Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close What did the various photographs in the book mean? In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer’s nine-year-old protagonist Oskar Schells father is killed on 9/11. The book uses the concept of visual writing, using images, typesetting, even empty pages to give it a graphic dimension way beyond that of traditional prose narrative. In normal fictional works, only written words will provide the narrative and movement to a work with only minimal illustrations. However, in this book images are ‘scattered’ throughout and it provides the plot and crux of the story.
Images are utilized as a literary technique, connecting to perspectives, emotions, themes and ideas portrayed on earlier pages. 2. Pictures of doorknobs: Is there a pattern? On a basic level a doorknob on a door signifies opportunity, so that opening that door will lead to life full of opportunities to tap. Here the symbolism may be tied to the mysterious key Oskar has. A series of phone messages from Oskar’s father on that fateful morning on 9/11 is the thread that weaves the novel together temporally.
Foer not only spaces out the disclosures of the calls, but also reflects this unveiling in his positioning of visuals, postponing both the reader’s epiphany as well as gratification. The first image – a door, a glass doorknob and a lock below it – is a close up so extreme that it could be seen as a graphic pun of the title. Foer appears to be implying that certain patterns make sense only when viewed repeatedly over time. 3. The falling man in the book?
The flip-book at the end? One disquieting, but eventually insightful method Foer uses is to fracture the limits of the frame. He embeds visual devices in the text inventively, recreates an essentially cinematic or ‘moving’ experience that imitates movement with the backward flip book. There are several time-lapse images of a ‘jumper’ leaping to his death on 9/11. Oskar believes the ‘falling man’ may have been his father, who might have jumped from North Tower of the World Trade Center towers. The final fifteen pages of the novel consist of a collection of images of the falling man backwards.
In Oskar words, "... I found the pictures of the falling body. I ripped the pages out of the book. I reversed the order… When I flipped through them, it looked like the man was floating up through the sky. " (Foer 325). As the final pages give a flip book kind of feel in the backward direction, the man appears to float in the sky, without failing. This provides a symbolic meaning related to Oskar father’s death. That is, the man, as he moves backwards through the air is symbolic of Oskar’s father – back to the world in its pre-9/11 order - this is obviously Oskar’s understandable desire – but an impossible one. 4.
The writing samples from the pen store? While out looking for clues to the origin of the key, Oskar comes across a test pad in an art supplies store. A few of the sheets have ‘Thomas Schell’ written on them, the family name of Oskar’s family and thus it also implies the name of both Oskar’s father and grandfather. This scribbling of that particular name pushes Oskar to interpret that both his father and grandfather or either of them could have there before in their times.
The pad’s sheets covered with scribbles in different handwriting and bright inks are interspersed in the pages of the novel. Foer uses this device to force us to stop and back away from the prose for a while and later reenter the text with heightened awareness and altered perspective. 5. The cover illustration of the book of the hand with writing on it? In a fundamental way the hand signifies karma and the fate that is ostensibly written on it.
That is, people always believe that one writes his/hers own fate with hands only. In addition, palmistry also focuses on how certain lines in the hand can decide the fate of the individuals. Thus, the cover illustration shows how hand and people’s lives or fate are correlated. Oskar’s grandfather, who loses his ability to speak after losing loved ones during WW2, also put forward this significance and correlation. In his words, "I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm… I signify "book" by peeling open my hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO…" (Foer 17).
So, at a deeper level, the cover art of this novel is a reference to the act of writing about life by both Foer as well as his characters. Works Cited Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. New York. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2006.
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