Foer's novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close opens with the nine-year-old narrator, Oskar Schell thinking about, as he is apt to do, imaginative inventions that would improve everyday life, such as microphones people could swallow and then listen to their insides working. Oskar is on his way to bury his father. Oskar notes, however, that his father's body is not in the coffin, which Oskar thinks is absurd. He tires of his mother and grandmother on the way to the cemetery and crawls into the front of the limousine and talks to the driver, Gerald, who converses like he understands a nine-year-old's level.
At the funeral and beyond, Oskar reminisces about his father and the games they used to play. The games often involved Oskar having to solve a mystery. His father would give him very subtle clues, challenging Oskar's intelligence. Oskar and his dad were very much in tune to one another and had a similar type of intelligence. They understood one another, seemingly better than Oskar's mother comprehended either of them. Or at least, this is what Oskar implies.
More is learned about Oskar’s inner life by way of the letters that Oskar writes to famous scientists. One letter is sent to famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Later another is sent to primothologist Jane Goodall (famous for her work with chimpanzees). In his letters, Oskar asks these famous scientists for jobs. He usually receives standard form-letter responses, but every once in a while someone compliments Oskar's intelligence.
Like his private letters, readers quickly learn that Oskar tends to keep secrets. The main one includes his father's last five phone messages on the answering machine. Oskar's dad was at a meeting at the Twin Towers on the day of the terrorists' attacks. His father was in one of the towers above where the planes struck. The five phone messages are progressively more panicked as the fires grow worse. Oskar is the only one who has heard the messages because he hides the phone after he listens to them. Then he goes out and buys an identical phone so his mother would not notice. Oskar has, up to this point, never told anyone about the messages.
To provide a broader context beyond Oskar's point of view, the narration switches to Oskar's grandmother and his grandfather. Each grandparent writes letters. Oskar's grandmother writes letters addressed to Oskar. Oskar's grandfather addresses his letters to...
(The entire section is 1161 words.)
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Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis: What The?
The story opens with a series of thoughts. The narrator wonders about sounds and thoughts and whether it would be possible for a teakettle to have a voice. He also questions whether birdseed shirts would allow people to fly since humans have no wings.
Readers learn that the narrator has recently started jujitsu because his mother thought it would be good for him "to have a physical activity besides tambourining" and because he was curious about self-defense.
In the same breath that we learn he can play "The Flight of the Bumblebee" on the tambourine and that this is the ring tone on his cell phone, the narrator informs readers that his father has died, almost as an afterthought. Readers also learn that he wears only white clothing, has ridden in a limousine twice, that he knows the meaning of the French term raison d'etre, and that his favorite documentary is A Brief History of Time.
The narrator finally reveals his name, almost as if by accident, and readers learn that "a few weeks after the worst day, [Oskar] started writing lots of letters" because, he explains, "it was one of the only things that made [his] boots lighter." The first letter Oskar penned was to Stephen Hawking asking if he could be Hawking's protege. Oskar is thrilled to receive a response, albeit an impersonal form letter.
When Oskar's father tucks him into bed on "the night before the worst day," they have a brief discussion of physics and his father tells him a bedtime story about a sixth borough of New York. This is Oskar's final exchange with his father; the next time Oskar hears his voice, it will be the next day on the answering machine. Oskar's father leaves five messages, one at 8:52 a.m., 9:12 a.m., 9:31 a.m., 9:46 a.m., and 10:04 a.m.
Upon meeting Oskar Schell, readers will sense almost immediately that he is, indeed, a most precocious nine-year-old whose mind is a constant flurry of activity. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to Oskar's thoughts other than a steady stream of consciousness. His mind is quite analytical and is always in search of alternative ways of doing things. For example, Oskar contemplates a skyscraper in which the elevator stays in one place and the building moves up and down. He also wonders about a limousine so long that it stretches from the mother's womb all the way to the end of one's life.
(The entire section is 625 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis: Why I'm Not Where You Are (5/21/63)
This chapter begins with a letter to someone's unborn child, dated 1963. The letter explains that the writer was not always silent. It seems that sometime after he came to America, he opted to stop speaking. The letter's author had "yes" tattooed on his left hand and "no" tattooed on his right; he explains that while "it hasn't made life wonderful, it's made life possible." The last spoken word he uttered was "I."
