Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Science, Mathematics, and Invention Symbol Analysis

Science, Mathematics, and Invention Symbol Icon
Oskar is obsessed with scientific ideas and objects: he loves Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, he names his cat Buckminster (after the inventor Buckminster Fuller), and he is constantly “inventing” new ways to improve things. Many of these “inventions” are modifications that might have saved his Dad from dying, or to mitigate the effect of his loss; for example, Oskar imagines a “birdseed shirt” so that humans, who don’t have wings, can make a quick escape (the birds will latch onto the shirt, presumably, giving the wearer a ride). Oskar is an atheist, but he believes fervently in science as an absolute, true force that organizes the world. Oskar charts many aspects of his world very precisely: he makes frequent lists and keeps track of statistics for everything, like the amount of dust his apartment generates in a year (112 pounds). Science offers both Oskar and other characters in the novel something concrete to hold onto in the midst of chaos. Science and math create factual certainties where emotions might be very shaky and uncertain; listing facts about the world becomes a comforting ritual and a way to organize reality into concrete, discrete blocks, even if the facts aren’t comforting in and of themselves.

Science, Mathematics, and Invention Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close quotes below all refer to the symbol of Science, Mathematics, and Invention. 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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“Well, what I get is why we do exist? I don’t mean how, but why.” I watched the fireflies of his thoughts orbit his head. He said, “We exist because we exist.” “What the?” “We could imagine all sorts of universes like this one, but this is the one that happened.”

Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The conversation about parallel universes foreshadows the ending of the book, in which Oskar tries to rewind time and image a world in which a different outcome happened than the events of September 11. By switching only a few small decisions, Oskar envisions a world in which his Dad is still alive and everything is just as it had been before. However, even though Oskar tries to turn to another idea of reality as a comfort, he has to learn how to accept things as they are.

But accepting things as they are doesn’t mean that we have to stop telling stories. The “fireflies” foreshadow the story of the Sixth Borough, which Oskar alludes to in this first chapter but does not appear in the novel in full until much later. In this fable, eventually the only source of light in the Sixth Borough comes from fireflies kept in jars. The Sixth Borough represents another imaginary universe, a long-lost, Atlantis-like world that becomes a shared mythic space between Oskar and his father. Stories about alternate realities can, paradoxically, help us live in our own universe.

Chapter 3 Quotes

And maybe you could rate the people you knew by how much you loved them, so if the device of the person in the ambulance detected the device of the person he loved the most, or the person who loved him the most, and the person in the ambulance was really badly hurt, and might even die, the ambulance could flash GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE! I LOVE YOU!

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The devices that Oskar imagines are often whimsical and seem tangential, but they typically represent something that is deeply important to Oskar’s subconscious mind. In the case of the ambulance siren that blasts an important message from the person dying inside, the invention represents an idealized version of the messages that Oskar’s father left on the answering machine on September 11. Oskar feels incredibly guilty both that his father left these messages and that Oskar didn’t pick up the phone when he had the final opportunity to speak to his father. Oskar is preoccupied with getting closure for his father’s death, and he wishes that his father had left a very clear message saying goodbye, rather than a series of messages asking if anyone were there to pick up the phone. Oskar knows that he could not have done anything to stop his father’s death, but he still feels guilty because the final words from his father were so unresolved. An ambulance siren that blasts canned but unambiguous messages to loved ones would help those left behind feel more at peace and able to move forward, rather than being trapped in an emotional limbo land.

Chapter 5 Quotes

When I was exactly halfway across the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge, I thought about how a millimeter behind me was Manhattan and a millimeter in front of me was Queens. So what’s the name of the parts of New York—exactly half through the Midtown Tunnel, exactly halfway over the Brooklyn Bridge, the exact middle of the Staten Island Ferry when it’s exactly halfway between Manhattan and Staten Island—that aren’t in any borough?

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker)
Related Symbols: Science, Mathematics, and Invention
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Oskar again shows his tendency towards whimsical scientific questions and the ritualized ordering of spaces, through which he tries to make sense of emotional issues.At this point in the novel, Jonathan Safran Foer also inserts a picture of several bridge girders in a lattice pattern, and through them, one can see part of the New York skyline, though, of course, missing the Twin Towers.

On the one hand, there are several layers of supporting structures holding the bridges up, which makes the "connective tissue" between the boroughs seem very strong. However, since the bridges are all in lattice structures, the viewer can also see through the gaps between the beams, which makes the reader aware of the empty spaces as well. Throughout the novel, in all of the various plots, Foer emphasizes that there must be a balance of positive and negative space, between something and nothing, in order to create true, lasting stability. The space in the middle of every borough, on the one hand, could be thought of as a kind of a black hole, a void that belongs to no one and thus has a terrifying power to destroy those who enter. On the other hand, the space could belong to everyone, so rather than sucking people into no man’s land dangerously, it could be a trusting space supported by all.

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.

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Science, Mathematics, and Invention Symbol Timeline in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The timeline below shows where the symbol Science, Mathematics, and Invention 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
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Trauma and Guilt Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...getting introduced to what’s going on. In rapid-fire succession, Oskar gives several ideas for new inventions or improvements on the world: for example, he describes a teakettle that sings melodies, an... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...after “the worst day” (that is, September 11, 2001). Oskar writes his first letter to Stephen Hawking , who sends a form letter in reply. Oskar is so delighted with the form... (full context)
Chapter 3, “Googolplex”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...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 of... (full context)
Chapter 5, “The Only Animal”
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 is the narrator in 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... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...a bit of dust in the kitchen, Abby gets embarrassed, causing Oskar to launch into statistics about the amount of dust his apartment had produced in a year (112 pounds). Abby... (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
...girls in Oskar’s class are crying, and the boys are making barfing noises. Oskar explains scientific aspects of the explosion, such as the fact that scientists could determine where the explosion... (full context)
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
...were burned out. Oskar has had the effect replicated by die-cutting the first page of A Brief History of Time in Japanese translation. (full context)
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Superstition and Ritual Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Jimmy Snyder asks Oskar who Buckminster is, and when Oskar says, “Buckminster is my pussy,” the kids crack up. There’s a... (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
...remember having told the man his name. At home, he has received a letter from Jane Goodall. Oskar puts a Band-Aid on the part of his chest that the keys rest against,... (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
...a tour, recounting the history of the Empire State Building: she describes its architecture, gives statistics about its structure, and tells them several cultural facts about the building. When the official... (full context)
Chapter 15, “A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem”
Mortality and the Purpose of Life Theme Icon
Puzzles and Cleverness Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Grandpa gives Oskar a letter. It’s from Stephen Hawking , who thanks Oskar for all the letters that he’s sent over the past two... (full context)