Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Themes
One of the most enduring themes in the novel, death overshadows the motivations and emotional wellbeing of all of the main characters, especially Oskar as he struggles with his father’s passing. Death is both personal and abstract in this book. Thomas Sr.'s experiences during the Dresden bombing acquaint him with the fear and truth of death as his city and family are destroyed. The many deaths which occur that day haunt him, and aﬀect his inability to be close to others later in life. Oskar grapples with a similar potential. The imagery of the man falling from the World Trade Center both frightens and obsesses Oskar, and serves as the center of other death photographs he collects. Ultimately, the novel's dramatic tension largely revolves around whether Oskar can make his peace with the unfair, illogical nature of death so that he can then move forward and escape a cold, tortured existence like that which Grandpa (and to a lesser extent, Grandma) lives. Death and its companion, grief, become the primary obstacle which each of the characters tries to overcome.
A quiet but all-encompassing theme, love binds the main characters together as they navigate the complexities of their grief. Ultimately, the novel suggests that love serves as the flip side to death, and one must ultimately choose between the optimism of the former or the pessimism of the latter. Grandma’s love for her son and grandchild became the focal point of her existence. She risked the state of her marriage to conceive her child, choosing her child over her husband. Thomas Sr. has a more diﬃcult struggle with the concept of love. His abandonment of wife and child suggest that he did not love them, but the years of letter writing and his eventual return to America indicate his inner conflict. Ultimately, he has been corrupted by his love for the deceased Anna, and his inability to understand how to live with that. Oskar’s mother eventually reveals a complicated, mature love that allows her son to be distant when he needs it, but which is always devoted towards him nevertheless. Unlike Grandma, whose love is often suﬀocating,
Oskar’s mom operates as an observer. She remains a steady presence in his life without impeding on his loving memories of his father. And finally, Oskar eventually realizes that his journey is as much about making peace with love as it is about making peace with death. When he comes to embrace this truth, he is able to move on from the otherwise all-encompassing grief over his father's death.
Correspondence, especially in the form of letter-writing, has a special place in the book. Though it in many ways reinforces the theme of Communication, correspondence is unique in the way it grounds both the letter-writer and the intended receiver into a past that defines them. The novel is split between three perspectives, which largely imbue it with a more historical air. Grandma and Thomas Sr. endeavor to tell their life stories, to explain their contradictions and emotional pasts, both in hopes of being understood and in hopes of passing on their life lessons. The present is so complicated that only by controlling their voice through a letter can they attempt to relate the ever-present existence of the past.
Similarly, Oskar and a Grandma (when she was young) use correspondence as a way to understand the world outside themselves. The many letters Oskar receives from celebrities and heroes, most of which are impersonal, only frustrate him, make him feel as though he is not connected to the greater world. When
Stephen Hawking writes him with a suggestion for life, it is powerful because it comes at a time when Oskar is realizing the way he is connected to the world outside of himself. Similarly, when Grandma received the letter from the inmate and then began collecting letters from