Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Keys Symbol Icon
The key that drives the plot of the novel is the one that Oskar finds inside the envelope labeled “Black” in the blue vase in Dad’s closet. This key forms the basis for Oskar’s expedition around New York. As Oskar travels around the city, meeting every person with the last name “Black” in alphabetical order by first name, he must overcome several of his fears—traveling across bridges, riding the subway—and learns about others’ lives by pursuing his own quest. Ultimately, what’s behind the lock that the key unlocks isn’t the point; rather, the main function of the key is the personal growth it allows Oskar to achieve, since it gives Oskar a sense of purposefulness in the face of events that seem chaotic and uncontrollable. Other keys also open and close both literal and metaphorical doors in the novel. Grandma has kept Grandpa’s key to the apartment for forty years. She gives it to him when he returns, but Grandpa eventually buries the key in Dad’s coffin, along with all letters to his unborn son. Oskar wears the key from the vase over his heart, tied to his apartment key: his Dad is always the driving force of the quest, but the quest ultimately leads him back to his family. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Oskar has had the power to return home all along.

Keys Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below all refer to the symbol of Keys. 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 9 Quotes

I adjusted the string so the keys—one to the apartment, one to I-didn’t-know-what—rested against my heart, which was nice, except the only thing was that it felt too cold sometimes, so I put a Band-Aid on that part of my chest, and the keys rested on that.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Keys
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

The fact that Oskar keeps the key over a Band-Aid over his heart is very symbolic for several reasons. Although Oskar claims that the Band-Aid is to protect his skin when the key bumps against it, symbolically, the Band-Aid suggests that Oskar is trying to heal his broken heart, which broke on “the worst day,” that is, September 11. Oskar keeps the key on his chest for the practical reason that he knows it will be safe and he knows he can keep track of it, but symbolically, carrying the key right over his heart shows how precious this object is to him. Not only is the key the engine that drives the quest to find the right Black and unlock the box, the key also represents Oskar trying to come to terms with himself and figuring out how to unlock the secrets he has kept locked inside himself. Carrying the key is creating a physical wound on Oskar’s chest, but carrying the locked-up secrets is creating an even deeper psychological wound inside Oskar’s heart.

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Keys Symbol Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the symbol Keys 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
Mom asks Oskar why Oskar has given a spare set of keys to the mailwoman; though Oskar is afraid that Mom doesn’t love him anymore, she reassures... (full context)
Chapter 3, “Googolplex”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...When he starts to clean up, he finds a little envelope with a fat, short key inside the vase that Oskar’s never seen. He tries all the locks in the apartment,... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...lie he has to tell, he reports—and goes to the locksmith to ask about the key. The locksmith says that it looks like it’s for a lockbox, probably a safe-deposit box. (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Oskar retrieves the envelope that the key had been in and sees the word “Black” written on the back. His Dad’s handwriting... (full context)
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...free to go around the city and ask all the people named Black about the key, which, he calculates, will take him eight months. (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...Me binder, and Jonathan Safran Foer includes the pictures in the chapter: a wall of keys, Stephen Hawking, Hamlet, a blueprint of a paper airplane, two turtles making love, a box... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Oskar puts the key from the vase on the string around his neck, next to his apartment key, and... (full context)
Chapter 5, “The Only Animal”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...Dad is dead. The man says that if Oskar comes up, he’ll look at the key, but since he’s hooked up to several machines, he can’t come down. Oskar is scared... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...knew his Dad, Thomas Schell, and again, she says no. When he shows her the key, she also says that she doesn’t know anything about that. (full context)
Chapter 7, Heavier Boots
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...tells Oskar that he has made Gail uncomfortable with his compliments. Oskar shows her the key, but she hasn’t seen it before. He gives her his card and she pays for... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Oskar goes to the bathroom and surreptitiously tries the key on several keyholes in the apartment, but none work. Mr. Black has an amazing bed... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Oskar’s key is reaching toward the bed: there are so many nails that they are exerting a... (full context)
Chapter 9, “Happiness, Happiness”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
They meet Albert Black and Alice Black, but neither one of them knows about the key. Oskar asks Alice if he can kiss her. Oskar receives a letter from Gary Franklin,... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...from Jane Goodall. Oskar puts a Band-Aid on the part of his chest that the keys rest against, because sometimes the keys get cold against his heart. (full context)
Chapter 13, “Alive and Alone”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
After six and a half months of searching for the key together, Mr. Black tells Oskar that he is finished, which makes Oskar feel incredibly lonely.... (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
...window is open and the apple goes into the apartment. The doorman gives Grandpa a key, but the door is open when he goes up. Grandma tells him that he can... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...but she says no; however, she shows him how he can see Oskar through the keyhole in the coat closet. (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...gotten off the phone with Oskar’s mother and wonders why Grandpa doesn’t know about the key. (full context)
Chapter 15, “A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...he hears Abby Black, saying that she might be able to help Oskar with the key. The message had been waiting for Oskar for eight months, but Oskar hasn’t heard it,... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Abby says that her husband knows about the key, but on the day when Oskar had visited eight months ago, she couldn’t tell Oskar... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...up, and she told her the whole story: about Oskar coming to visit, about the key, about Oskar’s mission. All of a sudden, everything makes sense. That’s why Mom never seemed... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Oskar shows William the key. William asks Oskar if he found it in a blue vase. William says that he’s... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...letter. At the end of the letter, William’s father wrote that he left him a key in a blue vase to his safe-deposit box, but by that point, William had already... (full context)
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
...anyone about the phone call, and William says that he does. Oskar gives him the key. (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...than actually carrying them out. Oskar tells Grandpa that he found the lock to the key. Oskar says that he wishes he hadn’t found the lock because now he can’t look... (full context)
Chapter 16, “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
...Oskar dug up Dad’s grave, and Grandpa buried the letters he wrote, along with the key to Grandma’s apartment, in the grave. (full context)