Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Dad Character Analysis

Thomas Schell, Jr., Oskar’s father, never appears in the novel, since it takes place after he died, but he provides its emotional center, and his death precipitates the novel’s main storylines. Dad didn’t work in the World Trade Center—he was a jeweler, and he was visiting the towers for a meeting, which just happened to be on the morning of September 11. For Oskar, the public grief of the city becomes enmeshed with the painful, private grief of Dad’s death. Oskar feels like he has to choose between loyalty to his father’s memory or being able to be there for his Mom in the present. Other characters in the novel are also rocked by Dad’s death: Mom and Grandma, of course, are also in grief, but his death has larger ripple effects, too. When Grandpa sees the name “Thomas Schell” in the obituaries, he immediately boards a plane to Manhattan from Dresden, though he hasn’t been back for forty years. Even though Dad is dead, we do get to hear his voice. Oskar preserves the phone messages that Dad left on September 11, playing them to himself and, eventually, to Grandpa. Dad’s voice is also embedded in the structure of the novel like a voicemail. In the eleventh chapter of the novel (which may or not be coincidental, given the significance of “11” in this novel focused around 9/11), in a flashback, Dad tells Oskar the story of the “Sixth Borough,” which turns out to be a fable to help Oskar deal with loss and grief. Oskar is overwhelmed with guilt and grief, not only because he didn’t tell anyone about the phone messages, but, more importantly, because he heard his Dad make his final phone call but he didn’t pick up the phone. When Oskar finds the mysterious key in Dad’s closet, he takes the key as a sign and starts an elaborate expedition, just like the kind of expeditions his Dad used to send him on around the city. Finding out what the key unlocks becomes Oskar’s way of both holding onto his Dad’s memory and trying to help assuage his guilt at the loss. The expedition also allows Oskar to connect with others who are in pain when he learns about the difficulties they have faced in their lives and how they experience love and loss.

Dad Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below are all either spoken by Dad or refer to Dad. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Mariner Books edition of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Isn’t it so weird how the number of dead people is increasing even though the earth stays the same size, so that one day there isn’t going to be room to bury anyone anymore?

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad
Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the ways that Oskar deals with the trauma of the Twin Towers’ collapse and of his father’s death is by constructing elaborate scenarios in his head and asking impossible but scientifically structured questions about the world. Oskar’s narration is essentially constructed as an unfiltered running commentary of everything that Oskar is contemplating at a particular time, and his mind jumps among many different subjects, from the ever-increasing number of dead people to the white blazer that his grandmother gave him for his birthday.

Oskar’s narration is filled with direct questions, as though he is carrying on a conversation with someone. Much of the novel is about various forms of communication and direct address, both successful and failed. Oskar asks questions to the people around him, but many of his questions are internal. Oskar used to ask his dad these types of existential queries: they range from the silly to the serious, and the worries have varying levels of grounding in reality, but they always reveal something deeper going on in his mind. The musing about the number of corpses crowding the world shows Oskar’s simultaneous fascination with and fear of death. Oskar does not know how to reckon with the fact that death looms larger in his world at the moment than life, and he wonders how to create the mental as well as physical space necessary to heal. The question also reveals his claustrophobic tendencies, as well as his desire to quantify and categorize everything. Oskar feels safer when he can think about the world scientifically, rather than through overwhelming emotions.

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I spent all day walking around the park, looking for something that might tell me something, but the problem was that I didn’t know what I was looking for…But that’s how tricky Dad could be. There was nothing, which would have been unfortunate, unless nothing was a clue. Was nothing a clue?

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Dad used to send Oskar on “Expeditions” around New York City, which helped Oskar cope with some of his fears and explore the world outside the apartment. Oskar’s father teaches Oskar how to come out of his shell and find his way in the world. Dad made the world a structured place for Oskar, something that could be navigated with a plan, rather than an infinite chaos without purpose or meaning. Oskar’s Dad’s Expeditions seem like elaborate, meaningless games, but they enable Oskar to function in the world, rather than becoming overwhelmed by everything. The Expeditions also help Oskar and his father bond, because these puzzles and clues give them a shared language through which they can communicate. By seeing the world as a puzzle with possible solutions, instead of a chasm, Oskar also has the sense that his dad has never really left him, and that by following anything that seems like a potential clue, Oskar can eventually find his father again. Dad’s “Expeditions” give Oskar the inspiration to take the key in the closet as a clue that sets him on a new quest.

