Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Grandma Character Analysis

Grandma raised Dad as a single mother, since Grandpa left her before Dad was born. Grandma has a special bond and very loving relationship with Oskar. She is always available on the walkie-talkie whenever he wants to speak with her, even when it’s the middle of the night. Oskar trusts that his Grandma will always be there for him, and vice versa: when he was little, Oskar hid from Grandma, which freaked her out, and ever since, they have developed a ritual of responding “I’m OK” when the other person says his or her name—it’s like their own private game of Marco-Polo. But even though Oskar is very close with Grandma, he actually doesn’t know many details about her personal life; for example, when the renter comes to live with her, Oskar isn’t allowed to meet him or learn that he’s his Grandpa. Grandma is also a narrator of the novel. All of her chapters are entitled “My Feelings,” and they’re all segments of a letter that she’s writing to Oskar from the airport. The chapters don’t reveal why Grandma’s at the airport until the end of the novel, when the reader learns that she’s followed Grandpa there and has convinced him to live with her there, in a place where everyone else is either coming or going, but they are the only ones staying. In the letter, Grandma reveals many more details her life than she’d ever told Oskar in person. Grandma often describes the same events that Grandpa narrates, but she provides a different version. For example, Grandpa thinks that Grandma never realized that the whole biography she typed of her life on the typewriter is entirely blank: he thinks that the typewriter ribbon hadn’t been replaced, but her eyes are so bad that she’d never noticed. Grandma, however, says that she’s perfectly aware that the pages are blank, since she only typed spaces. Grandma tells Oskar that it’s always necessary to tell people that you love them, since you never know what will be your last chance to do so.

Grandma Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below are all either spoken by Grandma or refer to Grandma. 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 6 Quotes

We took the blueprint of our apartment from the hallway closet and taped it to the inside of the front door, with an orange and a green marker we separated Something from Nothing. “This is Something,” we decided. “This is Nothing.” “Something.” “Nothing.” “Something.” “Nothing.” “Nothing.” “Nothing.” Everything was forever fixed, there would only be peace and happiness, it wasn’t until last night, our last night together, that the inevitable question finally arose, I told her, “Something,” by covering her face with my hands and then lifting them like a marriage veil. “We must be.” But I knew, in the most protected part of my heart, the truth.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Grandma (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna’s death in the Dresden firebombing deeply traumatized both Grandma and Grandpa, as Anna was Grandma’s sister and Grandpa’s first wife. Grandma and Grandpa marry each other with the hope that they will help each other move forward with their lives, but instead, they end up creating elaborate systems of avoiding both themselves and each other rather than processing their emotions. Anna’s death brings Grandpa and Grandma together initially, but the shared grief proves to be too much for them to process, and the grief corrodes their relationship and separates them. Anna’s death also foreshadows Dad’s death as a traumatic experience that deeply affects the whole family, and compels the family to have to figure out how to communicate with each other. The map of Something and Nothing areas is also reminiscent of Oskar’s quest around New York. Each apartment that Oskar enters on his quest has some sort of secret within it, just like Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment.

Although Grandpa doesn’t say so explicitly, the final place that Grandma and Grandpa make as “Something” or “Nothing” is most likely their bed. The description of Grandpa lifting his hands like a “marriage veil” strongly hints that they are discussing their marriage bed and, therefore, whether or not they will continue to sleep together, even though they are drifting apart. They claim that they will, but Grandpa has already written earlier in the chapter that he has decided to leave Grandma.

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I have so much to tell you, the problem isn’t that I’m running out of time, I’m running out of room, this book is filling up, there couldn’t be enough pages, I looked around the apartment this morning for one last time and there was writing everywhere, filling the walls and mirrors, I’d rolled up the rugs so I could write on the floor, I’d written on the walls and around the bottles of wine we were given but never drank, I wear only short sleeves, even when it’s cold, because my arms are books, too. But there’s too much to express. I’m sorry.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker), Grandma
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

The idea of Grandpa running out of room to write things down echoes Oskar’s question in the beginning of the novel about what will happen when the number of dead people in the world outpaces the amount of room available to contain all the bodies. Because Grandpa is writing to his unborn son, he is not afraid of running out of time, but rather running out of space. Ironically, however, he does not ultimately run out of space but instead out of time. The letter to Oskar’s father continues for forty years, but before Oskar’s father gets to read it, he is killed on September 11.

