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Andrew Sean Greer
Bret Easton Ellis
Edgar Allan Poe
Erich Maria Remarque
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
George R. R. Martin
Hunter S. Thompson
James Lee Burke
Jonathan Safran Foer
Joseph Michael Straczynski
Joyce Carol Oates
Julie Anne Peters
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Orson Scott Card
Philip K. Dick
Ursula K. LeGuin
Walter Dean Myers
William R. Forstchen
Jonathan Safran Foer
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
-Use of an array of characters to portray the universal mechanism of coping.
The story presents the growth that follows the acceptance of mistakes and the losses that all experience that pull even strangers together.
The sophisticated diction, constant ramblings and humor all convey Oskar's attempts to distract himself from the pain of losing his father. Through his struggle to discover the lock to the mysterious key that could be the answer to his father’s death that Oskar becomes involved with the other odd personalities. The author introduces a multitude of characters to express the various methods of coping people employ in times of trauma and the impact that even strangers can make on each other.
Oskar is young and realistic in a manner that is advanced for his age. Yet, no matter how sophisticated he seems, he is not able to grapple with the disappearance of his father, nor hide his naivety. Throughout his search for answers, the mysterious death of his father invariably invades his mind and overrides his life. Oskar’s need to repeatedly invent is a method of distraction he employs to block out emotions. A few of his inventions include a bird seed shirt, enormous pockets, microphones for the heart, “special drain”. All of his inventions bring people closer to one another and protect their loved ones. Despite the fact that his inventions connect or aid others, they never bring Oskar nearer to saving his father. It is evident that Oskar feels alone in the world and thinks that no one else can feel as he feels. The key that sends Oskar on his journey introduces him to people in different walks of life. Initially he does not realize others’ struggles. He questions people solely to propel him forward in his mission. The process also serves to help him by providing another means of distraction. Oskar discovers that in order to gain others' knowledge, he must first listen to their struggles. As he travels, he brings closure to those around him in an ultimate attempt to bring closure to himself.
The Blacks, and those he meets along the way, all cope with loss in various ways…. Mr. Black upstairs ignores his loss by occupying his time writing one word bibliographies and literally drowning out the world by turning his hearing aids off. He does not wish to hear what is happening outside and he cannot seem to leave behind the war or his deceased wife. All questions that Mr. Black cannot interpret are answered as though the questions are about his past. When Oskar searches for the lock in Mr. Black’s apartment he is caught, and guiltily asks, “Are you mad at me for snooping?” Mr. Black’s response is far from relevant and puzzling. “By the reservoir. She tripped on its roots once! That was back when I was courting her! She fell down and cut her hand! A little cut, but I never forgot it!” (Foer 161). A small event, yet it is a detail that Mr. Black never forgets. Turning off the hearing aid allows him to block out interference from the present and remain entrenched in the past. Unable to hear the world or the noises of the present, he is left with the echoes of his past repeating in his mind. Powerless to change his past mistakes, he suffers like Oskar, alone in his own world. Once Oskar turns the hearing aid back on Mr. Black returns from the disillusionment of his past life. “Then out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window extremely fast and incredibly close… Mr. Black grabbed at his ears and made a bunch of weird sounds. He started crying -- not out of happiness, I could tell, but not out of sadness either.”(Foer 168). The birds are a symbol of rescue throughout the novel. In this scene they represent Mr. Black's escape from the past and into the present. His tears express his ultimate acceptance of the world he’s been neglecting. After this feat, Mr. Black, free from the binds of his past, proceeds forward in the real world to aid Oskar, pursuing his own journey for inner peace.
Another of the many Mr. Blacks whom Oskar meets is also caught in the past trying to console himself after the death of his father. He, however, is unable to move forward because he sold a vase which contained a key to his father’s deposit box. Mr. Black goes through redundant ridiculous lengths to obtain the possibility of closure. “For a few weeks I’d go over to the neighborhood on my way home from work, even though it wasn’t on my way. It was an hour out of the way. I’d walk around looking for him.”(Foer 299). “I followed on man around Central Park for more than an half an hour.”(Foer 299). The determination of the man to find his father’s key is lessened by his lack of success. However, it still remains in the recesses of his mind, ever present. Oskar’s search for the lock brings him to confess his regretsa stranger with the answer to the key. Yet this brings him less satisfaction than he had anticipated as it is a mystery caused by coincidence rather than by the design of his father. Mr. Black is ultimately able to obtain closure when he finally obtains the long sought after key and he can discover what his father left for him so long ago.
Finally,Oskar's grandfather, or the “renter”, serves as a person who not only suffered from loss, but experienced the traumatizing tragedies that led up to the loss. In hopes to not reopen the scars of the past Oskar’s grandfather flees from his wife when she becomes pregnant. Not only does her pregnancy remind him of his past love, but he also fears another connection with a life that could be lost. To compensate for his absence and heavy conscience, the renter writes a multitude of letters to the son he will never see. In an attempt to avoid the past however, he will never be able to dodge the impact on the present, or the inability to speak that resulted. His silence is evidence of an emotional scar left on him from the past. Although he does not speak, he is the only one who Oskar believes can fully understand him. Their secret meetings, although seemingly childish, aid both Oskar and the renter in putting the death to rest. In their final mission, after they discover the owner of the key, they chose to unearth Oskar’s father’s coffin. Although at first not sure why they are there, the renter is finally able to do what he has been putting off despite it being long overdue. It is clear that within this passage a sort of unspoken resolution has occurred. “Life is scarier than death.” “So what’s all that paper?” He wrote, “Things I wasn’t able to tell him. Letters.” (Foer 322). Although the notes would never be read it was the renter’s way of saying his goodbyes to the past. The past will never completely vanish from his life however, he is literally and figuratively burying it.
