Death in any person’s life is tragic, whether sudden or unexpected. Everyone experiences it at least once throughout a lifetime. In the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, the reader meets several characters that lose people very close to them. Each person has a certain way of dealing with the death, but overall his or her grief is out of love. These two emotions are triggered by one another. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close displays few characters that show any sign of moving on with their lives. Grief takes over and seems to stay forever.
Characters such as Oskar, Grandfather, Mr. Black on the floor above, and Ms. Black in the Empire State Building experience grief almost as a punishment. Their lives can no longer be lived properly because their loved one cannot do the same thing. All of the blame and guilt they feel extremely alters their everyday life. In contrast, Oskar’s mom shows much more stability than these other characters and attempts to move on from the loss of her husband. People take different approaches after losing someone and the mother here wants to help her son as much as she can through it.
Death is a major theme in this novel and the journey of people who are grieving over loved ones helps to shape the meaning behind it all. Foer picks these characters specifically that suffer greatly to show how people react to death can change his or her life forever. Oskar Schell is a very unique nine-year-old who suffers the tragic loss of his father at this young age. While searching through his father’s closet, Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the world “Black” on it. Thus begins the journey of searching for every person in NYC with the last name Black.
He even admits, “every time [he] left [the] apartment…[he] was getting closer to [his] dad” (52. ) However, he gets very caught up in everything and finds himself in a big struggle. The relationship between the two was so strong and Oskar cannot grasp he is actually gone. Together the used to play a game called “Reconnaissance Expedition” and he is very upset he never got to finish their last game (8. ) Oskar constantly tells stories about time spent with his Dad. He has an “extremely difficult time doing certain things like taking showers…and getting into elevators” (36. When he goes to find all the Blacks he does not want to use public transportation because it makes him “panicky” (87. ) Little things like this psych Oskar out and remind him of his dad. He grieves very passionately and describes many moments of “bruising himself” because he is so upset (173. ) The emotion of grief is so strong it causes the character to physically abuse himself. An argument may be he is doing this because of how much he love. Nonetheless these two emotions are very controlling of Oskar’s life and cause him to go to ridiculous measures to try to find anything relating to his father.
The next character to go through a terrible loss is Oskar’s grandfather Thomas. It would make sense that this person was the grandmother, but instead it was her sister Anna. The last time he saw her was before Dresden was bombed and she had just told him she was pregnant (210. ) Eventually he lost his words and could no longer speak. The first word to go was Anna and every other word left one by one after that (16. ) The grandfather had to carry a blank book him and got YES and No tattooed on his palms (17. ) He has lived the rest of his life without words and letters.
This characters grieving period is so strong it forces him to be silent for the rest of his life. He can no longer verbally communicate with the world. Again Foer has a character that shuts down from the world because of death. However, in this instance the reader see’s the grandfather making progress when he buries all the “things [he] wasn’t able to tell him. Letters” (322. ) This displays him attempting to let go of the past. With that being said he is much elder and lived almost all of his life grieving Anna’s death. The author continues to show what grief over death can cause a person to do.
Two minor characters in this novel also decide to live depressing lifestyles after losing their loved ones. They are Mr. Black in the apartment above Oskar and Ruth Black in the Empire State building. These two feel they cannot function anymore and hid from the world. Mr. Black has not left his apartment in “twenty-four years” because “there hasn’t been any reason too” now that his wife died (162. ) He turned off his hearing aids “a long, long time ago…[to] save batteries” (165. ) Oskar finds tree stumps in his bed that contain nails representing each day his wife had been dead.
The man is over 100 years old and has been through so much in his life. He explains that for most of it he was at ward and “treated [his wife] as though she didn’t matter. ” The bed was “the first thing [he] got her when he came back”(161. ) As Mr. Black continues to put nails in it and shut the world out, he is always thinking of his wife. He no longer explores or interacts because she is not there. A similar story is told for Ruth Black who “lives” in the Empire State building and only “stays up [there]” (251. ) She could not leave ever since her husband died and says she is “more comfortable here” (252. He would go around selling things in New York City and “occasionally shine the light up at me so [she] could see where he was. ”
After he died, “[she] couldn’t bear to go home…because [she] knew he wouldn’t be there” (252. ) Her only interactions with people now are through the tours she gives about this building she loves so much. Like Mr. Black, her reaction to death is to stop living because her husband is no longer there. Both characters take the same approach and cannot have a fulfilling life without their loved ones. Finally, Foer brings in a character experiencing the same as all the previous but with a totally different mindset.
Oskar’s mother no doubt struggles with the loss of her husband, but because she can continue on with her life she is questioned. Her friend Ron is over a lot and Oskar always asks, “if she was in love with Ron” (35. ) He always gets upset when his mom is laughing and spending time with Rob because it automatically means she loves Ron and not the father anymore. In a situation like this, the parent really has to console her young child. Oskar does not understand that people grieve differently and if the mom was a mess all of the time he would be struggling even more.
The mom always reassures her son she misses her husband by saying things like, “I cry a lot, too, you know”(171. ) She is very patient with Oskar and all of his mood swings. A character like this in a novel filled with death is comforting to know that not all people react so poorly to it. Oskar’s mother exemplifies grief much more collectively while still showing her strong feelings for her husband. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of many grieving individuals. The reader experiences few happy, uplifting moments. Foer played around with the idea that the death of a close person causes people o stop living like he or she once did. Oskar enters an emotional rollercoaster trying to find this key and more answers. He always has in the back of his mind that his father’s cells are “on the rooftops, and in the river, and in the lungs…of people around New York” (169. ) For a nine-year-old that is a strong visual and Oskar cannot get it out of his head. The grandfather becomes silent and has the memory of Anna ingrained in everything he thinks about. His family life suffers after it and he never gets to meet his own son. Mr. Black and Ruth Black cut out the world and hold on their significant others.
Without them, life is pointless and they would not want to be along in the streets they have only know with their dead loved ones. Contrasting all of this is Oskar’s mom as she tries to support her son while staying in her own same routine prior to losing her husband. As all of these characters grieve, they hold onto memories and things to remind them of the past. The out come for most is to stop everything and focus on what’s gone for good.