Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Doorknobs Symbol Analysis

Doorknobs Symbol Icon
Throughout the novel, Jonathan Safran Foer occasionally inserts photographs of doorknobs into the text. Grandpa took meticulous photographs of everything in his apartment, including doorknobs, so the collection of doorknobs comes in part from Grandpa’s trove of photographs. During the firebombing of Dresden, Grandpa burned his hand on a metal doorknob, which was all that was left of his home. The recurring photographs of doorknobs burn this visual motif throughout the novel like a scar. Throughout the novel, characters frequently stand on thresholds, both literal and metaphorical. Oskar has to meet every person named Black on his list by approaching his or her front door. When Oskar’s grandfather moves back into the apartment, he is relegated to the guest room. The doorknob also shows a lock, reminding the reader visually throughout the novel that Oskar is searching for the right lock that matches his mysterious key.

Doorknobs Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below all refer to the symbol of Doorknobs. 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 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.

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Doorknobs Symbol Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the symbol Doorknobs appears in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
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
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...all over his apartment. Jonathan Safran Foer, the author, also includes a photograph of a doorknob here. (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
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...the next day, filled with self-consciousness, but she’s not home. There’s a photograph of a doorknob in the chapter. (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...never get to see his son. In the chapter, there is another photograph of a doorknob. Grandpa writes that he will rip these pages out, put them in the mailbox, and... (full context)
Chapter 8, “My Feelings”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...her marriage with Grandpa. Grandpa took pictures of every detail in their apartment, including the doorknobs. Grandpa used to go to the airport after work. At first, he would bring Grandma... (full context)
Chapter 10, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (4/12/78)”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...city is getting more and more crowded with bombings. Grandpa burns his hand on a doorknob. There’s a photograph of a doorknob inserted into the chapter. (full context)
Chapter 14, “Why I’m Not Where You Are (9/11/03)”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...speak, I’m sorry”; “My name is Thomas”; “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... (full context)