Oskar never accomplishes a complete recovery, but in the end of the novel he has aided in the recovery of numerous others, though not on purpose. The numerous people he meets are from various pockets of New York and are all of varying ages. The regret, and mourning that these people cannot overcome is universal. Oskar’s journey does not solely focus on his pain, but also the collective pain that humans being share and strive to survive through various means. Although not an instantaneous recovery, Oskar is able to come to grips with his past in the final chapter when he finally accepts his mother’s relationship and tells her “It’s OK if you fall in love again.”(Foer 324).While Oskar has not fully recovered, he understands that others like him need support to move on. He realizes that what he may have at first considered as his mother's betrayal was another form of recovery from mourning.
Everything is Illuminated
- Characters take on responsibilities despite its impact on their dreams and happiness.
In the novel Everything is illuminated an American searches for the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The story follows the American, his tour guide Alex and Alex’s grandfather in this journey. Through this journey they develop a trust and reality is revealed from behind a curtain of superficiality and denial. Through this realization or illumination of reality the characters take control of their lives and make the best out of what they learn from each other and the past.
The old man , Alex the “translator” and the American all unite to find a woman who may have saved the American’s grandfather from the Nazi’s. Despite what initially comes off as prejudice these characters become unlikely companions and confide in each other. Throughout the story fictional flashbacks are utilized to illustrate the coming together of the unlikely pair of Brod and the Kolker. The situation is as humorous and bewildering as it is tragic. The flashbacks provide an insight into their convoluted situation. “And I wonder if you could just pretend for a while, if we could pretend to love each other. Until I’m gone.” (Foer 1330) “I’m sorry that this has been your life. Thank you for pretending with me.”( Foer 138). Brod’s inability to love is prevalent throughout her relationship Kolker. “You promised you’d pretend to love me until I died, and instead you’re pretending I’m dead.” Kolker once stated this as he knew his life was coming to a close. Brod realizes her mistake and returns the promise with vigor, staying by his side even as his outbursts and cruel words become rampant. Despite her inability to love, she inexplicably remains with Kolker. Even after an accident leaves a blade lodged in Kolker's skull, causing him to become violent and physically abusive toward Brod, she remains with Kolker. She sacrifices her time and health to care for the Kolker, even to his death. This flashback although fiction, conveys the undying devotion people employ to preserve those around through a sense of obligation or pride. The absence of love notwithstanding, Brod's devotion reigns superior, keeping her with Kolker. The devotion also results in Brod's isolation and sustains their impractical life together.
Alex’s relationship with little Igor establishes the importance of responsibility. In his case, Alex realizes that he must sacrifice his unrealistic dream of living in America to rid his family of the man who has proclaimed himself as his father. Father’s appearances in the novel are very few. In his appearances he comes across as distant and negligent. As Alex proclaims, his dream to his father it is instantly shot down and deemed unimportant. “I inquired father if I could go forth to America when I made to graduate from university” “No” Father replies “Because what you want is not important to me Shapka.” (Foer 28). In moments like these Alex’s relationship with his father is shown as one of convenience without love. Father cares little for the aspirations of his family“And Sasha told him again that he would take care of the family, that he would understand if his father had to leave and never return,” “Here, Sasha said and he took from the cookie jar two handfuls of money…Sasha said, It is not a gift. It is payment for everything that you will leave behind. Take it and never return.” (Foer 274). In this scene Alex exhibits his maturation from the beginning of the novel. Although he had always loved Igor, he had never before committed an act with such emotion and resolve on Igor's behalf. The scene demonstrates his final realization and assumption of responsibility. By banishing his father, and relinquishing his money, he breaks any ties with the illusion he had created and begins to engage with reality. This act conveys his capability to provide for his family and protect them. Although it is not his first choice, it is something he knew had to change. Throughout the novel the characters develop a sense of responsibility that compels them to take up roles, that although unappealing, will benefit those around them.
Grandfather carries with him a weight that is finally lifted at the end of the novel. Grandfather not only feels responsible for creation of his son’s abusive personality. “I pointed and for him (grandfather’s son) that Herschel was murdered that I murdered Herschel and this is why he is how he is he is how is he because a father is always responsible for his son and I am I and I am responsible not for Herschel but for my son.” The creation of the character that is Alex’s ‘father’ and the grandfather's son, is what Grandfather believes to be a product of his own mistake. Grandfather remains with Alex until he feels Alex can provide for, and lead the family away, from a path that he, the grandfather, feels responsible for creating. As a father is responsible for his son he feels responsible for the way Alex turns out. “Make your own life. That is how you can best care for us.” Grandfather says meaning, not to follow his path or his father's path. Both paths, in grandfather’s eyes, are paths that need not be followed. Grandfather had sacrificed a life of a friend for the life of his son. He feels responsible for the unloving father and the predicament of his grandson. Peace is finally achieved after the responsibility he once shouldered is taken by Alex. “I am complete with happiness, and it is what I must do, and I will do it.” In the final scene Grandfather commits suicide, he no longer feels he is needed. Grandfather is comfortable and confident in Alex’s character after witnessing his sacrifice and act of altruism.
Alex, Grandfather and Brod all carry with them a sense of responsibility that although seemingly undesirable, helped contribute to the lives of those around them. The responsibility each character feels is evident by their sacrifices. Although they all began the novel as strangers, who seemed incapable of loving or caring for others, each character grew and matured by sacrificing his or her own wellbeing for that of others.
The Importance of Perspective: How Shifts in Point of View Help to Effectively Tell the Story of
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
In this critical analysis of Jonathan Safran Foer’s second novel, A.S. will discuss what effect the variations in perspective have on the story.)
