Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: Depiction Of Trauma In Literature
A familiar stylistic approach to describing how characters interact with their PTSD has been to have them travel, within their mind’s eye, via a flashback into the trauma as discussed earlier. A journey is not an unfamiliar theme to literature if one considers Campbell’s Hero with a thousand Faces (2008) but within both Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer, 2005) and Going After Cacciato (O’Brien, 1978) neither protagonists is depicted as a typical hero and the journeys that they embark upon hint more at their mental well-being within their trauma and acceptance of what they have experienced. This idea is echoed by the extent to which the characters remain in fantasy or reality.
Foer’s book depicts Oskar, both consciously and subconsciously, working through his trauma by his journey. Consciously when he attends his therapy sessions and subconsciously in his search to understand what the key opens. By meeting all these new people that share a surname, Black, Oskar decides that he must tell his story and be “as honest about it as [he] could outside home, because that’s what was necessary” (Foer, 2005, p.87). His decision to do this makes his search a subconscious cathartic experience as he explains how his dad died to each new Black that he meets. Although Oskar is looking to find a connection back to his father, he is actually moving forward with his grief and thereby his trauma, whilst being unknowingly supported as alluded to earlier in this essay. Oskar tells his secret, to the Black who recognizes the key, about not picking up the telephone to his father on that fateful morning, which is a significant step for Oskar in letting go (Foer, 2005, p.300). Oskar is both on a physical and mental journey and he is aware of things that make him feel uncomfortable
Even after a year, I still had an extremely difficult time doing certain things, like taking showers, for some reason, and getting into elevators, obviously. There was a lot of stuff that made me panicky, like suspension bridges, germs, airplanes, fireworks, Arab people on the subway (even though I’m not racist), Arab people in restaurants and coffee shop and other public places, scaffolding, sewer and subway grates, bags without owners, shoes, people with mustaches, smoke, knots, tall buildings, turbans (Foer, 2005, p.36)
By contrast Paul Berlin’s journey is only in his imagination as he is actually at the Observation post by the sea in Vietnam, with his journey following Cacciato to Paris, taking place through his night watch. Cacciato is AWOL and it is while Berlin is following him on route to Paris that the reader gets the snippets of what Berlin has experienced. His mind goes from the Observation post, to the journey and back into the past. The journey becomes his way of avoiding what is distressing to him and as such, prevents any progression in coping with his PTSD (n.d.). Berlin creates a complex journey to keep his mind busy and he keeps catching sight of Cacciato throughout (O’Brien, 1978, p.119). The journey ends when he finds Cacciato in Paris, which is at sunrise in Vietnam. He expresses earlier in the book that “the time in Delhi was a good time. Cacciato did not show himself” (O’Brien, 1978, p.164). Which seems like an odd statement until the end of the book when it is revealed that Berlin killed Cacciato and has been trying to block this out of his memory. Berlin is in denial about what he has experienced and is trying to fabricate a different ending for Cacciato.
The amount of time that the characters stay in fantasy also reflects the extent to which trauma governs their lives. While Berlin finds himself on his imaginary journey most of the time, Oskar only has moments where he constructs an alternative reality. For instance, when he imagines everything moving backwards so that the planes would not fly into the Twin Towers (Foer, 2005, p.325). Oskar is in the here and now, whereas Berlin is not sure where he is “he thought of the sea. And for a time he was in two spots at once. He was there, speeding through zoo country, but he was also up in his sandbagged tower over the sea” (O’Brien, 1978, p.234).
Oskar depicts a clear movement of a person resolving and addressing their trauma whereas Berlin shows an individual that avoids being honest even with himself in order to avoid confronting his trauma. However, he is not able to avoid the trauma and it creeps up on him.
The Main Themes And Symbolism In Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
Guilt connects everyone, even though people may not be able to help themselves directly, they can help each other and receive help in return. Tragedies can be extremely hard to bear alone, but can be better managed with others help to lessen their pain and guilt.
