Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is filled with death, because the primary narrator, precocious nine-year-old Oskar Schell, is obsessed with it since his Dad perishes in the collapse of the World Trade Center, 11 Sep. 2001. Oskar needs to know which of the many forms of death is Dad's and accepts that death is inevitable for every living creature. When he cannot sleep or is anxious, Oskar invents protective devices to ward off violent death and scrupulously avoids "obvious targets." Oskar asks Mom to bury him in a mausoleum rather than in the ground, and refuses her argument that he has a long time to live, saying Dad had not expected to die that day. He demands the right to tell the truth: Dad's cells are scattered on rooftops and being inhaled; his coffin is empty. Mom angers Oskar enough for him to declare that he wishes she had died...
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Oskar is an extremely verbally precocious nine-year-old––he and Dad used to comb the New York Times for typos as a relaxing evening activity. Oskar is a hyper-verbal narrator who tells us everything that’s on his mind, and he has an enormous vocabulary. Oskar thinks about words all the time; in the first chapter, for example, he squints at a map, connects dots to see “FRAGILE,” and discusses every single association he has with the word “fragile,” as though he were writing his own private dictionary definition. Oskar also has his own private codes for things: “wearing heavy boots,” for example, is his way of describing fear and sadness. Oskar clings to the belief that everything can be solved through puzzles and expeditions: that if he just interprets something correctly, or if he just finds one more clue, one more word, that will provide some sort of answers or closure to the gaping hole that the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers left both on New York City and in his own life.
If Oskar uses an overabundance of words and digressions, then Oskar’s Grandpa has the opposite problem: he doesn’t speak out loud at all. Oskar’s Grandpa loses his ability to speak after the trauma of seeing his loved ones die in the Dresden firebombing during World War II. He has “YES” and “NO” tattooed on his hands, and he write brief notes in a daybook to communicate anything more complicated. Even though Grandpa can’t speak out loud, however, he does write several long letters about his past. It’s never clear exactly to whom these letters are written—either Oskar’s Dad or Grandpa’s unborn child who died in Dresden—but they were never sent, and never read by their intended audience.
The most meaningful communication in the novel, even though the novel is so loaded with verbal fireworks, is wordless. Oskar’sMom is silently following his journey: unbeknownst to either Oskar or the reader, she knows exactly what he’s doing and alerts each person that he is on his way. Grandpa cares tremendously about his family, but never speaks out loud. Even Oskar, for all of his verbal precocity, learns that love is deeper than language. The novel ends with images, not words. Jonathan Safran Foer presents the reader with a backwards flipbook of a man falling out of the World Trade Center: instead of going down, the man appears to be falling up. This wordless, upside-down, tragic, yet expectant image provides more closure than words could convey: even though the flipbook is traumatic and terrifying, there’s also a tremendous amount of hope that the reader can’t help but feel when we see the man flying upwards.