There are many components to
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
that make it an emotional, thought-provoking, effective piece- humor, syntax, structure, the use of pictures, typefaces, etc. All of these contribute, in a specific way, to the overall effect the book has on a reader. An equally important tool used here is point of view. The book is divided into a pattern of sections in which the story is told. One section is told by Oskar, a young boy who has lost his father in the attacks on the World Trade Center. His sections are about his journey to uncover as much information about his father as possible, especially the purpose of a mysterious key he finds in his father’s closet. Oskar’s sections are followed either by letters from his grandfather to his father, or letters from his grandmother to him. Each section deals with each character’s feelings specifically, and the narrative styles of each character are vastly different- yet when the sections are put together, they they a complete story.
All of Oskar’s grandmother’s sections are titled “My Feelings”. As mentioned earlier, these sections are all letters that Oskar’s grandmother is writing to him in the present (2003). The spacing in these sections is different than the spacing in the rest of the book; there are larger spaces between words and lines are indented more frequently, sometimes leaving only three or four words, for example, on a line. This adds a lot to the emotion that these sections portray and evoke; resembling a sort of stream-of-counsciousness. When there are only a few words per line, as in poetry, the words are read differently and the impact of those words is greater. In the following scene, Oskar’s grandmother describes waiting for her husband to come home despite knowing he had left her:
“I waited by the window. I still believed in him.
I didn’t eat lunch.
The afternoon left. The evening came.
I didn’t eat dinner.
Years were passing through the spaces between moments.
Your father kicked in my belly.
What was he trying to tell me?
I brought the birdcages to the windows.
I opened the windows, and opened the birdcages.
I poured the fish down the drain.
I took the dogs and cats downstairs and removed their collars.
I released the insects onto the street.
And the reptiles.
And the mice.
I told them, Go.
All of you.
And they went.
And they didn’t come back” (185).
The spacing and indentation here leads to a sort of staccato reading of the lines that forces the reader to keep stopping, which emphasizes not only the words themselves, but the meaning and weight that they carry. This structure is very effective in portraying the emotions of Oskar’s grandmother and developing her character (someone lonely and full of love without enough release, someone who has lost what she has never had) throughout the novel. The way her letters are set up and the way with which she conveys her emotions are what solidifies the message she is ultimately trying to deliver to Oskar: that “it’s always necessary” to tell the people you love, that you love them.
Oskar’s grandfather’s letters are very different in several ways. First, they are letters not to Oskar but to Oskar’s father; his son. And they are written to him from the year 1963 to the present, 2003. Each one is titled “Why I’m Not Where You Are.” They all attempt to tell his story and to explain him; to explain why he is the way he is and why he was not present for his son’s life. His narrative style and tone is very different from that of the grandmother’s. Primarily, there is little punctuation in his letters, so there is a stream-of-consciousness effect to all of his letters greater than the one present in the grandmother’s letters. Oskar’s grandfather is overflowing with guilt and because he lost the ability to speak after the war, writing is his main form of communication. It seems as if he has so much to say that he doesn’t have time or space for carefully planned out sentences. His letters have a sort of urgency attached to them, especially in his last one, where you can see that in the last couple of pages, he continued to write over what he had already written, to the point that the words are indecipherable. The last page of his final letter is completely black with words continuously scribbled over each other. From the structure of these letters and point of veiw from which the grandfather is telling his part of the story, the reader understands that he is a very broken yet good-natured man, who lost everything and was never able to find a way to live again. The essence of the grandfather’s character as well as the structure and style of his narration is captured in passages such as this one:
“Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myselg out of happiness one million times, but never once into it” (17).
Finally, Oskar’s chapters starkly contrast the other sections in that they provide a child’s perspective of a deeply troubling situation, whereas the other sections give an elderly person’s commentary on similar deeply troubling situations. Oskar and his grandparents have something in common, and that is that they have all lost something greatly, unspeakably important to them. The novel explores each character’s attempt to cope with a life in which a major reason for their living it was ripped away from them. They each must find new ways to live. The other two sections are coming from older, mature people who have, toward the ends of their lives, still not figured it out. Their sections have more to do with their youth and tell the stories of what World War II had taken from them, turned them into. They are cynical and echo some variation of the sentiment that the tragedy of life is that you only live once. Meanwhile, Oskar has his entire life ahead of him. Although mature for his age, his sections contrast the others in his tone, diction, and narrative style. While one passage might have him detailing some fantasy of what he wish were happening at the moment, like getting revenge on a classmate, other parts find Oskar not being able to sleep, feeling scared, or crying. Oskar is a humorous child, and the humor within his sections also helps to contrast the sections of the adults. At the same time, his child-like maturity and special understanding of some things is moving in its own way.
Despite all of the differences between the characters, they have a common problem; they are trying to learn how to live. they are examples of the human condition, and they all share Oskar’s childlike, yet very human longing for the past...
“I reversed the order, so the last one was first, and the first was last.When I flipped through them it looked like the man was floating up through the sky.And if I’d had more pictures, he would’ve flown through a window, back into the building, and the smoke would’ve poured into the hole that the plane was about to come out of...He would’ve taken the elevator to the street and pressed the button for the top floor.He would’ve walked backward to the subway...He would’ve gotten back into bed, the alarm would’ve rung backward, he would’ve dreamt backward... He would’ve walked backward to my room...I’d have said, “Nothing” backward. He’d have said “Yeah, buddy?” backward. I’d have said “Dad?” backward, 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
The Impossibility of Love, or “The Great and Saving Lie”: How Jonathan Safran Foer Explores the Idea of Love in
Everything is Illuminated
The focus of this critical essay by A.S. is the way in which Foer crafts characters that relate a very interesting take on the idea of love.)