He started to take blank notebooks with him everywhere he went to facilitate communication. At night, he would reread his life. Each sentence had its own page so he often ran out of books by day's end. Readers learn that he went through so many books that he began to use them as doorstops, birdcage liners, and coasters.
The letter's author informs its recipient that he was "already out of words when I met your mother." He attributes the success of their marriage to the fact that she never really had to know him since he never spoke. These two people who lost everything somehow found each other in New York City and completed one another.
The content of this chapter is perplexing. Readers do not know who the author of the letter is nor to whom it is directed, but he does reveal that his name is Thomas. Readers can surmise that the author is somehow related to Oskar and has an equally complex outlook on life, but the connection remains a mystery.
The reader is left with countless questions at the end of this chapter. Perhaps most vexing is the question of what trauma the letter's writer suffered that made him choose to stop speaking. Thomas informs readers that "I've thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it." Thomas confesses that he wishes that he could "pull the thread, unravel the scarf of [his] silence and start again from the beginning."
The pain Thomas feels is almost palpable. Readers can imagine the frustration he must feel when he has run out of blank pages and must recycle a message he wrote earlier in the day; "I'm not sure, but it's late" is certainly not a one-size-fits-all response. Even more painful must be the responses and strange looks Thomas must receive from strangers; they would have no way of knowing that he has chosen to be mute.
Most intriguing is the large photo of a glass doorknob and lock which takes up an entire page and precariously breaks up a...
(The entire section is 620 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis: Googolplex
The chapter opens with a description of a bracelet that Oskar made for his mother. It was his father's last message, which he converted into Morse code and then into different colored beads. Oskar then explains that a year later, he still struggles with riding in elevators and taking showers. He also explains his fear of Arabs, scaffolding, smoke, and abandoned bags.
Oskar finds himself in his father's closet, confronting his father's possessions for the first time since his death. Oskar is distracted by his mother and her friend, Ron, who seem to be having too good of a time in the other room and accidentally breaks a vase. While cleaning up the broken vase, Oskar notices a small envelope containing a key. Oskar tries the key in every lock in the apartment, but it does not open anything. The next day, he convinces his mother that he is sick and needs to stay home from school. After she leaves, he ventures out to Frazer and Sons where he learns that the key likely fits some sort of lockbox. Oskar then researches the locks of New York and finds an overwhelming amount of information, such as the fact that New York had almost 71,000 hotel rooms, all of which had multiple locks. He approximates that there are 18 locks per person in New York City. Oskar returns to his father's closet and finds the envelope that had held the key and notices that the word "Black" is written on it. This discovery results in even more online research for Oskar. The next day, Oskar tells his mother that he is still unable to go to school and lists a "googolplex" of reasons why. He takes the key and the envelope to an art supply store where he asks the manager for her opinion. She tells him that she finds it interesting that the word "Black" was written in red ink. She shows Oskar a pad of paper next to a display of pens where people tested them out. She also offers her opinion that because the "B" in "Black" was capitalized it was probably a person. She explains that most people wrote the name of the color they were writing in. Oskar is shocked to see his father's name in red pen.
Oskar runs home and finds 472 people in New York with the last name Black. Oskar decides to spend his weekends in search of people named Black who might know something about his father and the mysterious key. As Oskar's mother becomes more involved with her friend Ron, she spends less time thinking and worrying about Oskar, which allows him to...
(The entire section is 626 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis: My Feelings
This chapter begins with a letter to Oskar, dated September 12, 2003, from his grandmother who writes to him from the airport. She writes about a letter she received in 1921 that had been censored. Although the writer's name was crossed out, the fact that he or she was in a Turkish Labor Camp remained. She then asked her father (Oskar's great-grandfather) to write her a letter. He does so, noting that he hopes "one day you will have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love." This letter, she informs Oskar, is the only thing she has left of her father.
She also writes about a trick she and her uncle (a prison guard) played on an inmate named Kurt. He asked the man to write a letter requesting early release from the prison. Kurt wrote letter after letter, which Oskar's great-great uncle never mailed. Oskar's grandmother explains that she continued to collect writing samples from her piano teacher, her mother, her classmates, her aunt, and her grandmother. Most surprising, the letter written by her grandmother was 67 pages long and chronicled the story of her life. Despite having no interest in getting to know her, Oskar's grandmother learned a great deal about her grandmother.
She explains that she had 100 letters—one from everyone she knew—and that she tried to find connections among those who write them.
