Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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Language and Communication Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Language and Communication Theme Icon

Oskar is an extremely verbally precocious nine-year-old––he and Dad used to comb the New York Times for typos as a relaxing evening activity. Oskar is a hyper-verbal narrator who tells us everything that’s on his mind, and he has an enormous vocabulary. Oskar thinks about words all the time; in the first chapter, for example, he squints at a map, connects dots to see “FRAGILE,” and discusses every single association he has with the word “fragile,” as though he were writing his own private dictionary definition. Oskar also has his own private codes for things: “wearing heavy boots,” for example, is his way of describing fear and sadness. Oskar clings to the belief that everything can be solved through puzzles and expeditions: that if he just interprets something correctly, or if he just finds one more clue, one more word, that will provide some sort of answers or closure to the gaping hole that the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers left both on New York City and in his own life.

If Oskar uses an overabundance of words and digressions, then Oskar’s Grandpa has the opposite problem: he doesn’t speak out loud at all. Oskar’s Grandpa loses his ability to speak after the trauma of seeing his loved ones die in the Dresden firebombing during World War II. He has “YES” and “NO” tattooed on his hands, and he write brief notes in a daybook to communicate anything more complicated. Even though Grandpa can’t speak out loud, however, he does write several long letters about his past. It’s never clear exactly to whom these letters are written—either Oskar’s Dad or Grandpa’s unborn child who died in Dresden—but they were never sent, and never read by their intended audience.

The most meaningful communication in the novel, even though the novel is so loaded with verbal fireworks, is wordless. Oskar’s Mom is silently following his journey: unbeknownst to either Oskar or the reader, she knows exactly what he’s doing and alerts each person that he is on his way. Grandpa cares tremendously about his family, but never speaks out loud. Even Oskar, for all of his verbal precocity, learns that love is deeper than language. The novel ends with images, not words. Jonathan Safran Foer presents the reader with a backwards flipbook of a man falling out of the World Trade Center: instead of going down, the man appears to be falling up. This wordless, upside-down, tragic, yet expectant image provides more closure than words could convey: even though the flipbook is traumatic and terrifying, there’s also a tremendous amount of hope that the reader can’t help but feel when we see the man flying upwards.

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Language and Communication ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Language and Communication appears in each chapter of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Language and Communication Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Below you will find the important quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close related to the theme of Language and Communication.
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.

“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.

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 2 Quotes

I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker)
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, which is the first sentence of Grandpa’s letter to his son, Oskar’s father, Grandpa explains that he used to talk incessantly. Now, post-traumatic stress disorder has made Grandpa unable to speak, so he has to write to communicate anything that he wants to say. Grandpa has been writing this letter for many decades, but after September 11, he will never be able to give it to Oskar’s father. However, he cannot stop attempting to reach out. Everything that he has been unable to say aloud has built up within him, and he feels compelled to try and say everything.

Even though Grandpa can no longer speak, he has an infinite amount that he wants to express. Grandpa writes in long, run-on sentences with phrases connected by commas, which creates a sensation of urgency, as if he is trying to atone for his many years of silence. Throughout the novel, characters have a lot of difficulty communicating with each other effectively. Sometimes, too many words might not express anything at all, whereas a gesture or a look can say everything that needs to be said. Talking all the time can prove to be more of a defense mechanism than a method of true communication. In the past, even though Grandpa talked all the time, he failed to listen, and therefore to communicate emotions.

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 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.

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 7 Quotes

I felt, that night, on that stage, under that skull, incredibly close to everything in the universe, but also extremely alone. I wondered, for the first time in my life, if life was worth all the work it took to live. What exactly made it worth it? What’s so horrible about being dead forever, and not feeling anything, and not even dreaming? What’s so great about feeling and dreaming?