“...if there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it heavy walls, and we will furnish it with soft red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler’s felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does.” (Foer 82).
Despite the many differences among them- gender, age, origin, time period in which they exist, whether or not they really ever existed at all- the characters in Foer’s
Everything is Illuminated
share one thing in common: they all struggle with the possibilities, or impossibilities, of love. Some of them believe in it, some of them don’t, and some of them used to. Some of them finally do after years of cynicism, and some of them don’t know what to believe. Through each character and storyline presented in this novel, we see a unique struggle between the character and his or her belief in love.
One of the most interesting and complex characters in this novel is Brod. According to the story, Brod was born out of the river that bears her name in the fictional town of Trachimbrod. She rose to the surface of the water with no trace of an umbilical cord. An old man named Yankel was chosen by the shtetl to be her father, and their relationship is a very interesting one. They live their lives completely for each other; they’re entirely close. Yankel devotes all of himself to making her happy and she does the same. Yankel himself is haunted by the departure of his wife, who left him for another man, and therefore puts his entire soul into caring for this new baby. Brod, meanwhile, is a sort of prodigy musically, intellctually, and philosophically. Perhaps because of the mystery surrounding her creation, Brod is a completely enchanting creature that everyone seems to fall in love with. But Brod, herself, feels incapable of love.
“Brod’s life was a slow realization that the world was not for her, and that for whatever reason, she would never be happy and honest at the same time... She addressed her world honestly, searching for something deserving of the volumes of love she knew she had within her, but to each she would have to say,
I don’t love you...
If we were to open to a random page in her journal...we would find some rendering of the following sentiment:
I am not in love.
So she had to satisfy herself with the idea of love- loving the loving of things whose existence she didn’t care at all about. Love itself became the object of her love...It was not the world that was the great and saving lie, but her willingness to make it beautiful and fair, to live a once-removed life, in a world once-removed from the one in which everyone else seemed to exist.”
Hence, beacause Yankel was “the closest thing to a deserving recipient” of her love, he got all of it.
Foer does a beautiful job of illustrating her feelings in several passages of the book. If not for his diction and the poetic quality to his work on Brod, the reader would not identify as strongly with her, be as curious about her, or have as much hope for her happiness. At any rate, something would be lost if Foer didn’t approach this chracter with such profound thoughtfulness. Because she is so hopeless about love, the reader roots for her to eventually find it. As the reader gains insight into her relationship with her father, doubts arise as to the idea that they do not really love each other. How could they not love each other? They absolutely live for one another, they always have meaningful and often times adorable conversations, they make sacrifices for one another. They are the only people in each others’ lives. However, Foer demonstrates that they merely “knew intimately the aspects of themselves in the other, but never the other.” (82).
After Yankel’s death Brod marries a young man from the village of Kolki. Brod is now convinced that she is in love with him, that she finally has a convincing reason to live. “
This is love
, she thought,
isn’t it? When you notice someone’s absence and hate that absence more then anything? More, even, than you love his presence?”
(121). However, throughout her entire relationship with the Kolker, Brod does not know whether or not she is actually in love with him.
Foer utilizes many tools throughout the novel to draw the reader in emotionally to Brod’s story. He uses endearing and quirky descriptions of the shtetl and its inhabitants to define Brod’s surroundings and the world from which she feels “once-removed.” He organizes the abstract feelings and ideas of the people of the shtetl into brief passages such as The Book of Recurring Dreams or The Book of Antecedents to help create the mood and set the tone for all of Brod’s difficult feelings. Foer crafts Brod’s relationship and Brod herself in a way that we can’t decide if she is in love, either. Moreover, Foer makes the reader question what she knows about love; what it means to love someone and whether or not true love is possible.
Foer uses the character of Safran (the great-great-great-great grandson of Brod), to explore the same idea- the impossibility of love- but in a different light. This character believes that “it is, by love’s definition, impossible to love two people”, because “
I love you
I love you mroe than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you
, and also
I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else, and never will love anyone else
” (170). Safran goes on to have countless sexual partners, none of whom does he love. However, he eventually falls in love with a Gypsy girl but cannot be with her because of conlflicting social classes. He does not want to be without her, but he lets her go and marries someone else. Foer creates this sort of frustration with several of the characters, which in turn sparks frustration in the reader. Why can’t Brod and Safran seem to find happiness, wholeness? Have they really fallen in love, or is love just an illusion?
This frustration is part of Foer’s strategy for illustrating his point about love- it is, for the most part, largely unfathomable. Of course, the characters in the story are exaggerations of this idea, but I think Foer uses tools throughout the books such as poetic quality, flashbacks, the incorporation of history and different generations throughout time, structure, syntax etc, to guide the reader to the idea ultimately being expressed in the novel- that love is such a simple yet impossibly complicated thing to grasp. Because of the power with which Foer’s characters convey these ideas, the reader is left to contemplate whether or not people are to follow in the footsteps of Yankel and Brod:
“They reciprocated the great and saving lie- that our love for things is greater than our love for our love of things-willfully playing the parts they wrote for themselves, willfully creating and believing fictions necessary for life” (83).
The Use of Type Settings, Photos and Blank Pages to Enhance
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
In the following literary criticism, C.O. discusses Foer’s use of type settings, photographs and even blank pages in
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
to grant the book a visual aspect further than the style narrative.
In the novel
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,
the author Jonathan Safran Foer uses type settings, spaces, photographs and even blank pages to grant the book a visual aspect further than the style narrative. By doing this, he creates more of a visual writing technique to bring the reader to a different level of reading and connection with the novel.
