Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Jonathan Safran Foer

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer comes from an intellectual, Jewish family; his mother’s parents were Holocaust survivors. After graduating from Princeton, Foer traveled to Ukraine to research his family’s roots. Foer incorporated this journey into his thesis from Princeton to write his first novel, Everything is Illuminated, which weaves historical fiction with autobiography in two parallel but interconnected plots. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is Foer’s second novel, and he expands upon his method of braided storylines by adding visual materials and complex narration. Since Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Foer has written in a wide variety of genres. His third book, Eating Animals, is a nonfiction treatise about factory farming and slaughterhouses in which he explores his own vegetarianism. Foer experiments with forms throughout his work: his novel Tree of Codes, is a cross between a story and a sculpture: he removed letters and words from Polish author Bruno Schulz’s book The Street of Crocodiles to create a new story. He has also written an opera libretto and edited many books, from The Future Dictionary of America to a new translation of the Jewish religious text the Haggadah.
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Historical Context of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is set in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001: hijackers crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers, causing over 2500 deaths around the site. The Dresden firebombing of 1945, at the end of World War II, also provides a touchstone traumatic event for the novel: the British and Americans dropped nearly 4000 tons of bombs on the city of Dresden, killing nearly 25,000 people. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is also part of the historical conversation of the difficulty of creating art that responds to an event as traumatic as 9/11 or the Dresden bombing. Several works of literature written soon after 9/11 attempted to confront this event’s atrocities, but authors struggled to come up with an adequate representation of the trauma in words—the inability to write about the event represented, many authors felt, the failure of language itself. Similarly, writers just after World War II and the Holocaust struggled to represent the horrors. “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” declared German philosopher Theodor Adorno. The Romanian poet Paul Celan also expressed the difficulty of using language to express the unspeakably horrible: language “gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it.” Jonathan Safran Foer verbalizes the difficulty of working through trauma by embodying this struggle in his nine-year-old protagonist.

Other Books Related to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is best read alongside other modern and contemporary works of realist fiction that have a strong, quirky, compelling protagonist—especially novels written from the perspective of a precocious kid. These novels usually follow the narrator on some sort of quest, through which the protagonist himself also grows up. The most iconic twentieth example of a novel in this type of voice is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), also a deeply symbolic novel about a boy traveling around New York City and mourning a family member’s death. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (2003) is written from the point of view of a boy with Asperger’s disease, a form of high-functioning autism in which people are often extremely precocious but find difficulty navigating their way around day-to-day interactions without elaborate rituals and patterns. Many reviewers of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close diagnose Oskar with Asperger’s disease because of his verbal precocity and strange personal quirks. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, set near New York, also has a protagonist named Oscar/Oskar; more importantly, Diaz’s novel, like Foer’s, uses a parallel narrative between the protagonist in the present and his family’s history. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close can also be read alongside imaginative retellings of World War II stories, especially books such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) that weave together plots from different time periods. Although Junot Diaz and Kurt Vonnegut include fantasy in their fictional worlds, whereas Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel is more realistic, Foer uses many recurring symbols and carefully plotted elements that draw from the structures of legend and superstition.
Key Facts about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • Full Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • When Written: mid-2000s
  • Where Written: Brooklyn, New York
  • When Published: 2005
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Literary Realism
  • Setting: New York, New York
  • Climax: The solution to the mystery of the key
  • Point of View: Oskar, Grandpa, Grandma

Extra Credit for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Family Matters. Both of Foer’s brothers have literary careers: his older brother, Franklin, was an editor of the magazine The New Republic, and his younger brother, Joshua, is a freelance journalist and author of the bestselling book Moonwalking with Einstein.

Answer: This Jeopardy! Champion is Oskar Schell. In 2010, twelve-year-old Thomas Horn won over $30,000 on the game show Jeopardy! during Kids Week. Based on his performance in the quiz show, he was cast as Oskar Schell in the 2011 film adaptation of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.