There were four more messages from him: one at 9:12, one at 9:31, one at 9:46, and one at 10:04. I listened to them, and listened to them again, and then before I had time to figure out what to do, or even what to think or feel, the phone started ringing.
It was 10:26:47.
I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was him.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad
Related Symbols: Telephones
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Not only is Oskar obsessed with puzzles and believes that his dad has left him a treasure hunt to solve, Jonathan Safran Foer constructs the novel itself to be like a puzzle, placing enigmatic pieces of information throughout the book that only get fully explained as the novel progresses. Oskar jumps back and forth in time as he narrates the events of the morning of September 11, and since he does not name the precise date at first, the reader has to figure out from the context exactly what event Oskar is talking about. Oskar says that Dad has left five messages, but at this point, he presents one of these messages in full. The reader also does not yet know whether or not Oskar will pick up the phone when his father starts calling at 10:26 AM, since this is where the chapter ends. Just like Oskar, who is frozen in indecision and shock when he sees his father’s name on the caller ID after listening to so many messages, the reader gets the sensation of being frozen by being left in suspense at the end of the chapter.

The fact that Dad left messages on the answering machine on September 11, and the fact that Oskar came home in time to hear them, are secrets that Oskar keeps locked inside himself throughout the novel. Oskar hangs onto these phone messages from his father, and they become one of the forces driving his quest over the course of the book. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

But still, it gave me heavy, heavy boots. Dad wasn’t a Great Man, not like Winston Churchill, whoever he was. Dad was just someone who ran a family jewelry business. Just an ordinary dad. But I wished so much, then, that he had been Great. I wished he’d been famous, famous like a movie star, which is what he deserved. I wished Mr. Black had written about him, and risked his life to tell the world about him, and had reminders of him around his apartment.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad, Mr. Black
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, “heavy boots” are a personal metaphor for the sadness and guilt that Oskar undergoes, primarily due to the trauma of his father’s death and the events that unfold from that. Oskar spends a great deal of the novel walking around New York City to process his trauma, and he expresses his psychological burdens physically. The phrase “heavy boots” refers to both sadness and guilt for Oskar. “Heavy boots” is also subtly reminiscent of World War II, as the phrase could potentially evoke the army, or people marching through concentration camps in chains. Oskar is likely not aware of this association, but throughout the novel, the parallel trauma to September 11 is the Dresden bombing, and “heavy boots” calls to mind images of war prisoners and war as well as personal guilt and the feeling of "heaviness" that comes with depression or grief.

Oskar wishes that Mr. Black somehow magically had a card about his father, since this would prove that Dad had planted the key as a clue for Oskar to trace around New York City. Oskar’s description of the writing that he wants to see about his father is, however, a description of the very novel that the reader is reading.

Chapter 11 Quotes

A millimeter at a time, the Sixth Borough receded from New York…The eight bridges between Manhattan and the Sixth Borough strained and finally crumbled, one at a time, into the water. The tunnels were pulled too thin to hold anything at all. The phone and electrical lines snapped…those fireflies in glass jars, which had once been used merely for decorative purposes during the festivals of the leap, were now found in every room of every home, taking the place of artificial light.

Related Characters: Dad (speaker), Oskar Schell
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

Oskar’s Dad tells Oskar a fable about a mythical Sixth Borough of New York City. In the first chapter of the novel, Oskar describes the scene in which Dad tells him the story, but only now does the reader get to read the full story, which emphasizes the puzzle-like structure of the novel itself. The story of the Sixth Borough is very close to the center of the novel itself, which demonstrates its symbolic significance in all the various relationships and plot lines that unfold. Dad tells the story to Oskar to help Oskar process the fact that change might be sad, and we might fight to stop negative change, but ultimately, sometimes, we have to let go. When Dad tells Oskar this fable, Oskar doesn’t yet know that he will have to apply it to his relationship with his father, but the story of the Sixth Borough symbolically helps him move forward.

The fable of the Sixth Borough also resonates with the areas of Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment that are designated as Something versus Nothing. Although Grandma and Grandpa try to hold the ties between them and to keep their relationship together, their shared grief proves to be too strong a force, and it pulls them apart. Just like the tunnels and electric wires in the fable, the lines of communication between Grandma and Grandpa cannot hold. 

By the time the park found its current resting place, every single one of the children had fallen asleep, and the park was a mosaic of their dreams.

