Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close: Depiction Of Trauma In Literature

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Read more