September 11th shook not only New York City but the whole world, as everyone was now filled with fear and unease. In the novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, author Jonathan Safran Foer focuses on the tragic loss one boy, Oskar Schell, faced as a result of this tragic event. Through Oskar’s journey of having to deal with the abrupt death of his father, it is evident that due to its power, grief comes with the desperate need to find hope, hope that there is a light at the end of this seemingly dark tunnel Oskar is in.

Filled with grief and some guilt, for not picking up his father’s call before his death, nine-year-old Oskar embarks on his journey through the streets of the big apple in hopes to possibly find closure on his father’s death. The abruptness of death is important to note; his father and thousands of others were just going in for work as if it was any other day.

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Somehow, tragically, that is it they are erased from existence. Oskar was not an ordinary nine-year-old boy he thought deeply about the existence of us as humans. To have someone who was so close to you and who was the person who answered many of your daily questions about the world, can mess someone up.

Oskar was left to grip onto any last part of his father he could. In comes, the key he found, initialed with the last name “Black”. Funny how something initialed with the word black is what brought Oskar the most light within his life during this tragic grieving time.

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This key seems to be Oskar’s form of closure he needs in regards to his father dying. As he searches around the city trying to find the owner of the key, it is like his father is alive within him. A pivotal moment within the novel is when Oskar puts a bandaid over his heart where the key pendant would be. I feel as though this bandaid symbolizes so much more than just a simple bandaid. A bandaid temporarily fixes the issue at hand, just like the key did. The key and the journey both acted as a void to fill, to keep Oskar distracted from falling into a pit of grief. The bandaid stayed on Oskar’s heart, insinuating that the bandaid is all that is keeping his heart from breaking with sadness. Due to all this grief that Oskar feels but refuses to let himself dwell on, he turns to something hopeful; this proves that rather than breaking down many people turn grief into hope, hope for closure, and a better tomorrow.

Hope was seen when Oskar found the picture of the man, who he believed was his father, falling out of the Twin Towers. Flipping the pictures the other way to see the man “fall” up the World Trade Center is such an innocent play by Oskar on keeping his father’s soul alive. That moment is so powerful along with what Oskar says, “We would have been safe.” Your heart truly breaks for this innocent, naive boy who lost his father in such a tragic, abrupt way. Oskar makes an illusion that the man is not falling to his death, even though he finds comfort in the fact that this might be his father; falling to your death trumps burning to death in his eyes. Oskar is hopeful that his father’s death was as “peaceful” as it could have been.

What is interesting to see about this novel, is the parallel between Oskar and his grandfather’s journey. Foe switches from Oskar’s journey to letters written by his grandparents. His grandfather lost everything- his first lover, his son, and his parents- just as Oskar lost everything, his father. Letters within Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are important because they are almost seen as untold words amongst people. For example, the letters that Oskar’s grandfather-Thomas Schell- wrote never reached the intended person. Almost every character in the novel writes letters to someone in their life- Oskar to celebrities, Thomas Schell to his son (Oskar’s father), Oskar’s grandmother to himself. The grandpa states to the grandma, “I’m running out of room, this book is filling up, there couldn’t be enough pages… But there is too much to express. I’m sorry.” This is powerful because after he lost everything, grandpa lost his speech, he never spoke, he only wrote down what he wanted to say.

However, how much room could there be in the world to write down everything you are meaning to say. This lack of voice and overuse of writing insinuates that keeping in everything is not okay. A common theme is that Thomas never seems to have enough room to write down what he wants to say. After holding everything in for so long, he is running out of space to continue living like this. When faced with grief, one cannot shut down. That is why grief is so powerful; it has the power to completely numb someone. Oskar’s way of handling grief and his grandfather’s differed; Oskar persevered head-on to embark on his journey while using denial as a coping tactic, and Thomas Schell shut down writing “Yes” and “No” on his hands to prevent any further contact with the outside world. Both very different,- Oskar having read the New York Times for typos and Thomas Schell having kept to himself for as long as he could remember-yet both faced the same tragedy of losing loved ones.

Communication is essential as well within this novel, or lack of. Oskar’s mother silently follows Oskar’s journey of finding the owner of the key, Grandpa does not verbally communicate, Grandma writes letters even though she is one building away, and Oskar even found comfort in the picture of the man falling- a wordless sentiment that gave him closure on his father’s death. The lack of words or speech is important to look at because there are multiple pictures within the novel, whether it be the doorknobs, the ending, or even the cover. Having a hand as the cover reveals the idea of someone reaching out for help- the man falling, Oskar seeking help with dealing with grief without even realizing it, even grandpa who has “yes” and “no” on his hands. The depiction of such a tactile object as a hand alludes to hope that a helping hand will come and guide you out of the trying times you are facing- much like Oskar and his battle with grief.

Grief can consume a person, which was interesting to see in Oskar’s position. At the end of the day, he is still a nine-year-old boy who just lost his father most tragically. However, he took his grief and turned it into hope; when you are faced with grief, you search anywhere for a glimmer of hope.

Updated: Aug 17, 2022
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Face to face with Tragedy. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

Face to face with Tragedy essay
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