Related Characters: Dad (speaker), Oskar Schell
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

In the fable of the Sixth Borough, the children ultimately have the power to help New York move forward from the loss of a borough. Rather than simply having an empty space in the heart of the city, the citizens save Central Park before the Sixth Borough floats completely away, tethering it in Manhattan. Children are allowed to lie down on the park when it’s being floated into the city, and the children are the ones who keep the soul of the Sixth Borough alive. The children bring beauty and spirit into the story, which helps give Oskar a sense of purpose. Oskar often feels small and powerless, which makes him frustrated and frightened, but turning the children into almost magical creatures helps him to regain a sense of purpose and power. Dreams, here, are not fantasies that will never come to pass, but peaceful reconciliations with reality.

In addition to the fable holding personal significance for Oskar and his family, in the larger context of the novel, the fable is meant to demonstrate how all of New York might be able to heal after September 11. Oskar’s own personal trauma is one individual example of the thousands and thousands of similar stories unfolding across the city.

Chapter 13 Quotes

I want to stop inventing. If I could know how he died, exactly how he died, I wouldn’t have to invent him dying…There were so many different ways to die, and I just need to know which was his.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Grandpa, Dad
Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, invention and telling stories have been a source of comfort and security for Oskar. However, in the quest to come to terms with his father’s death, Oskar is frustrated by his fruitless obsession with imagined scenarios, and he wants the truth to set him free. He fixates on his father’s mode of death because it provides a concrete clue that gives him focus and purpose, rather than the depressing concept of seeing everything as a meaningless void. Oskar gets the idea to dig up his father’s coffin, which makes Oskar's role in Hamlet as the dead skull of Yorick all the more symbolically, if morbidly, appropriate.

Oskar is speaking to a man whom he calls “the renter,” since he only knows him as the man who is staying with Grandma. Unbeknownst to Oskar, however, “the renter” is actually Oskar’s grandfather, and although he thinks he is entrusting his story with a stranger, he is instead confiding to his father’s father, which is about the closest to his father that he can get in real life.

Chapter 14 Quotes

There won’t be enough pages in this book for me to tell you what I need to tell you, I could write smaller, I could slice the pages down their edges to make two pages, I could write over my own writing, but then what?

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Dad
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Grandpa continues to write his letter, and Foer represents this writing visually in the novel by making the font smaller and smaller, so that the words crowd on the page until they blend together into an illegible black square. Infinite stories are crammed into a finite space, which makes everything disappear into itself. The visual image of trying to cram in as much writing as possible in one book, even writing over previous writing, creates a visual echo of journals by people in the Holocaust. Writers such as Anne Frank often lacked access to blank paper, so they had to resort to cramped script and to writing over their own words.

This desire to cram everything into the book also gives another layer of meaning to the book’s title. The writing is a visual representation of being extremely loud and incredibly close, and there is so much writing on the page that the reader feels very overwhelmed and unable to absorb any of the information presented. Grandpa feels terribly guilty that he has not been able to communicate with his son and his wife, and to try and assuage his sensations of guilt, he wants to keep reaching out his line of communication, even though continuing to push information through won’t bring back the person who is supposed to be on the other end of the line.

Chapter 15 Quotes

He needed me, and I couldn’t pick up. I just couldn’t pick up. I just couldn’t. Are you there? He asked eleven times. I know, because I’ve counted. It’s one more than I can count on my fingers….Sometimes I think he knew I was there. Maybe he kept saying it to give me time to get brave enough to pick it up.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad, William Black
Related Symbols: Telephones
Page Number: 301
Explanation and Analysis:

When Oskar gives William Black the key from the vase, Oskar symbolically unlocks the secret that he has been carrying inside him throughout his entire quest. Oskar confesses to William that his father had called their family’s phone right until the moment that the Twin Towers came down. By telling William his secret as well as giving William the actual key, the key has fulfilled its purpose in the novel, both physically and symbolically.

As it turns out, Oskar had the answer to the mystery of the key for nearly the entirety of his quest, but he didn’t know it. Abby Black had left Oskar a message on the answering machine, but Oskar had been too traumatized to listen, because he was haunted by the guilt of his father’s voice on that same answering machine. But Oskar’s mom had heard Abby’s message, and, unbeknownst to Oskar, had been calling every person named Black in the city and preparing him or her for Oskar’s visit. When Oskar gives away the physical key, he not only relieves himself of his burden, but he also unlocks the closed door between himself and his relationship with his mother.

