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 Blacks, he has a cup of coffee. Oskar’s a vegan, and very particular about what he will and will not consume.
Oskar also meets several other people with strange rituals. Mr. Black hasn’t left his apartment for twenty-four years before accompanying Oskar on his journey. Ruth Black lives at the top of the Empire State Building and never comes down to ground level. Oskar and his Grandma have several private rituals with each other. For example, whenever one says the other’s name, the other one says “I’m OK,” as though they’re playing a version of the game “Marco Polo.”
But a lot of Oskar’s personal growth comes when he can break out of his rituals and realize that his world will still function. Oskar clings to superstitions because he feels afraid to enter the overly vast world without their support, but when he has to step outside his routine, or when he sees others break their well-established rituals, he becomes more able to push his own limits.
Rituals in the novel are both crippling and liberating. Oskar’s rituals sometimes help him move forward with his life: without creating elaborate rules for himself, and building an expedition out of a single word, he might never have been able to begin to process his grief. But if rituals become so deeply set in stone, they can stop someone from ever doing anything different, or from moving past the event that precipitated these ritual behaviors. Routines can be coping mechanisms that provide stability in a chaotic world, but the real strength of a ritual comes when someone can let it go.
Superstition and Ritual ThemeTracker
Superstition and Ritual Quotes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.