The letter then tells the story of how Oskar's grandmother met his grandfather, the man with "yes" and "no" tattooed on his hands. As it turns out, first he had been involved with Oskar's great aunt, Anna (his grandmother's sister). This section of the letter is interesting as it is his grandmother's take on the day that she met her future husband. It is somewhat different from his grandfather's take on events.
Readers learn that Oskar's grandfather had wanted to be a sculptor back in Dresden. However, since he immigrated to America, he had not been able to sculpt. Meeting Oskar's grandmother suddenly inspired him to return to sculpting; however, he did not use clay. Instead, he "sculpted" her into various poses and forms. Through an exchange of notes one afternoon, Oskar's grandparents married with the agreement that they would never have children. From that day forward, they never spoke German again.
This chapter provides an interesting insight into the woman who would become Oskar's...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis: The Only Animal
Oskar explains that he first read A Brief History of Time when his father was alive and that he "got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is." He and his father contemplated how they could change the universe and the course of human history by moving a single grain of sand. This, he explains, is the same way he decided to look for every person in New York City with the last name Black, alphabetically by first name from Aaron to Zyna. Oskar prepares a field kit and embarks on his journey.
Oskar walks to Queens (because public transportation makes him "panicky"), playing his tambourine the entire way, to the home of Aaron Black. He is saddened to learn that Aaron did not know his father and knew nothing about the key. Oskar walks another two-and-a-half hours to the home of Abby Black. He is struck by her beauty and then, in order to spend a little more time with her, he lies about being diabetic and needing some sugar. They have an interesting exchange about elephants (brought about by a photo in Abby's apartment) and epidemiology (Abby's profession), but ultimately Oskar is disappointed yet again because Abby did not know his father.
Oskar then pays a visit to his grandmother's. Oskar reveals that his grandmother used to take care of him as a baby and toddler. She stayed with Oskar and his mother after his father died "while Mom was going around Manhattan putting up posters." Oskar also reveals how he and his mother went through his father's storage facility after he died and argued over what to save and what to throw away. One thing he did save was the two-way radios, one of which Oskar gave to his grandmother so they could talk at any time. Readers learn that Oskar and his grandmother spent a great deal of time together following his father's death but that in spite of this, Oskar does not feel as though her really knew her.
One night when Oskar cannot sleep, he stays up late designing jewelry. He finds himself thinking about the storage facility full of his father's possessions, hoping that the name of it might have been "Black Storage." When he wakes up his mother to ask her and she informs him that it was called "Store-a-Lot," he claims that he has "lost count of the disappointments."
Oskar's idiosyncrasies continue to emerge as the novel progresses. It is clear that he has a great deal of fears,...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis: Why I'm Not Where You Are (5/21/63)
Chapter 6 is a continuation of chapter 2 and picks up with the letter. Oskar's grandfather explains the rules that he and Oskar's grandmother established for their marriage; everything between them was "a measurement, a marriage of millimeters, of rules." For example, they never speak about the past, she never looks over his shoulder while he is writing, and they never listen to sad music. He confesses that they have so many rules that he cannot remember what is and is not a rule. He explains that he started to bring home magazines and papers so that she could work on mastering the English language, especially idioms like the "bee's knees" and the "cat's pajamas." Oskar's grandfather began to spend a lot of time at the airport where he collected discarded newspapers and magazines, and where he watched people reunite, memorized the flight schedules, and found joy even though it was not his own.
The couple created "Nothing Places" in their apartment "in which one could be assured of complete privacy." Part of the living room and the entire guest room became such places as did other sections of the apartment. However, the result was a conflict between "Nothing" and "Something" and so everything was color coded using green and orange markers, respectively. Oskar's grandmother resorts to typing up her life story while his grandfather spends his days out collecting literature for her.
Oskar's grandfather grows frustrated when his wife confesses that her "eyes are crummy," which is why she struggled to type up her story. He wonders if she had ever been able to see and read all the notes he had written to her in his daybooks and all the magazines and newspapers he had brought home.
Oskar's grandfather makes several references to a woman named Anna (the same one referenced by Oskar's grandmother in chapter 4) who he "would give everything never to think about...again." They met when he was fifteen and she was seventeen, the result of their fathers being friends. In the midst of World War II, he was falling in love with Anna despite "everything" getting worse. One day, Anna's father introduces Oskar's grandfather (whose name readers finally learn is Thomas) to a friend of his who was a sculptor. Thomas and Mr. Goldberg discuss the world and the war.
