In Jonathon Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the young protagonist, Oskar, is driven by a deep desire to hold on to the memory of his late father.
This desire quickly manifests itself into a quest when Oskar finds a strange key labelled “Black” tucked away in a vase in his father’s closet. Oskar then embarks on an elaborate quest to track down every person named Black in New York City, and discover what they know about his father and the mysterious key. Though the desire appears to be little more than this on the surface, this desire and its subsequent quest symbolize much more. Oskar is a special boy who views the world in a way that vastly differs to that of the average person. In Oskar’s world, everything is driven by logic and reason – empirical evidence reigns supreme, everything must have an explanation. However, his father’s death did not. Thomas Schell was an innocent man who was killed in the tragic terrorist attack on September 11th – an act of incomprehensible violence that seems to defy all reasoning and logic. “There are so many different ways to die, and I just need to know which was his.
” (Foer, 2005, p. 257). In saying this, Oskar reveals what he really desired to uncover in his quest. He hoped that somehow the key would lead to a clear explanation, and through knowing how his father died, he would be able to vanquish the uncertainty of the situation, and as a result, all the painful emotions that he is experiencing. “…the whole point was to stop missing him.” (Foer, 2005, p. 255), Oskar says of his quest. Unfortunately, the confines of logic and reason can rarely be assigned to human emotions.
Knowing the details of Thomas Schell’s death will not make it any easier to accept or justify, just as it will not make Oskar’s sadness and grief any less present. Emotions may be intangible and are not tethered to logic, but they are just as important as what is tangible. Ultimately, what Oskar needs is to accept that first, not everything in life makes sense and second, that it is okay for him to feel distressed despite the uncertainty surrounding the death. Though what Oskar desires is an easy way to circumvent uncomfortable feelings, what he needs will allow him to understand that happiness can still exist alongside sadness and that it is possible to live in the present without forgetting the past – in other words, remembering the dead while still embracing the living. “I don’t believe in God, but I believe that things are extremely complicated, and her looking over me was as complicated as anything ever could be. But it was also incredibly simple.
In my only life, she was my mom, and I was her son.” (Foer, 2005, p. 324). In this quote, we see that Oskar does meet his true need. He shows emotional growth by admitting that things are complicated, that they do not always have easy explanations – but recognizing this allows us to see what is simple. In looking for his father, Oskar ended up finding his mother. He understands that all they have right now is each other and must make life, love, and optimism a priority. Even if Oskar cannot express love in a conventional way, he does so by telling his mother that she can be happy, that he is beginning to understand that moving forward does not mean forgetting.
“I told her, “It’s OK if you fall in love again.” She said, “I won’t fall in love again.” I told her, “I want you to.
” She kissed me and said, “I’ll never fall in love again.” I told her, “You don’t have to make it up so I won’t worry.” (Foer, 2005, p. 324 – 325). Though Oskar did not find the tangible solution he desired, this quote is evidence of his deep emotional journey.
Undoubtedly, Oskar will never stop missing his father, he has made peace with his death and has allowed his memory to live on through him via his altered worldview. “There’s nothing that could convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced. But there is an abundance of clues that would give the wanting believer something to hold on to. ” (Foer, 2005, p. 221). Oskar’s father says this to him in regards to the expedition he has set up for Oskar (one of the games that they play together). Here he tries to give Oskar what he needs by highlighting that you can see the world as more than just a sum of its facts. That beyond the objective details, one can choose happiness and hope.
Through Oskar becoming more accepting of the intangible being just as important as the tangible, he is internalizing this lesson. This allows Oskar to hold on to his father’s memory in an unexpected way and ties his desires and needs together, thus making him successful in achieving both.