The author, Foers, shows Okar feeling incredibly guilty about the phone messages his dad left the morning of his death. This guilt is shown by hiding the answering machine tapes from 9/11 because he is too ashamed to admit to his mom that he didn’t pick up the phone. It is a shock when Oskar shares the hidden tapes with Grandpa, considering he barely knows him and hasn’t shared them with anyone, but is later understood by showing their connection from both feeling guilt from Dad’s passing. Neither Grandpa nor Oskar gave Dad a proper goodbye. Both of those characters are guilty for that, as well as for simply living and breathing after Dad’s last breath was taken, which connected them in a way and when they dug up Dads empty coffin, they both finally felt a little closure.This is one of the many ways Foers shows how guilt and trauma connects each individual throughout the novel. Oskar begins a quest to figure out who “Black” is, which becomes his way of coping with his trauma and guilt from losing his Dad.
Oskars Grandpa is also overtaken by guilt when the death of his pregnant wife, Anna, occurs from the Dresden firebombing. The “survivors guilt”, shown within those chapters, leads to the daily loss of words, which eventually led to complete loss of speech. Though he could not talk, Grandpa wrote letters. In Grandpas chapters, he writes long letters, specifically to Oskars dad, but never sent them. Though the guilt of not sending those letters and the guilt of abandoning his son became overwhelming, Grandpa is able to connect with his family when he moves in with Grandma and find peace in unity.
Guilt connects Grandpa and Oskar, as well as every other character in this novel. Tragedies hardly ever have a direct solution, but may have many indirect routes if you don’t give up. The author conveys that the help of others is presented as a way to deal with the trauma and guilt that is heavily weighing on each character in the novel.
The unique narrative style in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is chosen to further develop many themes throughout the novel. One of the unique styles in this novel is the abundance of symbolic pages, such as the blank pages, which are a strong way to express the themes and thoroughly indicat points being made by the author throughout the novel. For example, the blank pages are representing emptiness caused by the suffering from loss, guilt, and trauma. Grandma pours her heart out onto blank pages and doesn’t even realize due to her eyesight. Grandpa notices this, but chose to keep to himself and tell her that her story is wonderful. Those blank pages were meant to express her whole life, but at the end, show nothing except a blak, white piece of paper.
Another example of symbolic pages are the images of doorknobs. The images are scattered throughout the novel, conveying another important big message. One door closes, another one opens. Being too attached to the past and what you are familiar with may lead to missed opportunities that stand right in front of you. The author is showing that opening new doors can have a positive connotation. A locked door could be an indication of prevention of possibilities. And a doorknob on fire, as shown in chapter 8, represents hopelessness.
In addition to the symbolic pages, the author uses unique structures in each of the characters chapters. Such as Oskars scattered writing, showing his sporadic thoughts. Grandmas chapters, which are all titled “In My Feelings” and are all letters to Oskar from the airport, are written with very short sentences. This could be for many reasons. In grandpas chapters, his run on sentences indicate his jumbled thoughts that he cannot verbally express. Eventually, those thoughts overtook him as shown on pages 281 to 283, where the author shows Grandpa slowly running out of space by the sentences becoming closer and closer together until the page became completely covered in black ink from overlapped words. The way each narrators writing is structured shows the reader character development from the beginning to the end of the novel. This novel is structured to make the novel appear as a puzzle, putting each piece together- chapter by chapter until the final message is revealed. Foer uses evidence, such as explained above, and details to help develop many themes, along with guilt and trauma, throughout the novel by the structure of each chapter in which gives the reader a window into each character’s thoughts.
Reflection On 9/11 In Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
9/11 is one of the worst moments in history that American people faced. It caused the deaths for many people of many nationalities that left an impact that people lost their loved once. This impacted the families that lost one of them, it caused many social problems for the family and it caused a lot of pain for them, Jonathon Safran was affected by that accident especially because it covered many details, so he decided that he will write about the accident but from his point of view so it is a first-person point of view, a kid losing his dad during 9/11 and he tries to get any clue because he thinks that his dad left him some clues that will make Oskar find him, he found a lot of clues starting from the key until the envelope, and the map and it ended up by the kid knowing that the key belongs for a man that his name is black and it was the same name written on the envelop, so the author was creative in creating that mood of depression that helped the reader to feel everything happening in the story. Therefore, the director’s used the aspects of the characters and theme and setting and the purpose with using his point of view to make the reader get the feeling of how families were like in that accident.
As the movie highlights a lot of themes but the most one that is related for the events of the movie is Love and family, as it is one of themes that were in the movie “extremely loud and incredibly close” as the love that Oscar gave his father made him to believe after his father death that he is still alive, after he finds the key in the vase it gave him some hope that he is getting close to his dad, as he had a strong relationship between him and his dad, as the setting of the movie is on 9/11/2001 in Manhattan in new york city.
