full title Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

author   Jonathan Safran Foer

type of work   Novel

genre Postmodern novel; bildungsroman

language English

time and place written Early 2000s, New York City

date of first publication  April 1, 2005

publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

narrator Oskar Schell narrates most of the novel. His grandfather, Thomas Schell, narrates several sections through letters to his son. Oskar’s unnamed grandma also has sections devoted to her letters to Oskar, in which she serves as the narrator.

point of view All three narrators speak in the first person, focusing on their own emotions and experiences. Thomas and Grandma’s sections are in the form of letters.

tone Serious, anxious, regretful, confessional

tense Past tense

setting (time)  Oskar’s sections occur in 2003, two years after 9/11. Both grandparents narrate events spanning from 1945 to 2003.

setting (place)  New York City and Dresden

protagonist Oskar Schell

major conflict Nine-year-old Oskar Schell must reckon with and accept his dad’s death after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

rising action While looking through his dad’s closet, Oskar finds a key in an envelope marked “Black.” Oskar decides to meet with every person with the last name Black in New York City to try and discover the meaning of the key. The second person he meets is Abby Black, who appears to know something, but says she doesn’t. He meets with an old man in his building known only as Mr. Black, who has traveled all over the world. Mr. Black starts meeting the other people named Black with Oskar until eight months later, when, unbeknownst to Oskar, Mr. Black realizes that Oskar’s grandpa, Thomas, has been following him the whole time. Despondent at losing Mr. Black, Oskar goes to his grandma’s apartment only to find his long-lost grandpa Thomas, although Thomas doesn’t admit to being Oskar’s grandpa. Oskar then finds out that Abby Black knew about the key all along.

climax When Oskar and Thomas dig up Oskar’s dad’s grave, Oskar comes face to face with the reality that he might never know the way his dad died.

falling action Oskar imagines time going backward to the time before 9/11. He rearranges a series of images of a man falling from the towers so that he rises back up to safety.

themes Ambiguity; Relationships; Deception

motifs Letters; Inventions; Violence and Disasters

symbols The Mysterious Key; Doorknobs; The Family Phone

foreshadowing The Reconnaissance Expedition in Central Park foreshadows Oskar’s dad’s story about the Sixth Borough. In addition, the way several of the people named Black appear to expect Oskar hints that Oskar’s mom has known about his quest all along. A few things foreshadow that the renter is, in fact, Thomas, including Grandma appearing to have just cried despite her telling Oskar that all her tears dried up when Thomas left.