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker)
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

In his school’s production of Hamlet, Oskar portrays Yorick, the dead jester whose skull gets exhumed in the final act of the play. Playing the role of a dead character is both funny and morbid, given Oskar’s fascination with death and obsession with the death of his father throughout the novel. Oskar is precocious and hyper-verbal, as his narration demonstrates, yet a great deal of his brilliance stays inside his own imagination. The reader gets to see what he is thinking about, but the outside world doesn’t get access to Oskar’s mind. For Hamlet, Yorick’s “infinite jest” can now only exist in the imagination, since Yorick is dead. Oskar can only recall his father in memory, rather than interacting with him in real life.

Beyond the character of Yorick, there are several parallel themes between Hamlet and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Just like Hamlet, Oskar is haunted by the ghost of his father. Oskar is angry at his mother for beginning a relationship with another man soon after his dad died. Oskar’s meditations about feeling and dreaming echo Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, in which Hamlet wonders aloud whether it is worth it to live or die—"to sleep, perchance to dream," as Oskar almost says here.

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.

Then, out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window, extremely fast and incredibly close. Maybe twenty of them. Maybe more. But they also seemed like just one bird, because somehow they all knew exactly what to do.

Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

The description of the flock of birds recalls the title of the book, although with the word “fast” instead of “loud,” because Oskar sees the birds, rather than hearing them. The birds are symbolic, but they do not represent one single thing. Like many of the enigmatic clues and images throughout the novel, the birds have several layers of significance. At this point in the novel, Foer inserts a blurry picture of several birds flying past, apparently going very fast, as though they are falling. The image of the birds resembles the flipbook at the very end of the novel that depicts a person who appears to be falling up into one of the Twin Towers. On the other hand, the birds represent freedom. Unlike Oskar, who feels tethered to the ground with his “heavy boots,” the birds can take off, seemingly able to escape guilt and difficult emotions to begin a new life. 

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 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 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 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

I was in Dresden’s train station when I lost everything for the second time.

Related Characters: Grandpa (speaker)
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, the Dresden firebombing during World War II is the trauma that serves as the parallel precursor to the trauma of September 11. Grandpa and Grandma both lost a beloved person in their lives: Anna, Grandma’s sister and Grandpa’s lover. Being in the Dresden train station is also a parallel setting to the airport where Grandma and Grandpa reveal they have been throughout the entire novel. Both train stations and airports are points of transportations, empty spaces where people are coming and going. On the one hand, just like the space between the boroughs that could seem like a gaping void, train stations and airports belong nowhere and are a kind of black hole. On the other hand, these places have infinite potential, and any number of universes could unfold from them.

Even though the statement that one has lost everything a second time is very depressing, it also contains hope within it. To have lost everything twice means that even if someone loses everything once, that person can create a new life. Losing everything twice is, in some ways, doubly sad, yet if a life was rebuilt once, it can be built again.

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


Related Characters: Oskar Schell (speaker), Mr. Black
Related Symbols: Letters, Notes, and Notebooks
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

Foer not only writes about what many of Mr. Black's business cards or index cards (which contain brief biographical information about people he considers "significant") say and look like, but he also places an image of these cards directly into the novel. Mr. Black’s card describing Oskar resembles in size and shape the business cards that Oskar makes for himself. Oskar’s business card also begins with his name, but underneath it he has packed many descriptions, including inventor, jewelry designer, percussionist, and amateur archaeologist. Throughout the novel, Oskar takes all the roles he describes himself as having and many more. Mr. Black does not have a comprehensively detailed description on every card, but rather, exactly the opposite. He has a vast library of people in his card catalog, and all of them are distilled to one essential description. Oskar may, indeed, do many things and have many traits—but being a son is Oskar’s primary motivation, and being a son is a very complex, layered job that gets at the root of everything Oskar does. Oskar spends the majority of the novel on a quest to discover the mystery of the key in his closet, which is a quest designed to bring him closer to his dead father. But being a son is also about being there for his mother, who is still alive, yet is mostly silent in the background for much of the novel. Even though Oskar concentrates explicitly on looking for clues about his father, it is his mother who is there for him, and whom he has to be there for in the present.

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 16 Quotes

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

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.

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.