Saturday, November 27, 2010

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as well as Everything Is Illuminated (which was adapted into film in 2005), uses bits and pieces of his own childhood to shape the precocious narrator, Oskar Schell. For example, when Foer was nine years (the same age as Oskar), he was terribly burned in an accident at a chemistry lab and as a result, he suffered the same kind of mental stress as Oskar after the death of his father. Therefore, from the very beginning of the novel, readers are exposed to traumatic effects of death.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is a novel built around the eyes of a nine year old boy who concocts inventions in his mind that would improve everyday life and solves mysteries to quench his curious mind. The opening pages of the novel expose Oskar's thoughts (which I believe exceed the mind of a nine year old) as a stream of consciousness, having no sort of pattern or reason. He is weighed down by a secret he holds and feels all the burden and exasperation as a result of losing his father and his mentor. Interspersing the novel are letters from Oskar's grandfather to his son and Oskar's grandmother to Oskar. These letters again reveal the themes of suffering and pain as a result of loss.

The aesthetics of the novel are similar to much of the works we've been exposed to this semester but also contribute a natural fluidity to the narrative. Foer includes photographs, colored highlights or circled words, illegible text perhaps to reflect how a nine year old processes death and loss. Despite the seriousness of the themes, Foer also includes elements of humor and a sense of innocence to the protagonist's search.
Some questions we can consider as we read the novel:
  • What are the advantages of telling the novel through the perspective of a nine year old?
  • How do the aesthetics contribute to the themes of the novel?
  • How do the letters Oskar's grandparents write help us understand the protagonist? Why include these letters?

1 comment:

  1. When I think about how this book is unique aesthetically, Oskar’s collection entitled “Stuff That Happened to Me” and the grandparent’s letters immediately come to mind, and surprisingly enough, both allude to similar themes despite their contrasting nature. Oskar’s collection of photos is captivating to readers in that they initially seem to contradict the title he’s given it in that the majority of these events have not directly affected Oskar. Although some images, for example the wall of keys (p. 53) and the picture he took of Dr. Black (p. 98), reflect personal events, most of the others depict events, people, and random occurrences that are interesting to him for whatever reasons. By including these images that do not directly relate to Oskar, Foer might be conveying a sense of inter-connectivity between mankind in that although these things did not actually happen to Oskar, they have affected him mentally and have affected others directly at the same time, which makes all events universally personal. A baffling thought!

    This same idea is portrayed through the letters written by Oskar’s grandparents. Both sets of letters relay poignant messages of loneliness, grief, uncertainty, and loss passion, all of which are traits that can be found within Oskar. Both grandparents had experienced severe trauma in the past as at this point in the narrative it has been revealed that Anna, the sister of Oskar’s grandmother and the lover of his grandfather, had died. Through these three stories of grief after losing someone, Foer reminds readers that although events may happen to people of varying background and age, humans are affected by the same events, and although they may have happened in differing ways, they still invoke universal emotions.