In the novel, a boy named Oskar lost his father in the September 11th Terrorist Attack. His Grandmother is struggling with her husband who left her and suddenly returns to ask for forgiveness. The story bounces back and forth between the Grandmother, Grandfather and Oskar.
The story opens up with duplicate letters from Stephen Hawking. “Thank you for your letter. Because of the large volume of mail I receive, I am unable to write personal responses. Nevertheless, know that I read and save every letter, with the hope of one day being able to give each the proper response it deserves. Until that day, Most sincerely, Stephen Hawking” (12) The author shows these letters throughout the novel, even though they are merely just repeating themselves. This allows the reader to not only see the letters and words, but be able to look at the letter from Oskar’s eyes and feel the disappointment repeatedly.
The next chapter is titled “Why I’m Not Where You Are 5/21/63” this is from his Grandfathers point of view. In this chapter, it is the first time we see that Oskar’s Grandfather does not speak and writes in his notebook phrase by phrase or word by word. “I started carrying blank books like this one around, which I would fill with all the things I couldn’t say, that’s how it started, if I wanted two rolls of bread from the baker, I would write “I want two rolls” on the next blank page and show it to him, and if I needed help from someone I’d write “Help,” and if something made me want to laugh, I’d write “Ha ha ha!” and instead of singing in the shower I would write out the lyrics of my favorite songs, the ink would turn the water blue red or green, and the music would run down my legs, at the end of each day I would take the book to bed with me and read through the pages of my life:” (17, 18)
Here the author puts in the actual pages from his book. We see “I want two rolls” on one page, “And I wouldn’t say no to something sweet” on another, as well as “I’m, sorry this is the smallest I’ve got”. These few pages are referred back upon throughout the novel due to his Grandfather’s lack of communication. These notebook pages are not only very personal, but convey the Grandfather’s grief, isolation, and his silence in life. When the reader flips through these pages they can look deep into the Grandfather’s lifestyle and put themselves in his daily struggles to communicate. Not only does Oskar’s Grandfather use a notebook to communicate, but he has the words “Yes” and “No” tattooed on his hands. Foer puts the actual photograph of the hands into the novel. This again, allows the reader to not just imagine the hands through simple words, but to see the hands and be able to react with the actual photograph.
Oskar’s Grandmother and Grandfather get together in their later years. He states that the only reason they worked out was because she never knew him; the only portion she knew was when he didn’t have a voice. Oskar’s Grandmother is able to cope with her son’s loss better than her husband, although she is definitely one of the most tragic figures in the novel. She loves a man that does not and cannot love her, and then she loses him. She gives birth to a son who is her pride and joy, and then she loses him as well. When her husband comes back into her life it is hard to see if it is a positive or negative result. They are both lonely and both want to latch onto some commonality.
Oskar has a very different relationship with his mother and his father. “I GUESS I FELL ASLEEP ON THE FLOOR. WHEN I WOKE UP, MOM WAS PULLING MY SHIRT OFF TO HELP ME GET INTO MY PJS, WHICH MEANS SHE MUST HAVE SEEN ALL OF MY BRUISES. I COUNTED THEM LAST NIGHT IN THE MIRROR AND THERE WERE FORTY-ONE. SOME OF THEM HAVE GOTTEN BIG, BUT MOST OF THEM ARE SMALL. I DON’T PUT THEM THERE FOR HER, BUT STILL I WANT HER TO ASK ME HOW I GOT THEM (EVEN THOUGH SHE PROBABLY KNOWS), AND TO FEEL SORRY FOR ME (BECAUSE SHE SHOULD REALIZE HOW HARD THINGS ARE FOR ME), AND TO FEEL TERRIBLE (BECAUSE AT LEAST SOME OF IT IS HER FAULT), AND TO PROMISE ME THAT SHE WON’T DIE AND LEAVE ME ALONE. BUT SHE DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING. I COULDN’T EVEN SEE THE LOOK IN HER EYES WHEN SHE SAW THE BRUISES, BECAUSE MY SHIRT WAS OVER MY HEAD, COVERING MY FACE LIKE A POCKET, OR A SKULL.” (172,173)
In this passage Foer uses all capital letters when describing Oskar’s inner thoughts directed towards his mother. Oskar seems to not only have a vast imagination but has many inner dialogues to himself, and to others. This clearly demonstrates the relationship between him and his mother, which is in his head, a confused, jumbled mess. Foer uses parenthesis when Oskar wants to tell the truth. The truth being incased in parenthesis can be connected to the way Oskar keeps the truth incased in himself most of the time; as well as the other tragic characters in the novel such as his Grandmother and Grandfather who keep the truth inside as well. Throughout the novel Oskar states that he bruises himself; however not for his father, or his mother, but rather for him. This scene allows for Oskar’s truth to be known to his Mother; however his shirt, being a barrier, keeps them from one another.
“Once upon a time, New York City had a sixth borough.” “What’s a borough?” “That’s what I call an interruption.” “I know, but the story won’t make any sense to me if I don’t know what a borough is.” “It’s like a neighborhood. Or a collection of neighborhoods.” “So if there was once a sixth borough, then what are the five boroughs?” “Manhattan, obviously, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.” “Have I ever been to any of the boroughs?” “Here we go.” “I just want to know.” “We went to the Bronx Zoo once, a few years ago. Remember that?” “No.” “And we’ve been to Brooklyn to see the roses at the Botanic Garden.” “Have I been to Queens?” “I don’t think so.” “Have I been to Staten Island?” “No.” “Was there
a sixth borough?” “I’ve been trying to tell you.” “No more interruptions, I promise.” (217)
This is one of the few times that we hear Oskar and his father conversing in conversation. Throughout the novel there are some flash backs and this is one of them. This particular one is showing the closeness that he and his father have. He knows that his son is very curious as well as intelligent. The type settings on this excerpt are very different from Oskar and his mother. Here, all the lines are close, just as there connection with one another. What makes this excerpt interesting is that it is such an intimate part of the novel, where son and father are conversing before his death, yet there are no photographs for it or leading to it. Whereas in contrast, many of the more important people and objects in his life such as Hamlet, Stephen Hawking, New York City buildings, and keys, are all photographed and spread strategically throughout the novel. Foer wants to use language, syntax, and structure to express the importance of the scene, rather than use a photograph.