The most important part of the letter, however, comes in the form of an apology to Oskar's father. Thomas writes, "I'm sorry for...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis: Heavy Boots / Heavier Boots
This chapter opens with Oskar recounting his school's performance of Hamlet, which has been cut down significantly because "most of the kids in [his] class have ADD." Oskar is disappointed and embarrassed when his peers make fun of his grandmother who had been in the audience crying and laughing loudly.
Oskar goes to Coney Island to visit Abe Black, next on his list. Oskar takes his first-ever roller coaster ride on the Cyclone with Abe who had to work hard to convince him that it would be okay to go on the ride. Oskar never explains to Abe about the key or the envelope, but he does hitch a ride to the home of Ada Black. Ada knew nothing about the key either but did own two original Picasso paintings. Oskar is so impressed by the splendor of her apartment that he asks her if she is the richest person in the world; her reply is that she is only the 467th richest person in the world. Oskar then engages her in a debate about wealth and whether she needs all that she has in light of the fact that there are so many homeless people.
The next Black on Oskar's list lived on the floor just above his in his apartment building. This Mr. Black was born on January 1, 1900, and was pleased to report that he lived every single day of the twentieth century. He had once been engaged to F. Scott Fitzgerald's sister, lost his eye to Nazi shrapnel, and renovated his kitchen with his wife (who died 24 years ago) and his own two hands which, Oskar notes, look like hands in a Rainier Scientific catalog. Oskar is struck by his rock collection, which came from all over the world; each rock was from a momentous time and place in history, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
Oskar's boots get quite heavy when he learns that Mr. Black does not have a card for his father in his extensive biographical index. "Dad wasn't a Great Man, not like Winston Churchill, whoever he was. Dad was just someone who ran a family jewelry business. Just an ordinary dad. But I wished so much, then, that he had been great."
Mr. Black tells Oskar that he has not left his apartment in the 24 years since his wife died. When Oskar asks him whether he misses the world, Mr. Black says that he very much does. This, too, gives Oskar heavy boots. And somehow, it makes him imagine a shower that would spray people with a chemical that would make...
(The entire section is 663 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis: My Feelings
Chapter 8 is a continuation of chapter 4, which picks up where Oskar's grandmother left off. She explains how she misses her husband (Oskar's grandfather) and that she had a difficult time leaving the apartment they shared. She details how he took photographs of everything in the apartment and purchased the most expensive insurance policy possible just in case anything happened to their home.
Readers learn that Oskar's family jewelry business began when his grandfather got a job at a jewelry store and worked his way up to assistant manager and then manager. Oskar's grandmother also explains that although she initially sent him to the airport to get her reading material, she continued to send him long after she had mastered the English language. She tells about how she would sometimes pretend to write, simply "hit[ting] the space bar again and again and again...[her] life story was spaces."
One day, Oskar's grandmother realized that she needed—not wanted—a child. She hid it from her husband for quite some time until she could no longer. Then, she wrote him a note telling him that she was pregnant. He was confused because this was a violation of one of the very first rules that they made as a couple. The next day she knew when he left for the airport that he was leaving her and the unborn child. They shared a few more days and seemed to be more comfortable breaking the rules that they themselves established. Ultimately, however, Oskar's grandfather leaves and does not return. Not knowing what else to do, she releases all of their pets and the animals they had been keeping and sets them free.
The letter to Oskar digresses and spends a good deal of time recounting his grandmother's experiences during the war. She explains how difficult a time it was for her family and how she watched her "father fall apart." She also references having seen her husband and Anna kiss in the shed when they were living in Dresden. When she asked Anna what it felt like to kiss, she grabbed Oskar's grandmother and demonstrated. Both seemed shocked by the spontaneity of the kiss. However, while Anna moved on, Oskar's grandmother "had never felt so in love" nor has she since the kiss.
This chapter is the yin to the yang of chapter 6; much about Oskar's grandparents' marriage is explained. Clearly, these two well-meaning people were simply unable to communicate...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis: Happiness, Happiness
Chapter 9 opens with an interview about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. A survivor describes seeing children run through the streets with their skin melting like wax. She chronicles the heartrending search for her daughter and the chaos and confusion that followed the bombing. After the interview, readers learn that this interview was a tape recording that Oskar shared with his class. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to learn something from a fellow student, Oskar's classmates see his presentation simply as confirmation that he is "weird." Matters are made worse when another student asks Oskar who Buckminster is and he replies "Buckminster is my pussy," meaning his cat. Oskar does not understand why the entire class, including his teacher, laughs at his response. When Oskar comes home from school that day, he receives a letter from the cab driver who drove him to Coney Island for free thanking him for the money; he wrote, "to tell you the truth, I never thought I'd see that money. Now I will believe everyone."
