Barnaby T. Chuckles
Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is a tightly woven web of interrelated metaphors and thematic elements. Getting into every single one could take between a life-time and forever so for the purposes of this essay I will only focus on the few main themes; growing into adulthood, which is the quest that Oskar takes on when he sets out to find out about the key, accepting the unknowable in the universe, the random and the unquantifiable that separate life from mathematics, and duality. The last is the trickiest to wrap ones head around and, as typified by the interrelatedness mentioned earlier, ties in to the other two themes. As Oskar grows up he has to come to accept the way in which not everything in the universe can be explained, learn to make his scientific mind can come to grasp a chaotic world, and come to understand how humanity can be essentially illogical. It would be pointless, of course, to point out that Oskar’s quest is as crazy as you can get, but that being said we can begin to grasp that his journey is to get in touch with and become accustomed to his own craziness as a human being. And he way in which Oskar gets a palate for his own madness is by tasting the insanity of others.
Each Black that he visits throughout the course of the book not only teaches Oskar something about people, but also mirrors his struggle.
The first four Blacks he visits seem relatively insignificant, they can’t give him any information on the key. Yet, each somehow reflects Oskar’s journey into adulthood. When he goes to visit Aaron Black, after setting foot in Queens for the first time, symbolizing how the quest is the catalyst that sends Oskar out of his shell into the big, bright world, he finds that the man is literally paralyzed and can’t come down to greet him. Aaron Black’s literal paralysis mimics Oskar’s inability to come out into the real world, or as the case may be, up to the seventh floor, where he fears a terrorist attack (a fear he will later overcome). The two are unable to connect in a metaphorical sense as well as an actual one. Oskar begins by playing the orphaned child card and tells Aaron his dad is dead immediately, not trying to forge any sort of bond. When he learns of Aaron’s infirmity he can’t take it and runs away (in retrospect he says, “if I could do it again I would do it differently. But you can’t do it again.”), representing how he cowers away from his dad’s death when he bruises, invents and retreats into his shell.
Abby Black, who becomes much more significant later in the book and whom I will discuss later in the essay as well, holds much more import for Oskar’s development, even this early in the book. On first read-through they seem to get along swimmingly. Oskar extolls her beauty when she first opens the door, making her crack up literally as well as figuratively, as when someone laughs the barrier between two people breaks down a little bit. Also, Abby is an epidemiologist, so Oskar connects to her through his pedantic knowledge of science. However, common interests don’t necessarily make two people compatible, and Oskar uses his, for lack of a better word, nerdiness to connect to Abby, instead of exploiting the real connection they have as two people in crises, two scientists. When Oskar first asks her about the key and she says she knows nothing about it, he can tell right off the bat that there’s something wrong and she’s not telling the whole story. Oskar can read Abby but he doesn’t know how to react to what he reads. Before he enters her apartment he fibs to get in saying, “I didn’t feel great about lying, and I didn’t believe in being able to know what was going to happen before it happens, but for some reason I knew I had to get inside her apartment.” This is when Oskar gets his first lesson in the irrational way in which people (in this case, himself) operate. What he’s...