Foer’s use of blank pages, spaces, and the different typing tools allow the reader to not only just read the words, but to put them in context of the time and the tragic event. Sometimes reading is different from seeing, and when Foer intertwines them both, it makes for a moving novel for those who were directly affected from 9/11 and those who may only be familiar with it.
The Importance of Words in
Everything is Illuminated
n the following essay, C.O. discusses how the novel is based on a society where words are chords to their everyday lives in
Everything is Illuminated.
The author Jonathan Safran Foer explains how the characters use words to not only express themselves but to chronicthe importance of being. Throughout the novel there are various books, diaries, notes, letters and captions that are important to each of the characters. The Book of Antecedents, The Book of Recurrent Dreams, the notes Yankel wife left him outside of the doorstep, and even the little caption on the back of the beloved picture of Augustine, which is the key to Jonathan’s journey.
The residents of Trachimbrod write as though it is all they are meant to do. It is as if nothing is factual or official until it is written on actual paper. Writing allows greater precision in communicating ideas, logic and other forms of complex thought.
The Book of Recurrent Dreams is a book where one states their dream that is recurring in their minds continuously. The book created is in column form and is written as is a bible, with the verse number before the actual passage.
The dream of angels dreaming of men.
It was during an afternoon nap that I dreamt of a ladder. Angels were sleepwalking up and down the rungs, their eyes closed, their breath heavy and dull, their wings hanging limp at the sides. I bumped into an old angel as I passed him, waking and startling him. He looked like my grandfather did before he passed away last year, when he would pray each night to die in his sleep. Oh, the angel said to me, I was just dreaming of you.”
In the Book of Antecedents, the people of Trachimbrod write unimportant and trivial things.
The Book of Antecedents
began as a record of major events: battles and treaties, famines, seismic occurrences, the beginnings and ends of political regimes. But it wasn’t long before lesser events were included and described at great length- festivals, important marriages and deaths, records of construction in the shtetl ( there was no destruction then) – and the rather small book had to be replaced with a three- volume set.” (196)
When they are at a standstill they write “We are writing…We are writing…We are writing” By the entire shtetl repeating the phrases of “We are writing” it leads to almost an insanity viewpoint. Writing gives them hope and comfort. They can look back into the past as well as look at the generations to come.
Alex and Jonathan’s major way of communication and connection is through their writing to and for one another. Alex begins as a writer of little experience and seems to embellish not only his overall story but each and every word as well. After his continuation of writing to and for Jonathan it seems as though Alex matures in his writing and is more professional. Once Alex comes clean in his writing he can be honest with himself and his life, as he stands up to his Father. Not only does Foer imply that writing consumes these civilians lives, but he stresses the reader to look at the style and fonts that each book, notes and captions are reflecting.
Overall, Jonathan Safran Foer, being a character of his own novel, proves that the use of words can affect an entire society; whether in books, notes, or captions. He shows that not only can each word have a meaning but each letter and phrase as well.
“I Didn’t Say Anything:” The Use of Structure in
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
to Convey and Enhance Characters’ Hidden Emotions
In the following essay, E.H. discusses Foer’s use of unique structure in
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
as a tool to convey the hidden emotions of his characters. E.H. further explores how Foer’s structural style reveals more insight as to the characters’ personalities and their motives.
In Jonathan Safran Foer’s masterful second novel,
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
, much of what is said is in fact unsaid. Characters’ personalities, emotions, and inner desires are revealed though inner dialogues, thoughts, and private actions. Foer’s unique use of structure is essential to the plot and overall message of the novel. Much of the structure of the novel goes against convention, but supports the atmosphere created by Foer’s bold and unconventional characters.
The protagonist, Oskar, one of the more complex characters, expresses himself primarily through his inner thoughts; therefore, structure is essential to the reader in order to fully understand his character. Being a child, he is unable to communicate his emotions eloquently. His true feelings are hidden behind the façade he puts on for those around him. Oskar’s emotions manifest themselves through the structure of the writing.
ME. You were adopted.
[Searches audience for his parents]
ME. And nobody loves you.
[His eyes fill with tears]
ME. And you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
JIMMY SNYDER. Huh?
ME. On behalf of the dead…
[I pull the skull off my head. Even though it’s made of papier-mâché it’s really hard. I smash it against
’s head, and I smash it again […]
This passage is a good representation of the relationship between structure and emotion. The play format follows the pre-existing school play scene, but also is symbolic of the act Oskar is forced to play daily in order to pretend he is over his father’s death. The break from conventional writing serves as a more obvious sign to the reader that Oskar’s emotions are hidden by this mask, this act he performs daily since he is unable to deal with these mature, adult emotions caused by his father’s tragic death. His unexpressed anger is evident in this scene as he uses the skull which is representative of death, his helplessness, and his father, to smash in the head of the school bully. The perverted sense of justice being dispensed by death illustrates Oskar’s confusion about Death itself and the reason for death occurring. The structure of this passage allows Oskar’s unexpressed anger and confusion caused by this traumatic situation to become known to the reader.