Oskar and his upstairs neighbor, Mr. Black, set out the next Saturday for the Bronx in search of more Blacks who might know about the mysterious key. Oskar arrives at Agnes Black's apartment and is met by a woman in a wheelchair who speaks no English. He learns, however, that Agnes had been a waitress at Windows on the World and had also died on September 11. Ironically, Oskar's father had been in the restaurant during the attack, so Oskar wonders whether he met Agnes or if she refilled his coffee.
Next on the list was Albert Black who had recently returned from Montana and wanted to be an actor. Alice Black lived illegally in an industrial building. Allen Black was a doorman for a building on Central Park South. Arnold Black is unable to help Oskar.
Oskar visits his therapist, Dr. Fein, reluctantly. He explains that he does not think he needs help "because it seemed to [him] that you should wear heavy boots when your dad dies, and if you aren't wearing heavy boots, then you need help." Oskar is incredibly profound in his interaction with the doctor who asks Oskar why he thinks he is there. Oskar replies, "I'm here, Dr. Fein, because it upsets my mom that I'm having an impossible time with my life." He explains that he is "feeling everything." When the doctor posits that Oskar's "emotionalness (which Oskar points out is not a word)" might be...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis: Why I'm Not Where You Are (4/12/78)
This chapter takes the form of a letter to a child. The letter was written at the former site of the shed in Dresden where Oskar's grandfather had a tryst with Anna. The author, Oskar's grandfather, explains in the letter that although his child must think that he has never written, that, in fact, he writes a letter each and every day.
In the letter, Oskar's grandfather recounts his wartime experiences and his relationship with Anna. Anna informs Oskar's grandfather that she is pregnant moments before an air-raid siren sounds and everyone scatters in search of the nearest shelter. He gives a detailed and somewhat graphic account of the bombing of Dresden, replete with burning bodies and melting skin. When he runs past the local zoo, animals caught in the bombing were suffering in great pain. The zookeeper asks him for help and hands him a gun. He has to put many animals out of their misery by shooting them: cubs, zebras, sea lions, and others. He convinces himself that in the animals' "eyes I was sure I saw some form of understanding but I didn't see forgiveness." He nearly dies at the base of the Loschwitz Bridge, which was bombed, killing 220. As he lay amid the detritus of war, he convinced himself that thinking would keep him alive. And so it did.
Oskar's grandfather is one of the few survivors of the bombing; he awoke in the hospital, bandaged from head to toe. When he was well enough to be released, he went back to his home, which had been destroyed except for a few items including the typewriter. He made his way, with the typewriter, to the refugee camp in Oschatz.
Hours before the bombing, not only did Thomas learn that Anna was pregnant but he also received a letter from Simon Goldberg, the Jew that Anna's family was hiding. The letter had been sent from the Westerbork transit camp which was where the Jews from the region had been sent. While this letter seems to have a profound effect on Thomas, the reason why remains a mystery.
And so it is revealed that the bombing of Dresden was the day when Thomas Schell lost everything: his home, his family, his love, and, most significantly, his unborn child. Clearly, this event is what crippled him emotionally.
The letter is notably edited in red pen, reminiscent of how Oskar and his father used to mark up and correct the New York Times. There are misspellings and...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis: The Sixth Borough
The chapter opens with Oskar's father, Thomas, telling him the previously referenced story about a Sixth Borough in New York. Oskar continually interrupts, frustrating his father. Nevertheless, Oskar's father continues the tale.
The Sixth Borough was separated from Manhattan by a thin body of water, the exact width of which was the same as the world's record for the longest jump. Each year, the two neighboring boroughs held a celebration and the symbolic jump was made; "for the few moments that the jumper was in the air, every New Yorker felt capable of flight."
One year, the jumper's toe skipped the surface of the water, horrifying onlookers. While they try to make excuses for the jumper, he explains that the he jumped perfectly fine; the problem was that the Sixth Borough was moving millimeter by millimeter. Eventually, the connecting bridges and tunnels gave way, phone lines snapped, and the Sixth Borough became isolated. Despite engineers' best efforts to chain the ever-shifting borough to Manhattan, nothing worked.