Grandpa expresses his desperate need to convey as much information as possible to assuage his guilt at leaving his pregnant wife and never meeting his unborn child. However, the only emotion he really needs to say is “I’m sorry.” These two words carry a huge, rich emotional truth, and the rest of Grandpa’s information is more for Grandpa’s sake than the letter’s addressee. Grandpa needs to feel cleansed by purging all his traumatic history, and the letter represents a way for him to put down for posterity all the things that Grandpa can no longer say out loud. Grandpa has psychologically lost his ability to speak due to post-traumatic stress disorder, and this combined with his guilt of abandonment compel him to try and atone for the past by recording as much as possible. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

He took a picture of every doorknob in the apartment. Every one. As if the world and its future depended on each doorknob. As if we would be thinking about doorknobs should we ever actually need to use the pictures of them.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Grandpa
Related Symbols: Doorknobs
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

In her letter to Oskar, Grandma writes that she wants to communicate with Grandpa, but when she tries to hold open a door, both metaphorically and physically, he is more interested in his memories and in obsessively creating an archive, rather than trying to move forward. Instead of actually living in his life, Grandpa devotes his time to making a record of the spaces around him. Doorknobs are particularly important to Grandpa, since a doorknob burned him in the Dresden firebombing, and therefore they hold an extremely significant symbolic place in his mind.

Doorknobs represent thresholds throughout the novel. A door can provide an entrance and open an avenue of communication. For Oskar, each person with the last name Black lives behind another mysterious doorknob, and every doorknob opens into a new world. Each doorknob is also an opportunity to try the key that Oskar carries around with him all the time, as he carries the hope that each door could be a potential solution to his quest. However, a door can also be used as a wall to close out the world and shut people out. Jonathan Safran Foer includes several of these pictures of doorknobs, which make the reader feel like he or she is also the intended recipient of these letters, since we get to experience not only reading about them, but also see the actual artifacts. Some of the doorknobs pictured are locked, suggesting the effect of closing off from the world. However, the locked doorknob also entails that there is a key that will open it, so there is still hope.

I went to the guest room and pretended to write. I hit the space bar again and again and again. My life story was spaces.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

The fact that Grandma has been deliberately typing spaces over and over, unbeknownst to Grandpa, symbolizes the fundamental gap between them. Grandpa is heartbroken when he sees Grandma’s sheaf of blank papers, since he thinks that she believes she has been typing actual words the whole time. Grandpa lies to Grandma to protect her feelings, and Grandma lets Grandpa lie, because, to her understanding, this lie is more palatable than the truth, which is that Grandma is typing a blank autobiography because she believes that her life is a blank. Grandma has married her dead sister’s lover, she cannot communicate with him, and her family is gone, so she thinks that her life is now just an empty space. However, an empty space can be filled. Grandma’s letter to Oskar has several spaces between every sentence, and there are many line breaks, yet because she has a message to convey to Oskar, she is starting to have words to put in between the spaces.

Chapter 12 Quotes

I lowered the volume until it was silent.
The same pictures over and over.
Planes going into buildings.
Bodies falling.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker)
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

On September 11, Grandma watched the same image unfold over and over, and to replicate that experience for the reader, Jonathan Safran Foer repeats the phrases “Planes going into buildings” and “Bodies falling” several times, on two consecutive pages. The parallel list construction ultimately creates the effect of two towers of text. Towers get built on the page just as Grandma watches them get destroyed, over and over, in real life. Although they are gone in reality, they are burned into her imagination. Similarly, although the reader does not yet know this, the doorknob from Dresden is burned into Grandpa’s memory, and he finds himself seeing this image repeated over and over. Though something might be gone in reality, the image and the imagination can make it happen again over and over, for better or for worse.