The author was creative in creating the characters traits and the character looks, the author connected all the characters creatively, from Oscar Schell the main character that is nine years old protagonist of extremely loud and incredibly close. He is an intelligent, eccentric and clever young boy that is an inventor and amateur entomologist. He shows that he is intelligent and clever by doing things that is beyond the average of nine years old might have, like building many ideas and searching for any clues as possible to just find out what is the key about, he went to a lot of places and that shows that he is independent young boy. He had a lot of clever ideas, such as ambulance that alert passerby to the severity of their passengers, also he trust strangers like going with the black women to her husband that is in another country, he makes friends easily although he doesn’t have friends at his same age, he is a socialized person cause he went to people he didn’t know and went to their house and talk to more than 400 strangers.
Oskar’s mother, Linda Schell, she is Oscars mother, she cares for her family greatly, after her husband died she tells to Oskar that she won’t love again, as she knew that Oskar is running around and meeting many strangers she didn’t stop him because she wants him to know more about his father. As Oskar’s grandmother is women that really care about Oskar and she tries as much as she can to protect him, every time she talks to Oskar about how is he, he answers by” I am okay”. MR A. Black is an old man in age; he used to live in the same apartment building with Oskar but he and his wife broke up and he went to another country and he is a rich man that has his own business and he cries when he knows that Oskar father was dead and he then start to think about anything to help Oskar like taking the key and going to the bank and if it is money he will take half of the amount but Oskar moved crying. Oskar’s grandmother, Thomas Schell Sr. from my point of view he is the most important character in the story although he doesn’t speak he answers the questions by yes or no and it is like a tattoo on his hands, he got a small book that he writes phrases that he cannot answer with yes and no, he marries Anna’s younger sister (Oskar’s grandmother). Abby Black is William Black’s ex-wife, she is 48 years old and she lives alone, she is friendly and welcoming to Oskar in her house however she didn’t accept Oskar’s kiss and she helped him, in the end, to know William Black that the file belongs for him and she was from the important characters, she cries a lot when she talks about her life and that shows how she suffered a lot. Oskar’s father, Thomas Schell, dies before the events of the novel starts although all the events were built on his death accident as he organizes a lot of expeditions for Oskar that made him start his journey about the key.
The authors purpose of extremely loud and incredibly close is because the author wanted to show how the accident affected the child that lost one member of their family, he wanted to show how child has a different point of view that adults, the director uses the images and the movie to show the mathematics of Oskar Shell mind and the mind of most of the child’s in his same age. Extremely loud and incredibly close movie is a first point of view but the author was creative in showing to us that the story is about Oscar but he includes his grandparents that have their own stories and that isn’t related to Oscar but that combination made a reflection about the problems that happened but from a different time but with the same consequences.
Critical Analysis of Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
You never really know the last time you will see someone. Especially the ones you love most and are close to. You cannot put a date or time on the day someone dies. Who knows when your last goodbye will be. In Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Johnathan Foer focuses on the trauma of families affected by the deaths of 9/11, and the Dresden Bombing. In particular, Oskar Schell, who is nine years old in the book, is grieving the death of his father, Thomas Schell Jr., who died during that tragic day. He finds a lock his father has left behind has the word “black” written on it, and is determined to find what it’s leads to.The book varies on the range of human emotion that comes into play, and presents the pattern of what the psychological lens, and new criticism lens follow.
“Every time I left the apartment to go searching for the lock, I became a little lighter, because I was getting closer to dad. But I also became a little heavier, because I was getting farther from mom” (Foer 52). In Oskar’s expeditious search, he temporarily distracts himself from the harsh reality; His father is never coming home. The two of them shared an extremely cozy relationship portrayed by a common love for comprehending riddles. He thought of his father as his closest companion, so he dealt with the misfortune especially hard. Consequently, Oskar began to invent new ways of his father’s cause of death. His pain is shown by a proportion of self inflicted pain. He often refers to himself as having heavy boots. During bad times, his boots get heavier. When he does things that he enjoys, like sitting in his dad’s closet, his boots get lighter. The boots symbolizes his depression following the death of his father. The fact that Oskar refers to these feelings as ‘boots,’ exemplifies Oskar’s unwillingness to deal head-on with his emotions. At the end, Oskar comes to peace with the death of his father.