Thomas continues to explain to Oskar that Central Park, in fact, had been part of the Sixth Borough. Everyone agreed that the park belonged in Manhattan so giant hooks were affixed to it and it was dragged into Manhattan. Children lay on the ground and as it was moved, fireworks lit up the New York skyline and the Philharmonic played and played.
Oskar questions the validity of the story, and his father replies that there is "no irrefutable evidence. There's nothing that could convince someone who doesn't want to be convinced." Thomas goes on to cite "the particular fossil record of Central Park," "the incongruous pH of the reservoir," and "the placement of certain tanks at the zoo." To further corroborate his story, Thomas explains that there is one tree that has two names carved into its trunk and that those names cannot be found in any phone books, census records, or hospital records. The reason that they cannot be identified is that the Sixth Borough's records floated away with the borough itself.
And what became of the Sixth Borough, Oskar asked his father? Well, Thomas explains, it has a gaping hole in the middle of it where Central Park once was. That hole now serves as a sort of picture frame, highlighting whatever it passes over. The Sixth Borough, Thomas informs Oskar, was over Antarctica at the time that the story was being told....
(The entire section is 607 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis: My Feelings
Chapter 12 gives readers a glimpse into Thomas's mother's experience on September 11. She watched the news while knitting Oskar a scarf. As tragedy struck, a reporter was interviewing someone about what seemed to be a missing person's case. The reporter stopped mid-interview and listened to the voice in her earpiece. The voice informed her that something had happened in New York and quickly viewers were shown an image of the World Trace Center on fire. Oskar's grandmother is flooded with seemingly disconnected memories of her youth and her husband.
Oskar's mother calls her, and the two women begin to worry that neither of them has heard from Thomas. Although he did not work in the World Trade Center, that morning he had a meeting in one of the buildings that was on fire. Oskar's grandmother becomes physically sick but then pulls herself together to go and watch Oskar who was sent home from school because of the chaos enveloping New York City. Just before they hang up, Oskar's mother tells his grandmother (Thomas's mother) that she loves her. This is striking because it is the first time in fifteen years that Oskar's mother has ever said this to her mother-in-law who recollects, "that was when I knew that she knew." This, readers can safely assume, refers to the fact that Thomas had died in the building.
When Oskar's grandmother arrives at his apartment, she cannot find him anywhere. When she lies down on his bed, she hears him breathing under it. The two lie under the bed for a while making small talk about school and the weather in an effort to avoid reality. She presses Oskar who tells her that he does, indeed, know what happened. Oskar and his grandmother lie under the bed in silence until his mother comes home. She tells Oskar that his father will be home soon, but has trouble keeping up this lie.
Oskar's mother frantically calls the police, the fire department, the newspapers, everyone she can think of but to no avail; no one knew anything. In the meantime, Oskar's grandmother continued to knit a scarf for him all day long. Oskar's mother makes posters to put up in the hopes that someone will know of Thomas's whereabouts. When she leaves to head downtown and hang up the posters, Oskar and his grandmother pass the time by playing games, walking through the park, and doing anything to avoid discussing the attack. Once Oskar is asleep, his grandmother watches the news that showed...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis: Alive and Alone
Oskar continues his quest to find meaning in the envelope and key he found in his father's closet. Oskar continues his visits to the Blacks of New York but also makes time for a visit to the Empire State Building with Mr. Black. After their tour of the building with Ruth, their guide, Mr. Black tells Oskar that after six months of searching with him he is going to retire from the project. The two unlikely friends shake hands and go their separate ways. Wallowing in the seeming failure of his quest, Oskar's "boots were the heaviest they'd ever been." Despite his grief, Oskar finds it easier not to tell anyone about this and to forge ahead on his own.
Oskar heads to his grandmother's apartment and finds that she is not there. He begins to invent a host of horrible scenarios, all of which involve her untimely demise. He recalls, "I tried to invent optimistic inventions. But the pessimistic ones were extremely loud." To pass the time, Oskar snoops around her apartment. He discovers drawers full of envelopes organized chronologically by postmark and tied in bundles. Oskar finds an envelope for every single day from May 31, 1963, until September 11, 2001, all of which are addressed "to my unborn child" or "to my child." Oddly, all of the envelopes are empty.