The same image of bodies falling from the towers appears at the end of the novel. However, instead of repeating the action that Grandma saw over and over, the novel presents a flipbook with an alternate reality of a person falling up, rather than down. This is an unrealistic reordering of events, and while it does depict a glimmer of hope, ultimately, everybody must move forward with the reality of what actually happened.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar.
It’s always necessary.
I love you,
Grandma

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Oskar Schell
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, Oskar’s grandmother has been writing a long letter to Oskar to try and tell him about her past and her relationship with Oskar’s grandfather, which is very difficult for her to talk about. This quote is the ending of the letter. Oskar’s grandmother and grandfather have finally reunited, and they are sitting across from each other in the airport, typing on their respective typewriters. Part of the reason that Oskar has been so obsessed with searching for clues about his father is that he wants to find some closure and so that he can feel at peace with their relationship. Oskar never got to say goodbye before his father died, a fact which haunts Oskar—and this lack of clarity and closure plagues many relationships throughout the novel. Oskar’s grandmother and grandfather have a very troubled relationship in part because they cease being able to communicate with each other, and there are so many walls between them.

Oskar’s grandmother doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, and so she makes sure to communicate everything that she can to Oskar, or everything that she feels like she hasn’t previously been able to say, in this letter. “It’s always necessary” refers, in context, to the fact that she wished she had been able to say “I love you” to her sister. Grandma is determined not to make that mistake with Oskar. Rather than assume that there will always be more time in the future to say what she really means, Grandma takes the time now to express her feelings in the present. Grandma is trying to reassure Oskar and provide closure so that he and she both don’t obsessively try to rewind time.