Oskar’s mom, Linda, was also loving and supportive of her child in the best way she could because she was also grieving the death of her husband. t the point when she initially understood that Oskar was planning to go on his adventure to discover the lock, his mom said, “I went into your room and I tried to think like you did. I wanted to understand” ( Foer 168). Linda sufferers through her husband’s death in silence. Her hidden emotions and weeping cries portrayed as an act of negligence to Oskar. He starts feeling distance and tells her things she regrets. “If I could have chosen, I would have chosen you” ( Foer 171). The author gratingly disposed of his words portraying Oskar as a confused and distraught child.
In the novel, the author utilizes the symbolism of deliberately including blank pages. Foer also included a few sections of deliberate compacted writings. These strategies were used by the writer as visual symbolism to convey meaning and relation to the characters. Foer builds up an association among content and pictures with the utilization of extra-printed material. In the book, Foer sets a solid connection among writings and pictures and uses the methods to make an effectively moving story. These writings and pictures connect to demonstrate that these two highlights can exist agreeably together in works of writing. The setting of the story is completely perused from the earliest starting point, and the network where Oskar is completely portrayed. History coincidentally repeats itself with tragedy and the effects it has on people. Like the catastrophic event that took Oskar’s father, his grandparents survived through the Dresden bombing in Germany. Oskar’s actions are aligned to his grandfather’s. They both are unable to cope and make peace with the past.
Throughout the novel, pictures of door handles are dissipated. At a certain point, Grandpa took photos of the entirety of the door handles in their home. “ He took a picture of every doorknob in the apartment. Every one. As if the world and its future depended on each doorknob” ( Foer 175). These door handles speak to how Grandpa’s uncertainty between opening the entryway to another life and family and abandoning his previous lifestyle and family that died in the Dresden bombing. Be that as it may, Grandpa’s failure to open or close the entryway leaves him remaining in the center, going no place. His hand contain the words ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ on them. These straightforward words pass on Grandpa’s hesitations inside his life. He is incapable to pick between the family that passed on in Dresden and his family that is alive in New York. Grandpa Schell’s hands are likewise portrayed as being extremely unpleasant on the grounds that he is a stone worker. Emblematically, this is another motivation behind why Grandpa battles to manage his present family. The unpleasantness of Grandpa’s hand speaks to an absence of closeness among Grandma and him. It symbolizes that he never loved her, and just started an existence with her to attempt to relive what he once had.
Grandma’s chapters have a significantly unique structure from Thomas’ and Oskar’s. She titles her chapters “My Feelings”. In contrast to Thomas, she utilizes section breaks. She utilizes them a lot, particularly in replace for dialogue. Quotes never show up, yet the reader can tell who is talking by the line breaks. Grandmother’s sections do exclude visual segments while Thomas’ have a couple and Oskar’s have many. Fundamentally, the parts including Oskar’s character are a mix of styles Jonathan Safran Foer alloted to the grandparents. Grandma also writes in a letter to Oskar about the story of her grandpa, which contradicts what he wrote. She reveals many more details, but tells a different version.
The theme of death permeates the novel, and takes us on a ride through the lows that the characters go through. Everyone has their own way of coping with the tragedy. The novel consists of many letters written by the main characters; Oskar, Grandma, and Grandpa Schell. Foer uses the letters as motifs. It suggests that the characters feel more comfortable expressing themselves through paper, rather than having a face to face conversation and someone to negate. In spite of the fact that every one of the storytellers talk in first person about existence, what they share for all intents and purposes above all is their unavoidably despairing tone. Each character is investigating their own despondency.
Another calm however comprehensive topic, is love that ties the characters together as they explore the complexities of their sadness. At last, the novel proposes that affection fills in as the other side to death, and one should at last pick between the confidence of the previous or the cynicism of the last mentioned. Grandmother’s affection for her child and grandkid turned into the point of convergence of her reality. She took a chance with the condition of her union with imagine her kid, picking her kid over her better half. Thomas Sr. has an increasingly troublesome battle with the idea of adoration. His relinquishment of spouse and child recommend that he didn’t adore them, yet the long periods of letter composing and his inevitable come back to America show his internal clash.