Oskar is not the only character whose individual emotions are expressed through personalized, unique structure. His grandfather, who has lost the ability to express himself verbally, communicates in a variety of ways that speak to his character, motives, and emotions. The most significant of these is the notebook that he carries around with commonly used phrases that are most often used to describe a situation that reveals something intimate or personal about Oskar’s grandfather.
Please marry me
I flipped back and pointed at, “Ha, ha, ha.” She flipped forward and pointed at, “Please marry me.” I flipped back and pointed at, “I’m sorry, this is the smallest I’ve got.” She flipped forward and pointed at, “Please marry me.” I flipped back and pointed at, “I’m not sure, but it’s late.” She flipped forward and pointed at “Please marry me,” and this time put her finger on “please” as if to hold down the page and end the conversation, or as if she were trying to push through the word to what she was trying to say […] I lifted her finger like a record needle and flipped back, one page at a time:
In this passage, the structure is altered to reflect the grandfather’s overwhelming feelings of loneliness and isolation. Each page of his notebook contains a single word or phrase, mirroring the grandfather’s lonely predicament, trapped in his private world of silence and grief. The separation of the two phrases, “Please marry me” and “Help,” highlight them as the main focus of the passages. The extreme difference in connotation only enhances the sentiments expressed by both characters. The repetition of “Please marry me” and the monotony of the flipping pages mark the pair’s desperation for connection. Though the conversation through the notebook is tedious and painstakingly ineffective, it manages to be eloquent in its absurdity. No normally social person would take the time to flip through a notebook of random collected phrases to communicate with an exceedingly lonely man; no one would take the time. It takes an equally lonely person who is desperate for affection, attention, and companionship to have the patience to sit there and communicate their desperation to someone who understands the depths of sorrow. Oskar’s grandmother recognizes the signs of depression and isolation in his grandfather, and latches onto that commonality. She asks him to marry her repeatedly so she can maintain at least this connection, at least this one person to share life with. His grandfather, being so deep in sorrow that he cannot speak, attempts to explain his predicament using the phrases in his notebook. “I’m sorry, this is the smallest I’ve got,” meaning he is unable to love her fully based on his tragic past. “I’m not sure, but it’s late,” meaning he is unsure that the damage done to both of them can be repaired this late in the game. Finally, “help” is his ultimate response to “please marry me,” which is his consent, his attempt to cure some of his loneliness. Of course, the reality is that both Oskar’s grandmother and his grandfather cry out for help in this scene, one using a proposal and the other the actual word. In essence, the two phrases mean the same: “I cannot do this on my own, please help me survive.”
Foer also uses structure, as in the previous passage, to describe or showcase the relationships between characters, particularly between Oskar and his parents. Oskar’s father is absent due to his death, but the reader receives a clear image of his though Oskar’s recollections, as well as other characters’ thoughts about him. Oskar’s relationship with his father is shown in various scenes when Oskar thinks back to times spent with his father, particularly when he misses him the most.
“Once upon a time, New York City had a sixth borough.” “What’s a borough?” “That’s what I call an interruption.” “I know, but the story won’t make any sense to me if I don’t know what a borough is.” “It’s like a neighborhood. Or a collection of neighborhoods.” “So if there was once a sixth borough, then what are the five boroughs?” “Manhattan, obviously, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.” “Have I ever been to any of the other boroughs?” “Here we go.” “I just want to know.” “We went to the Bronx Zoo once, a few years ago. Remember that?” “No.” “And we’ve been to Brooklyn to see the roses at the Botanic Garden.” “Have I been to Queens?” “I don’t think so.” “Have I been to Staten Island?” “No.” “Was there
a sixth borough?” “I’ve been trying to tell you.” “No more interruptions, I promise.” (217)
This scene does a good job portraying how the structure reflects on the relationship between the two. Oskar and his father are very close, which is what makes his death especially difficult for Oskar, who is an only child. Beginning with the most noticeable, none of the dialogue follows convention by beginning on its own line. The dialogue is condensed together, almost as if father and son are engaging in the same stream of consciousness. Visually, it represents the idea Foer is trying to get across: the closer dialogue indicates a close relationship between father and son, words and phrases flowing into each other as Oskar’s father tells him a bedtime story. Then focusing on content, the gentle scolding from Oskar’s father and the banter back and forth indicates a dynamic relationship based on love and intellect. It is obvious throughout the novel that Oskar’s father is aware of his son’s intelligence and encourages his extremely curious mind. Overall, the scene presented is not all that different from other scenes between fathers and sons; the normalcy and intimacy of their relationship enhances the empathy the reader feels for Oskar in this situation following his father’s death.
The ease with which Oskar and his father converse and the obvious love between the two is entirely absent from Oskar’s interactions with his mother. The strain of their relationship is due to his father’s death and their individual attempts to cope. Unfortunately, their attempts conflict with one another as Oskar and his mother need different things to move on from this tragic event. The structure used when Oskar speaks to his mother or interacts with her is entirely different from his interactions with his father. Dialogue is written traditionally, with each person beginning a new line, which in this case, indicates the distance and separation between mother and son. Most of his true feelings toward his mother are only expressed to the reader through his thoughts and dreams, and the actual things he says to her are watered down versions or a complete lie.
