaz’s exploration of this defense mechanism in “Monstro”, as well as his own use of intellectualization in coping with his traumatic experiences, reflect the author’s unconscious efforts to process his own history and the complexities of the trauma he faces. Examining “Monstro” through a Freudian view gives the reader a more nuanced understanding of the story, and it underscores the importance of engaging with multiple perspectives when analyzing literature.

Using a Freudian lens to explore “Monstro” and considering Junot Díaz’s personal experiences reveal the psychological depths of “Monstro”, uncovering the complex interplay of trauma, sexuality, and relationships. Examining defense mechanisms and Freudian concepts, such as intellectualization and the Oedipus complex, has demonstrated the unconscious desires and conflicts shaping the characters’ actions. This comprehensive and nuanced analysis illustrates the value of integrating Freudian psychological theories and personal experiences into the study of literature, which allows for a profound exploration of narratives like “Monstro.”

Works Cited

Díaz, Junot. “Monstro.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 28 May 2012,

Díaz, Junot. “Junot Díaz: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 9 Apr. 2018,

Edwardes, Martin P. J. “What Is a Self?” The Origins of Self: An Anthropological Perspective, UCL Press, 2019, pp. 1–28. JSTOR, Accessed 1 May 2023.

Flaherty, Colleen. “Rift among Scholars over Treatment of Junot Díaz as He Faces Harassment and Misconduct Allegations.” Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Events and Jobs, Inside Higher Ed, 5 May 2018,


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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