Johnathan Foer focuses his writing on captivating the reader’s heart by revealing the character’s deepest, darkest secret. The novel delineates their grief and guilt, but they release it in a way that suggests they’re not comfortable to do so in person. This story shows the psychological hardships that kids who have lost a parent face, and also features the kind of strength it takes for a little kid to beat the hardships of lamenting. However, there are substantial explanations to guarantee that some might say Oskar is unrealistic.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: The Journey Of Human Grief
Loss of life and the grief that follows it are huge parts of Oskar Schell’s life in the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Even as a nine-year-old, Oskar has had to mature die to his dads death on 9/11. He was forced to grow up quickly to be “the man of the house” and take care of his mom and family. Although obviously intelligent and witty, he still does have a good “kid-side”, featuring his curious and eager qualities. For example, after finding a key, Oskar opens up to the possibility of discovering more about his dad and even how he died, hoping it will leave him with some closure and healing. I think many of the feelings of guilt that trauma produces become resolved indirectly through the book, rather than directly. Oskar does not get to say a proper goodbye to his Dad (because he didn’t pick up the phone but still listens to the messages). But later the key strides to provide closure for him, as well as William Black, who has been attempting to process his own father’s death, and they both learn how to cope and move on together. This is also seen through Oskar’s mom and her new love interest, as they met in a coping group for trauma and therefore have helped each other gain strength from tough situations. These all have helped build a community and create a way to deal with trauma and guilt in many peoples lives.
Besides Oskar’s narrative, the novel features chapters written by his Grandpa and Grandma and their own struggles with loss and trauma. First, Oskar’s Grandpa is tremendously affected by trauma and guilt, specifically after the Dresden firebombing. When his pregnant wife, Anna, died in the bombing, he began to have such tremendous survivor’s guilt that he eventually becomes unable to speak. Although Grandpa doesn’t speak out loud, he still communicates through his YES and NO tattoos on his hands, and then also writes notes when he needs to say something more. Later in his narrative, Grandpa says he married Anna’s sister (Oskar’s Grandma) after the war, but when Grandma became pregnant with Oskar’s Dad, Grandpa left her, adding yet another layer to his feelings of guilt. Grandpa writes long letters to his son, even though he never mails them, leaving him with guilt and lots to think about. Grandpa does not get to reconnect with his son, but he connects with family when he moves in with Grandma (also leaving some indirect resolution). His narrative gets to the core of Grandpas life events, leaving the reader an opportunity to guessing how he will deal with the ongoing trauma and grief of these experiences.
Besides Grandpa, Grandma is another narrator in the novel, and she wants the reader to know all about her feelings, possibly a reason her letters and narration are titled “My Feelings’. The long letters seem to be Grandma writing to Oskar after she’s decided to reunite with her husband. Her husband, has not been there for her and would make this decision quite controversial. Similar to this is when she allows the “renter” (Grandpa) to live with her, possibly to keep him in her life to avoid the past trauma he has ensued and her guilt from keeping Oskar from him. Grandma does not let grandpa see Oskar, another way Grandma is very secretive and closed-off. She keeps a lot of her life a secret, even Oskar doesn’t really know his Grandma although he spends most of his time with her. Privacy and closing off from others is the way Grandma defends against trauma, trying to allow herself to move on and avoid guilt, although that is not always the end result.
After reading and thinking about the connections in this book between people, their grief, and then their journeys for closure, it’s obvious big factors are communities, communication, and love. The audience can see that each character has their own way of dealing with painful situations, and that can be harmful to relationships and possibly result in more guilt, until they all try to deal with it together. All the narratives in this novel expertly compile together to tie the story and its themes of trauma and guilt together to create a bigger recovery effort.
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.
Protection Through Language Barriers in ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’
Instances of failed communication occur extensively in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. In some cases — Oskar and his mother, William Black and his father — increased communication would improve the way characters deal with trauma and loss. However, much of the time, limited communication between characters actually acts as a safety measure against undesirable knowledge. One example of this occurs partway through Oskar’s journey, when Oskar finds himself unable to communicate with the Spanish-speaking woman, Feliz, in Agnes Black’s old apartment. He grasps that Agnes died during 9/11, but his inability to understand Spanish protects him from the answer to “‘Did [Agnes] have any kids?’” (Foer 196). Feliz’s long response suggests that Agnes probably did have children, but because of the language barrier, Oskar escapes the damaging idea of another parent-less child. Oskar’s interaction with Feliz illuminates Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’s central idea that language barriers protect people from unnecessary and harmful knowledge.