I GUESS I FELL ASLEEP ON THE FLOOR. WHEN I WOKE UP, MOM WAS PULLING MY SHIRT OFF TO HELP ME GET INTO MY PJS, WHICH MEANS SHE MUST HAVE SEEN ALL THE BRUISES. I COUNTED THEM LAST NIGHT IN THE MIRROR AND THERE WERE FORTY-ONE. SOME OF THEM HAVE GOTTEN BIG, BUT MOST OF THEM ARE SMALL. I DON’T PUT THEM THERE FOR HER, BUT STILL I WANT HER TO ASK ME HOW I GOT THEM (EVEN THOUGH SHE PROBABLY KNOWS), AND TO FEEL SORRY FOR ME (BECAUSE SHE SHOULD REALIZE HOW HARD THINGS ARE FOR ME), AND TO FEEL TERRIBLE (BEACASE AT LEAST SOME OF IT IS HER FAULT), AND TO PROMISE ME THAT SHE WON’T DIE AND LEAVE ME ALONE. BUT SHE DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING. I COULDN’T EVEN SEE THE LOOK IN HER EYES WHEN SHE SAW THE BRUISES, BECAUSE MY SHIRT WAS OVER MY HEAD, COVERING MY FACE LIKE A POCKET, OR A SKULL. (172-173)
This passage is a good representation of the average exchange between Oskar and his mother. The all-caps are used to represent the conflict between him and his mother, as well as all the confused feelings clashing, both in the passage and in his head. Most of the truths expressed by Oskar in this passage are contained in the parentheses, an important structural distinction. Oskar is unwilling to tell his mother the truth, and he is even reluctant to admit it to himself, so Foer includes those truths in parentheses, as almost side notes, though in this case the side notes contain the important information. The strained relationship between him and his mother is apparent, and is symbolically shown at the end of the passage, when Oskar is unable to see her reaction to his self-inflicted bruises due to his shirt acting as a pocket or a skull. Again, the skull is used to represent death, which in this case, is the obstacle that really drove a wedge between Oskar and his mother. Foer’s attention to detail throughout the novel enhances the reader’s sense of the characters’ personalities and motivations, and really improves the novel as a whole.
Foer’s careful use of structure to describe relationships between characters, as well as their individual emotions, is a testament to his dedication to his characters as well as his gift for writing. The structural eccentricities contained in the novel further the novel’s important message of coping with life after tragedy, and
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
remains one of the most poignant novels dealing with grief to date. (E.H. 2008)
“It’s All Ukrainian To Me:” How the Misuse of the English Language in
Everything Is Illuminated
Enhances the Meaning Conveyed
In the following essay, E.H. discusses the misuse of the English language by Alex, the Ukrainian translator in
Everything Is Illuminated
and how it enhances the meaning of the words used. E.H. also explores how the misused words increase the strength of the emotions conveyed through Foer’s writing.
The misuse of the English language, used by Jonathan Safran Foer in
Everything Is Illuminated
, enhances the meaning of the words and phrases used. Alex, one of two protagonists, is a young Ukrainian translator. His mutilation of the English language serves as an effective tool to convey his true emotions and feelings. He is very intuitive, and his insight is most frequently conveyed subconsciously through his botched English. Alex, being unaccustomed to speaking English, is only descriptive in his analysis of other characters. These in-depth descriptions reveal more about the characters’ personalities than his conversations with them.
“This made me a suffering person. I will tell you why. I knew why he was a little less than crying. I knew very well, and I wanted to go to him and tell him that I had a little less than cried too, just like him, and that not matter how much it seemed like he would never grow up to be a premium person like me, with many girls and so many famous places to go, he would. He would be exactly like me. And look at me, Little Igor, the bruises go away, and so does how you hate, and so does the feeling that everything you receive in life is something you have earned.” (68)
This passage exemplifies Alex's chronic misuse of language. Whether it’s grammatical, or simply the wrong word, his missteps shed light on the inner feelings and motives of the characters he describes. In this passage, Alex is describing an incident with his brother Little Igor. His description of Little Igor as “a little less than crying” is much more effective than any of many proper English words such as “sniffling” or “whimpering.” Also, his use of “premium” to describe a good person is more telling of Alex’s opinion of what it takes to be considered a “premium person.” The connotation of the word “premium” reveals the high standards Alex holds himself to, as well as the level of respect he has for those whom he considers “premium.” Also apparent in this passage is the domestic abuse of the boys’ father. Alex informs Igor that “the bruises go away and so does how you hate,” indicating that Alex is no longer abused as much, if at all, and also shows he longer hates his father for it. This is one subject that Alex is not completely open and honest about, which shows the negative impact it has had on his typically candid personality.
As was explained in the previous passage, Alex’s misuse of language can also be a reflection on his own feelings and motives. In a majority of those cases, Alex reveals personal feelings by discussing others. He is not open about his feeling due to the oppressed emotional nature of his family and the abusive nature of his father. All of his personal revelations occur as the result of his treatment or opinion of another individual.
“It made me a tickled-pink person to receive you letter and to know that you are reinstated at university for your conclusive year. As for me, I still have two years of studies among the remnants. I don’t know what I will perform after that. Many of the things you learned me in July are still momentous to me, like what you uttered about searching for dreams, and how if you have a good and meaningful dream you are oblongated to search for it. This may be cinchier for you, I must say.” (52)
The words he used to describe Jonathan, the other protagonist, are by proxy used to classify himself. Alex’s open admiration for the hero contrasts his own insecurity and low self-esteem. Ale’s description of Jonathan's last year in college as compared to his “two years of studies among the remnants.” He considers his own college experience to be a joke, but ranks Jonathan’s senior year in college as an honorable feat. He also insults himself when he informs Jonathan that finding future goals and pursuing dreams “may be cinchier for you, I must say.” Alex is unsure of his future goals, but he is sure than Jonathan, with his superior intellect, would have an easier time deciding.
Foer’s misuse of the English language, as seen through Alex, is a useful tool for the enlightenment of the reader. The butchered language usually is much more effective in describing the emotions and personalities of those who do not speak for themselves. Overall, Foer effectively misuses English to further the emotions portrayed in the novel.
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