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Grandma Character Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the character Grandma 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
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...limousine driver, telling nerdy puns and jokes that fail to crack Gerald’s smile. Mom and Grandma are in the limo with Oskar as well, though they are being much quieter than... (full context)
Chapter 2, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (5/21/63)”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
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The woman (Grandma) asks the writer of the letter (Grandpa) why he doesn’t speak, and the narrator writes,... (full context)
Chapter 3, “Googolplex”
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Oskar’s Grandma lives in the building just across from him, so he can see it through the... (full context)
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Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
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Oskar and Grandma talk for a bit over the walkie-talkies, as they do very often. Oskar tells Grandma... (full context)
Chapter 4, “My Feelings”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...September 2003” and addressed “Dear Oskar.” The writer of the letter is an old woman (Grandma), writing from the airport and talking about her childhood. She writes that as a child,... (full context)
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The writer (Grandma) says that she asks everyone she knows to write her a letter: her father, an... (full context)
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Seven years later, when she had only been in America for two months, Grandma meets a man who used to date her sister, Anna; she had caught the two... (full context)
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Grandma goes to Grandpa’s apartment every day so that he can sculpt her. The apartment is... (full context)
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One day, they end up making love, and Grandma looks at the unfinished sculpture of her sister. After they make love, they go to... (full context)
Chapter 5, “The Only Animal”
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Oskar goes over to Grandma’s apartment when he gets home. She’s just been crying. She tells Oskar she was talking... (full context)
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Oskar remembers that Grandma used to take care of him when he was a baby. Once, he made her... (full context)
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...that they had had to monitor Oskar as a baby. Oskar gave one to his Grandma, and now they talk on them all the time; in fact, she’s usually waiting on... (full context)
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Oskar remembers how his Grandma knits him white clothes and finds special things for him. She gave Oskar a stamp... (full context)
Chapter 6, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (5/21/63)”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
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...with a long, stream-of-consciousness description of the many rules that the writer and his wife (Grandma) follow in their marriage, from never talking about the past to changing the sheets every... (full context)
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Grandpa writes that he thought he and Grandma could have had a beautiful reunion, although they had hardly known each other in Dresden,... (full context)
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...you know what time it is?—and the narration returns to the present. He thinks about Grandma at home, writing her whole life story on a typewriter. She protests that her eyes... (full context)
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One spring, Grandma pulls him into the guest room and shows him a stack of paper, which she... (full context)
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...writes that he’s sorry for everything—sorry for the marriage, sorry for being about to leave Grandma, sorry about Anna, sorry he’ll never get to see his son. In the chapter, there... (full context)
Chapter 7, Heavier Boots
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
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...he’s met in the previous weeks are in the audience for opening night; Mom and Grandma come, too. For the following performances, only Grandma comes, and she embarrasses Oskar by laughing... (full context)
Chapter 8, “My Feelings”
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
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The narrator of this chapter is Grandma, writing a letter to Oskar from the airport (continued from the previous “My Feelings” chapter,... (full context)
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Grandma discusses the beginning of her marriage with Grandpa. Grandpa took pictures of every detail in... (full context)
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In their first Halloween in the apartment, Grandma didn’t understand what she was supposed to do when a child dressed up as a... (full context)
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Grandma says that when she was in the guest room supposedly typing her life story, she... (full context)
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Grandma feels a hole inside her and realizes that she needs a child. She writes in... (full context)
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Grandma follows Grandpa to the airport, but he tells her that she has to go home.... (full context)
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In the airport, talking to Grandpa, Grandma has several memories of her family as she is trying to convince Grandpa to stay.... (full context)
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Grandpa keeps pointing at “Broken and confused” and “Nothing” in the daybook and Grandma points at “Don’t cry” and “Something.” Finally, she convinces him to return home. They pawn... (full context)
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Grandma feels the baby (that is, Dad) kick in her belly, and she releases all the... (full context)
Chapter 10, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (4/12/78)”
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Grandpa is writing to his son from the spot where Anna and Grandma’s father’s shed used to stand. Grandpa has written a letter to his son every day,... (full context)
Chapter 12, “My Feelings”
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Grandma narrates this chapter, and she’s writing to Oskar. She describes where she was when the... (full context)
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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.... (full context)
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...also says no when Mom asks if there had been any messages on the phone. Grandma keeps knitting the scarf longer and longer all afternoon. Mom makes posters with Dad’s face... (full context)
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While Mom is gone, Grandma waits with Oskar. When Oskar falls asleep, Grandma turns on the television but puts it... (full context)
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Grandma writes about Dad’s funeral sometime later, in which they buried Dad’s empty coffin. That night,... (full context)
Chapter 13, “Alive and Alone”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
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...Oskar that he is finished, which makes Oskar feel incredibly lonely. Oskar goes up to Grandma’s apartment, but Grandma isn’t there. It’s the first time that Oskar has been in Grandma’s... (full context)
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Grandpa writes Oskar a note asking Oskar not to tell Grandma that they’d met. Grandpa also writes that if Oskar ever needs him, he should throw... (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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...in New York, a few days after September 11, 2001. Grandpa gives a note to Grandma’s doorman, and she stands with her palms against the window that night. He continues to... (full context)
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Grandpa calls Grandma on a pay phone, and when she answers, he tries to communicate with her by... (full context)
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Grandma lets Grandpa live in the guest room. He finds his daybooks from before he had... (full context)
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...pages in the book for Grandpa to tell the whole story, he writes. Grandpa asks Grandma if he can meet Oskar, but she says no; however, she shows him how he... (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... (full context)
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...in the story when Oskar meets Grandpa, only knowing him as “the renter.” That night, Grandma and Grandpa make love. Later, Oskar throws pebbles at the window. Grandpa goes outside, and... (full context)
Chapter 16, “My Feelings”
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Grandma, the narrator, describes the day when Grandpa comes in in the middle of the night... (full context)
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Grandma remembers the day her father died, trapped under the ceiling, but she can’t remember his... (full context)
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Grandma puts the typewriter and paper into a suitcase. She writes a note, tapes it to... (full context)
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Grandpa tells Grandma that Anna had been pregnant, but Grandma knew the whole time. Grandpa also tells Grandma... (full context)
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Everyone around them in the airport is coming or going. Grandma suggests that they stay in the airport forever: “Not coming or going. Not something or... (full context)
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Grandma writes that she is typing this very letter sitting across from Grandpa at a table... (full context)
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Grandma describes the last night that she spent with Anna. She regrets never telling Anna how... (full context)