Oskar has positive associations with Greek simply because of its nature as a foreign language. He and his dad listen to someone speak Greek on the radio, “which was nice” (Foer 13), even though they “couldn’t understand what he was saying” (Foer 13). Since he primarily associates Greek with his absent grandfather, he immediately speculates “‘Maybe that’s him we’re listening to’” (Foer 13). Oskar’s inability to understand Greek allows him to feel closer to his grandfather and protects him from the unnecessary information that the voice on the radio belongs to a stranger. This fantasy would not be possible if Oskar could translate Greek into English. Though Oskar wishes to understand Feliz’s words in a way he does not with the Greek reporter, the barriers between the languages serve the same purpose: to protect him from unnecessary and harmful information.
Oskar develops an obsession with breaking language barriers that hinders his ability to move on from his father’s death. When he cannot understand Mr. Black and Feliz’s conversation, he “[gets] angry” (Foer 196). In response, Oskar invents “a book that list[s] every word in every language” (Foer 316), stating that it makes him “incredibly angry that people all over the world can know things that I can’t” (Foer 256) just because of his limited language. The repeated usage of the word “angry” pushes Oskar’s desire to break language barriers past the realm of harmless curiosity and into one of negative fixation. His fixation drives him to go to great lengths to translate phrases from foreign languages into English. For example, when he wants to learn details about his father’s death, he must “‘go to a translator program and find out how to say things in different languages, like . . . ‘people jumping from burning buildings,’ which is ‘Menschen, die aus brennenden Gebäuden springen’’” and then Google the foreign phrases to locate websites with “‘videos . . . of bodies falling’” (Foer 256). Learning these gory details inhibits Oskar’s ability to move on, evident through his repeated references to them during the rest of the book. After learning that Agnes Black died during 9/11, Oskar’s mind immediately places Agnes and his father into the roles of jumpers pictured on the foreign websites, “You saw in some of the pictures that people jumped together and held hands” (Foer 196). This rapid connection proves that access to the websites keeps Oskar focused on his father’s death and prevents him from moving towards acceptance. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’s final pages comprise the very images of a jumper Oskar finds on a foreign website, suggesting that his journey ends with him still fixated on his father’s death. The unnecessary and harmful images Oskar finds through breaking language barriers cause him to dwell on the irreversible tragedy of his father’s death with no effective strategies for moving on.
Shortly after meeting Feliz, Oskar comes across Fo Black, who also “didn’t speak very good English” (Foer 239). Fo avoids the stressful experience of living in new place by choosing to move from one Chinese-speaking community to another. “He hadn’t left Chinatown since he came from Taiwan, because there was no reason for him to” (Foer 239) suggests that Fo feels uncomfortable with living in a culturally unfamiliar place. By staying in a Chinese-speaking community, Fo utilizes a language barrier to protect himself against potentially harmful culture shock. Staying in Chinatown also enables him to evade unnecessary information about the city he inhabits. Fo conflates the abbreviation “NY” with the Chinese word ny, thinking all “I love NY” memorabilia means “I love you.” It most likely comforts Fo to think that his new home promotes the positive message “I love you” all over the city. When Oskar clarifies the real meaning of “I love NY,” providing Fo with unnecessary information, Fo “look[s] confused, or embarrassed, or surprised, or maybe even mad” (Foer 239). Fo’s jumbled emotions reflect how Oskar may have felt had he understood Feliz’s answer to “‘Did [Agnes] have any kids?’” (Foer 196). Oskar’s description suggests that breaking the language barrier leaves Fo worse off, indicating that subjection to unnecessary information can be harmful.
Oskar ultimately admits that the book he invented in response to his encounter with Feliz, which lists “every word in every language,” would “not be a very useful book” (Foer 256). He may mean that the book seems impractical because of the time and effort it would take to locate a specific word. However, another possible interpretation could be Oskar registering the risk of possessing too much knowledge. This interpretation shows Oskar exhibiting growth; though he remains enthralled by some detrimental information, he at least comes to realize that knowing everything is not always beneficial.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.