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Use of Humor

Initially in the narrative, Alex uses funny anecdotes and humorous turns of phrase to put distance between himself and the events of his story. His botched English alone provides enough levity to keep a reader smiling. As the story progresses, however, his technique shifts into a more somber mode, with more “realisms” and fewer jokes. After meeting the fake Augustine, the character-Jonathan says he "used to think humor was the only way to appreciate how wonderful and terrible the world is, to celebrate how big life is," but by this turning point in the novel he feels "[h]umor is a way of shrinking from that wonderful and terrible world" (Safran Foer). Jonathan says out loud what Alex’s writing attempts to communicate silently. Initially humor is a mode of communication, a way to bring joy to his story, but as critic Menachem Feuer summarizes, "Once Alex learns what the 'truth' is…his novel takes on an ending that is more tragic than comic." He stops putting the world at a distance and stops putting reality at a distance. By creating distance from the problem, humor here serves two purposes. When it is there, it shows us how disconnected or uncomfortable Alex is, and then when it is dropped, it brings home the severity of the illusion.