Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Themes

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.

The intersection of national tragedy and individual grief is at the center of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Oskar Schell’s Dad, Thomas Schell, died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Dad’s death sets the main plot in motion, but concerns about mortality appear on many layers throughout the novel. Oskar’s Grandpa was in Dresden in 1945 during the firebombing that killed hundreds of…

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Puzzles offer a comforting alternative to disasters that don’t make sense: puzzles suggest that life has answers, and that even the scariest situations will have a solution in the end. Puzzles might seem like a light-hearted pastime, but Oskar takes puzzles extremely seriously. When Oskar discovers the key in his Dad’s room, he turns it from a random object into a quest. The key is in a little envelope labeled “Black,” and Oskar decides that…

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Trauma and guilt are very closely connected throughout Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Throughout the novel, several characters demonstrate what psychologists call survivor’s guilt, which is when people who survive a traumatic event think they’ve done something wrong and feel guilty simply because they are still alive. National trauma is deeply connected to individual trauma throughout the novel. The major national trauma of September 11 becomes intertwined with the major personal trauma of Dad’s

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Oskar maintains a long catalog of rituals that regulate his behavior. Oskar’s time, in some ways, is remarkably unstructured throughout the novel—he spend his days alone, wandering around the city—he constructs very specific rules for himself that he abides by rigidly, even when they don’t seem to make much sense. For example, Oskar refuses to get onto public transportation, preferring to walk everywhere, even if it takes hours. Every time he meets one of the…

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Even though guilt and fear often seem like the main emotions in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, all the characters who revolve in and out of Oskar’s life have very strong connections to people they love: love, more than anything else, drives people to do what they do. Death also plays a powerful role in love, since one of the most powerful types of love in the novel is for people who have died…

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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…

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