Take A Sad Song And Make It Better

Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is written using very casual language and follows the stream of conciseness narrative of a young boy named Oskar. Oskar’s extreme curiosity and childlike innocence lead him to observe, question, and comment on everything he sees, prompting him to make many allusions to figures and ideologies in popular culture. These references allow the reader to connect the things Oskar learns to his or her own life and culture, making the book very relatable and causing the reader to become even more emotionally invested in it. They also encourage the reader to take time to think about the meaning behind many things in our pop culture that have become mundane and allow the reader to see these references through a completely different point of view from their own. For example, Oskar ponders the lyrics to “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles and says “It makes me start to wonder if there were other people so lonely so close. I thought about ‘Eleanor Rigby’. It’s true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?” (163). I have heard this song countless times throughout my life but never grasped the full extent of its meaning until Oskar used it in reference to people who walk through life terribly alone and do not have anyone ever reach out to comfort them. Oskar’s observance of these people indicates that, despite his intense suffering, he is still capable of empathy.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deals with deep themes such as loss, abandonment, and regret and leaves the reader with many powerful messages to consider long after the novel comes to a close. Nearly every character in Oskar’s life is trying to cope with the death or loss of a loved one and focuses nearly all of their energy on figuring how to continue living without that person. Some characters-such as Mr. Black who turns off his hearing aids after his wife’s passing and Oskar’s grandfather who loses his fiancé, unborn child, and parents in one single horrifying night and proceeds to lose his ability to speak and withdraws from the world- refuse to move on and wallow in their grief. Oskar’s mom and grandma, two women who have suffered enormous loss but continue to love those around them and carry on the best they can, contrast these characters. For most of the book Oskar finds himself straddling these two worlds and reactions to grief. He is unwilling to let his father go and is terrified that if he starts to laugh, as his mom does with Ron, that he will lose the connection to his father. By the end of the novel, Oskar is able to understand his mother’s approach to grief and accepts that he can “be happy and normal” (323) while continuing to love, miss, and remember his father. This is a reflection of Foer’s personal philosophy on loss as he reminds readers that it is not wise to focus all of one’s energies on the past and forget to enjoy the present.

The final chapter is appropriately entitled “Beautiful and True” due to Oskar’s acceptance of the truth and the beauty in his acceptance. When Oskar tells his grandfather that he plans on digging up his father’s grave they converse, “’Why would you want to do that?’ ‘Because it’s the truth, and Dad loved the truth.’ ‘What truth?’ ‘That’s he’s dead’” (321). It is no secret that Oskar and his father love science and the truth- the first chapter is laden with random facts that Oskar is proud to know- but it is not until this moment that Oskar accepts the truth that his father will never return and he must figure out a way to live life without him.

In addition to enjoying the present, Foer uses Oskar’s grandma to illustrate the importance of appreciating loved ones and expressing one’s love. While recounting the night before her sister’s unexpected death his grandma says, “I had never told her how much I loved her… I thought about waking her. But it was unnecessary. There would be other nights… Here’s the point of everything I’ve been trying to tell you, Oskar. It’s always necessary” (314). Foer reminds readers how quickly and unexpectedly a loved one can be taken away and tries to persuade them to be grateful for each breath and each person they love.

The final images of the novel are the most poignant and heartbreaking. The original picture shows a man that has chosen to jump to his death instead of burning in one of the two towers hit by the attacks. However, if you flip through the images backwards, the image becomes suddenly hopeful as the man ascends through the air and looks like he is flying. This shows that Oskar is moving forward in his grieving process. He is choosing to look at his situation through a more positive lens and is essentially “taking a bad song and making it better”, something he claimed to be unable to do in an earlier chapter.

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