Suddenly, Oskar hears movement in the apartment and discovers "the renter" who had been living with his grandmother. When he asks questions of the old man, he shows Oskar a book on the first page of which he had written, "'I don't speak. I'm sorry.'" Oskar learns that the man's name is Thomas which, he notes, was also his father's name. In response to Oskar's continued questioning, Thomas shows him his hands, one of which has "yes" tattooed on it while the other has "no."
Oskar confides his story in Thomas, including how he broke the vase in his father's closet, found the key, and was working his way through all of the Blacks in New York. Most interesting, however, is the discussion Oskar has with him about Thomas's I love New York shirt, dishtowels, and lunchbox. Thomas reveals that he thought the slogan meant "I love you" because "ny" in Chinese meant "you." Oskar prophetically inquires why, in that case, he loves everyone so much.
Somehow inspired by this man, Oskar runs back to his apartment where he retrieves the tape from the answering machine which had his father's final messages. Oskar plays the messages for the...
(The entire section is 710 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis: Why I'm Not Where You Are (9/11/03)
This chapter continues the story of Oskar's grandfather, Thomas, picking up forty years after chapter 6 ended. His last letter was written on the day that his child died, September 11, 2001, and this letter is written on the two-year anniversary of that day. He is inspired to write the letter hours before he will meet Oskar, his grandson, to visit Oskar's father's grave.
Readers learn that he hand delivered the note to Oskar's grandmother's doorman on the day of Thomas's funeral. Oskar's grandfather tries to see his former wife but since he cannot talk, he tries to arrange a meeting by giving notes to the doorman. Oskar's grandmother acquiesces and allows him to come up and stay in the guestroom. He recounts, "that was how we began our second life together." When he arrived in New York, the customs agent asked about the purpose of his visit. Oskar's grandfather's response was initially "to mourn," but he decides that instead it is "to try to live." When his bags are searched, they contain nothing but the letters he had written and never sent to Thomas. He tries calling Oskar's grandmother to tell her that he is in New York, but because he does not speak, he spells out words on the pay phone. He explains in the letter, "I broke down my life into letters, for love I pressed '5,6,8,3,' for death, '3,3,2,8,4.'"
He explains that he was in Dresden when he "lost everything for the second time" and he learned about the attack on the World Trade Center. He watches the events unfold on television sets in the windows of electronics stores. It is not for several weeks that he learns that his child, Thomas Schell, died that day. It was at this point that he decided to return to New York. Although his former wife allows him into the apartment they once shared, she refuses "to share this grief" with him, presumably because he left her and never knew Thomas. The couple reacquaints themselves with one another, trying to find some common ground after a forty-year hiatus. Perhaps most momentous is when he sculpts her out of clay at long last. He finally works up the courage to ask her about their son and, after informing him that he was her son, she tells him all about Thomas and, subsequently, about Oskar. In an effort to get to know his grandson, Oskar's grandfather studies him from afar until the day that Oskar lets himself into his grandmother's apartment where he, "the renter," is staying....
(The entire section is 613 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis: A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem
After Oskar and his grandfather (who he does not know is his grandfather) dig up his father's grave, he wants to tell Mr. Black about the experience. However, when Oskar goes upstairs to see Mr. Black, he finds a Realtor instead. He learns that all of Mr. Black's possessions are about to be given away or sold. Immediately, Oskar realizes that he must save some, if not all, of the biographical index. He is surprised to find himself listed as "Oskar Schell: Son." Oskar laments the fact that he did not know that the last time he saw Mr. Black would be their final meeting.
Although Oskar continues his search of New York's Blacks for a connection to the key, he admits that "I no longer felt like I was moving in the direction of Dad. I'm not even sure I believed in the lock anymore." It is unclear whether he has simply moved on, grown up, or become tired of his fruitless search.
Oskar explains that the last Black he met was a man named Peter who lived in Harlem. It is Peter's infant son, also named Peter, who gives Oskar pause; he contemplates for the first time why he is not named for his father, Thomas, but does not lend any credence to the fact that the renter's name is Thomas, too.
Oskar gets a phone message from Abby Black who thinks that she may be able to help him with the key after all. Oskar goes back to her apartment where they have an awkward encounter. He is upset that she did not tell him eight months earlier that she knew something about the key. Oskar then formulates a conspiracy theory and convinces himself that his mother has known what he is doing all along and that all of the Blacks knew he was coming. Abby suggests that Oskar talk to her ex-husband, William, who she thinks can help him.
