Warning! Make sure you’ve read this wonderful novel by Jonathan Safran Foer first. What the book is REALLY about may shock you…
What about an allegory? What about a book about a little kid dealing with his dad’s death that really wasn’t about a little kid dealing with his dad’s death? Jonathan Safran Foer is famous for countless literary feats, but his writing has never before been analyzed from an allegorical standpoint. And yet, when one looks at his prose it becomes painfully obvious who Oskar really is. The novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is an allegory for the United State’s reactions to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
What about a physical human representation of a saddened American population? Notice that Oskar’s family are all immigrants from other countries, and that this fact is consistently reiterated throughout the novel, such as the long passages where Oskar’s grandfather writes letters about the homeland. America is famous for being a land of immigrants. There is a period before Oskar’s father’s death, where Oskar and his father used to do wonderful things, such as where he says “we used to tell hilarious jokes, and once we hung a pendulum from the ceiling…to prove that the Earth rotated,” (36). This “good times before tragedy” can be seen in American history as well. Before September 2001, the country was in a wonderful state of financial prosperity, as well as a new scientific awakening. Oskar experienced a similar new-found love for science, when he proved the Earth’s rotation with his father and discovered a love for entomology. Only after 9/11 did the stock market plunge and the recession set in. Similarly, Oskar loses faith in all things extra-curricular in his life, trying to make sense of his father’s death.
What about a history lesson? As the book forges on, Oskar introduces his dear old grandma. She is portrayed as a loving, understanding individual in the present, but while the father was alive, the two had some problems, such as where Oskar hides from her while playing a game. He recounts, “I followed her from a safe distance as she started to get incredibly panicky…She was crying and touching everything…she told him (Stan) ‘Don’t touch me,’” (101). Oskar and his grandma’s problems stemmed from his immaturity to deal with adult situations. Therefore, Oskar’s grandma is England. While Great Britain and America had problems in the past, i.e. the American Revolution, the two came together to invade Iraq to seek out their weapons of mass destruction. So, not only is this book an allegorical social commentary, it functions on a different level as an allegorical historical text. Since Oskar’s father represents the good times in his life, and Grandma Schell raised Oskar’s father from youth, Foer is making the statement England is indirectly responsible for America’s Golden Age of the 1990’s.
What about an outright lie with good intentions? While at first Oskar’s mom is originally portrayed as a selfish character, it is revealed she has been guiding Oskar for the entire length of his journey. Since Oskar’s mom indirectly led him through the darkest times of his life, she represents mass media and its effect on a grieving nation. After 9/11, Americans turned to televangelic-like political pundits, who demanded Saddam Hussein’s head on a pikestaff. Since the public had no where else to turn, they forged a path they thought was original and creative, but in reality, the media had been goading the public all along. This means Oskar’s journey to find the keyhole represents America’s wrath to seek out those who wished its destruction. For example, in the text, Oskar states, “They knew I was coming… Even Mr. Black was part of it… Did he really even like me? Are all of his amazing stories really true? Were his hearing aids real? The bed that pulled?” (291). While Oskar’s mother and mass media may have had good intentions, when Oskar and the general public found out about the deception it caused an uproar. Distrust in the media was higher than it had ever been, so a simple solution to a complicated problem failed. All of the mess in both mainstream society and Oskar’s life could have been avoided if the truth had been told.
What about a brilliant work of prose? Foer’s imaginative use of an allegorical construct to represent the scared American public as a possibly autistic 9 year-old is well hidden, but functions well as an underlying theme. His use of Oskar’s wealth and foreign origins provide the first clues, and many more can be discovered from there. This novel presents a interestingly morbid view on the fragility of youth, and how two totally different worlds, adult and child, black and white, real and imaginary, can exist simultaneously while occupying the same space.