Chapter 17 Quotes

I’d have said “Dad?” backwards, which would have sounded the same as “Dad” forward.
He would have told me the story of the Sixth Borough, from the voice in the can at the end to the beginning, from “I love you” to “Once upon a time…”
We would have been safe.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Dad
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

The last words of the novel express the desired fulfillment of many of Oskar’s deepest wishes. Oskar longs to turn back time and reverse the course of history so that his father wouldn’t have had to die on September 11. By rewinding and telling the story backwards, Oskar wants to take control over uncontrollable events so that history can unfold in a different direction. But these final words also express the fact that Oskar’s wishes can’t be fulfilled. The quotation is in the subjunctive mood, rather than the indicative, which demonstrates that Oskar is presenting a wish rather than a fact. Throughout the novel, Oskar has learned that we can’t actually go back and reverse the course of history. Even though the book ends in a fantasy description of what Oskar wishes the world could be like, the reader knows that we have to move forward in reality.

Although these are the last words in the book, they are not the book’s ending. The book concludes with several photographs of a person falling from the Twin Towers, but arranged in reverse order, so that if the reader flips through them, the person appears to be falling up instead of down. This reversal of the familiar image shows the tension between fantasy and the poignant reality that all characters struggle with throughout the novel. Even though they wish they could reverse time and space in certain key moments, and even though they replay events in their minds, they have to figure out some way of moving forward in order to heal.