Oskar goes to William's office where he is surprised to learn that not only does Wiliam know about the key but that he also knows about the blue vase in which Oskar found it. William explains to Oskar that the key opened a safe deposit box. When William's father died, he had had an estate sale to unload his father's possessions and that was when he sold the vase to Thomas Schell. In his father's final letter, William learns that there is something for him in a safe deposit box. He then realizes that he sold the vase with the key to Thomas. Oskar implores William to share any details he can remember about Thomas. William tells him that Thomas was buying the vase as an...
(The entire section is 771 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis: My Feelings
The chapter opens with a knock at the door of Oskar's grandmother's room. Oskar's grandfather stands before her with his pants covered in dirt. He informs her that he had gone to get her magazines. She follows him to the airport where she watches him intently for hours; she explains, "I have been an expert at watching him. It's been my life's work." She then confesses that she is not sure if she ever loved him. Finally, she approaches him and they have a conversation though he, of course, says his part written on napkins. He finally reveals that Anna had been pregnant at the time of her death and Oskar's grandmother says that she knows. He is shocked to learn this because he thought it had been a secret.
Oskar's grandfather finally explains the dirt on his pants. He says that he and Oskar buried all of the letters he never sent to his son, Thomas, along with the key to their apartment. Readers are left to speculate as to why he buried the letters when Oskar had wanted to dig up the empty casket. Perhaps they filled the coffin with the letters so that Thomas's presence would be in the coffin.
Oskar's grandmother recounts the night before she, too, lost everything. She reveals that she never told her sister, Anna, how much she loved her. Little did she know that night that there would never be another chance. She concludes this letter to Oskar by explaining that "it's always necessary" to tell the people you love how you feel about them.
Oskar's grandmother reveals a dream in which everything happens in reverse: "children pulled color from coloring books with crayons" and "people apologized for things that were about to happen, and lit candles by inhaling." This dream "went all the way back to the beginning. The rain rose into the clouds, and the animals descended the ramp. Two by two." At the end of the dream, Eve replaces the apple on the branch, the tree turns into a sapling which then becomes a seed. God takes back the light and suddenly there is darkness.
Chapter 16 represents a tremendous catharsis for Oskar's grandmother, and the events retold in the letter indicate a turning point for Oskar's grandfather as well. The dream she has where everything returns to its origins in reverse reveal her desire to start over herself yet again; it is as if she is reborn. Readers are left to wonder what exactly she would do over and how far back...
(The entire section is 606 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis: Beautiful and True
Oskar's mother continues to spend time with Ron, a man whom Oskar clearly does not like and views as an inadequate substitute for his father. Oskar asks why Ron does not have a family of his own and he learns that Ron's wife and daughter died in a car accident. Oskar is taken aback when he learns that Ron and his mother met in a support group for those who lost family members.
After Oskar's mother tucks him in that night, he sneaks out. At midnight, Gerald arrives in a limousine with the renter (the same driver who took him and his family to his father's funeral); this night marks Oskar's second ride in a limo. On the way to the cemetery, Oskar takes pictures of the stars out of the limo's sunroof using his grandfather's camera.
In spite of their meticulous planning, Oskar and the renter had no plan for what they would do once they opened the coffin; it was not until the day before that they planned what they would do. Oskar decides that they should fill the coffin. At first, he contemplates filling it with items that belonged to his father—his red pens, his jeweler's loupe, or the tuxedo he had left out. Oskar decides against this when the renter suggests that since Oskar's father was dead, Oskar might like to have some of his father's things around for posterity. He contemplates filling the coffin with items that he is ashamed of but decides against it. The renter has an idea and Oskar decides to trust him.
When they arrive at the cemetery, it takes Oskar and the renter awhile to find his father's grave. When they arrive and begin to dig, the batteries in their flashlight die and the digging goes unexpectedly slowly. As they dig, Oskar wonders, "how many things had died since the first thing was born. A trillion? A googlplex?" Gerald helps with the shoveling and they finally make contact with the coffin.
When they open the coffin, Oskar's grandfather opens up the suitcases full of the letters he never sent to his son (Oskar's father). The renter explains to Oskar that he lost a son because he went away. He then explains he went away because he was afraid of losing his son. The renter tells Oskar that the letters are "things I wasn't able to tell him."
That night in the cemetery, Oskar does not make the connection between the letters and the envelopes he found in his grandmother's apartment, nor does he realize that he is standing beside his grandfather....
(The entire section is 712 words.)