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Dad Character Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the character Dad appears in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1, “What The?”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
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Love and Family Theme Icon
...interests Oskar. When Oskar describes playing tambourine, he mentions for the first time that his Dad has died. (full context)
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Thinking about his tambourine and his Dad’s death makes Oskar free associate about death in general: he ruminates about all the dead... (full context)
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Oskar describes the limousine ride to the cemetery for his Dad’s funeral. He chatters at Gerald, the limousine driver, telling nerdy puns and jokes that fail... (full context)
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...in a limo—when he and “the renter” (that is, Oskar’s Grandpa) went to dig up Dad’s coffin—and then talks about the “Reconnaissance Expeditions” that he and his Dad used to do... (full context)
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Oskar describes the last story that his Dad ever told him, about New York City’s sixth borough, but he doesn’t tell the full... (full context)
Chapter 3, “Googolplex”
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...is the narrator of this chapter. He describes the bracelet he made for Mom after Dad’s death, in which he converted Dad’s last voice message into Morse code and depicted it... (full context)
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Since his Dad’s death, Oskar has had trouble with several triggering things, like showers, crossing suspension bridges, and... (full context)
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One night, he rummages around Dad’s closet and tries to pull down a blue glass vase he’s never seen before. The... (full context)
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...the key had been in and sees the word “Black” written on the back. His Dad’s handwriting looks weird, as though it were written hastily. He Googles “Black” and puts some... (full context)
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...he can skip school. They chat and Mom tells him that he sounds just like Dad, but Oskar says that it doesn’t make him feel good when she says he sounds... (full context)
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Oskar notices that one of the pages has his Dad’s name, “Thomas Schell,” on it. (The name is written in red ink on the last... (full context)
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Oskar listens to Dad’s phone messages again. He keeps the phone inside his closet—he didn’t want his mother to... (full context)
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...bit over the walkie-talkies, as they do very often. Oskar tells Grandma that he misses Dad. He asks her why Grandpa wanted to leave, and imagines a device that would flash... (full context)
Chapter 5, “The Only Animal”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
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...this chapter. Oskar remembers reading the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was alive, and they discuss doing something relatively insignificant: even though it might seem miniscule... (full context)
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...starts to cry, but then rings the buzzer again and tells the man that his Dad is dead. The man says that if Oskar comes up, he’ll look at the key,... (full context)
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...be old enough for her to love me.” He asks again if Abby knew his Dad, Thomas Schell, and again, she says no. When he shows her the key, she also... (full context)
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After Dad died, Oskar explains to the reader, Oskar and his Mom went to Oskar’s Dad’s storage... (full context)
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That night, Oskar stays up designing jewelry, and he can’t stop thinking about his Dad’s storage facility. He can’t sleep, so he goes to Mom’s room and watches her sleep.... (full context)
Chapter 7, Heavier Boots
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...his Mom fight as Oskar’s Mom is tucking him into bed. Mom tells him that Dad’s spirit is in his coffin, but Oskar curses at her. Oskar blames his Mom for... (full context)
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...start to make up, but the fight escalates when Oskar says that she can’t miss Dad when she is with Ron now. He yells that if he could have chosen, he... (full context)
Chapter 8, “My Feelings”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
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Grandma feels the baby (that is, Dad) kick in her belly, and she releases all the animals from the apartment: they leave... (full context)
Chapter 9, “Happiness, Happiness”
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...at the top of the World Trade Center. Oskar wonders if she could have served Dad coffee on the morning that Dad died. (full context)
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...puberty. Oskar rejects this statement, saying that he feels the way he does because his Dad died a horrible death. (full context)
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That night, Oskar listens to one of Dad’s messages again—the one left at 9:46 AM—and waits for Saturday, so that he can continue... (full context)
Chapter 11, “The Sixth Borough”
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In the first chapter of the novel, Oskar alludes to his Dad telling him the story of the Sixth Borough, and this chapter depicts the scene in... (full context)
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Dad tells Oskar that the Sixth Borough was an island separated from Manhattan by a thin... (full context)
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...Philharmonic played, and the children of New York were pulled “into Manhattan and into adulthood,” Dad says. By the time the park had found its resting place, the children had fallen... (full context)
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Dad tells Oskar there are lots of clues in Central Park to its mysterious origin, like... (full context)
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Dad says that there’s a gigantic hole in the middle of the Sixth Borough where Central... (full context)
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Oskar asks Dad if any of the things that he dug up from Central Park were actually from... (full context)
Chapter 12, “My Feelings”
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Oskar’s Mom calls, asking if Grandma has heard from Dad; neither of them has. Mom tells Grandma that she loves her. Grandma goes over to... (full context)
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Mom comes home and asks if Oskar’s Dad had called. Oskar says no, and also says no when Mom asks if there had... (full context)
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Grandma writes about Dad’s funeral sometime later, in which they buried Dad’s empty coffin. That night, Oskar walks Grandma... (full context)
Chapter 13, “Alive and Alone”
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...who he is, the old man writes that his name is Thomas, just like Oskar’s Dad. Oskar gives the old man his card. (full context)
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Oskar, surprising himself, runs home and gets the phone with Dad’s messages on it. Oskar plays them for Grandpa. Grandpa suggests (by writing) that maybe Dad... (full context)
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Oskar says that he wants to know how Dad died so he can stop inventing how he died. Oskar says he has found videos... (full context)
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...the middle for planes to fly through. Then, he has the idea to dig up Dad’s coffin. (full context)
Chapter 14, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (9/11/03)”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
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...“I’m still sorry”. There’s a photograph of a doorknob in the chapter. Grandpa writes to Dad about how he is about to go meet Oskar to dig up Dad’s coffin. (full context)
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One day, Grandma tells Grandpa about Dad—who is, she says, “Not our son, my son.” Grandma gave Dad the only letter that... (full context)
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...the window. Grandpa goes outside, and Oskar tells Grandpa about his idea to dig up Dad’s grave. The text gets too close to read, eventually crowding into a black square. (full context)
Chapter 15, “A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem”
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The day after “the renter” (Grandpa) and Oskar dig up Dad’s grave, Oskar goes to Mr. Black’s apartment to tell him what happened, but an unfamiliar... (full context)
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...no longer felt like he was moving in the direction of finding out more about Dad. (full context)
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...night, he looks at the telephone (the new one, not the old one with his Dad’s messages on it). He hasn’t listened to any messages on the new phone. But now,... (full context)
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...is why he’s at work on a Sunday night. Oskar asks William if he recognizes Dad’s name, but William says he doesn’t. Oskar describes his first visit to Abby Black, eight... (full context)
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...William had already sold all of his father’s belongings—and he had sold the vase to Dad. (full context)
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William says that Dad had come to the sale on the way home from work and that Dad was... (full context)
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Oskar tells William that his Dad had left five messages on the answering machine on the morning of September 11, but... (full context)
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...that is) under the streetlamp to discuss the details of their plan to dig up Dad’s coffin: somehow, they’re much better at concocting these plans than actually carrying them out. Oskar... (full context)
Chapter 16, “My Feelings”
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...but Grandma knows that, too. Grandpa says that last night, he and Oskar dug up Dad’s grave, and Grandpa buried the letters he wrote, along with the key to Grandma’s apartment,... (full context)
Chapter 17, “Beautiful and True”
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...meet Grandpa, and at exactly midnight, Gerald, the limousine driver who had driven Oskar to Dad’s funeral, arrives. During the drive, Oskar figures out that he can open the sunroof; he... (full context)
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At the cemetery, it takes twenty minutes just to find Dad’s grave. Oskar and Grandpa start digging, but after an hour, they’ve barely gotten anywhere. The... (full context)
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Mom says that Dad had called her from the World Trade Center on the day that he died. Dad... (full context)
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...if time worked like that: if the man had gone back into the window, and Dad would have left his messages backward until the machine was empty, and the plane would... (full context)