Finding the Lock of a Lost Key: The Search for Justice after 9/11
Imagine being in school on an ordinary day. On that seemingly ordinary day, schools everywhere release all their students early and have them get picked up by their parents. All of the kids would be very excited to have this happen, not knowing about the reason. This is what happens to Oskar Schell. He comes home early from school, only to find out his father had perished in the 9/11 attacks. Oskar’s life changed forever on a day that seemingly started out well: perfect, seventy-degree weather and an early release from school. Over a year later, still coping with emotional issues after his father’s death, Oskar finds an envelope in his father’s closet. The envelope has the word “black” written on it, with a mysterious key inside. Oskar’s curiosity gets the best of him, and he begins a long journey around New York trying to find its meaning. This journey represents Oskar’s response to the injustice of his father being killed in the terrorist attacks. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer uses Oskar’s behavior after his father dies to convey the theme, dealing with death can lead one to become more withdrawn from the people they love, but eventually leads to becoming a stronger person because of it.
Oskar’s hyperactive personality leads him to think about the meaning of everything, which works in his favor, in the case of the key that he found. Oskar begins to think about what the word “Black” written on the envelope means. Oskar’s idea is that the envelope and key is meant for somebody whose last name is Black. Oskar begins going around New York meeting as many people as he can who have the last name Black. “I ran home and did some research, and I found 472 people with the name Black in New York” (Foer 51). Oskar meets dozens of people throughout the story. In addition, Oskar struggles with some behavior problems during the time after his dad’s death, and he also feels uncomfortable in certain places, such as public transportation. His feeling of unease in public transportation affects his journey, because it means he has to walk everywhere he goes. There are points where Oskar wants to have an outburst and start yelling at someone or attack them, but he is mature enough to restrain himself. He acts hostile towards people in his life, which is how he responds to the death of his father. Oskar’s behavior throughout his search for the meaning of the key shows how he reacted to the injustice he experienced.
Oskar understands that his dad is gone and cannot be brought back, which means he understands that nothing he does will change that. He knows that what happened to him was unfair, so he has a good understanding of justice. He spends little time thinking about the people behind 9/11, and instead focuses on the memories he had with his father. Oskar’s search ultimately starts because of his curious personality and he felt like he needed closure, as he is a person who searches for the answer to everything. Even before his father’s death, he was always inventing things or ideas in his mind. He was always inventing ideas of how his dad died, or inventing things that reminded him of his dad. “I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad’s voice, so I could fall asleep” (1). Oskar figured that finding this key would lead him to somebody who knows more about his father than just his mother or grandmother do, so he could learn more about his father. “‘Well, what’s it got to do with my dad?’ ‘Your dad?’ ‘The whole point of the key is that I found it in my dad’s closet, and since he’s dead, I couldn’t ask him what it meant” (295). Oskar’s thoughts were that he had to know as much information as humanly possible, which is what led him on this search.
Oskar ends up being slightly disappointed towards the end of his search. “I found it and it had nothing to do with my Dad? I found it and now I’ll wear heavy boots for the rest of my life?” (302) Oskar thought the key would give him answers about his dad, which is possibly a symbol Foer used. Oskar thought the key would open up some secret, like a key in real life opens up a lock. Oskar was not successful until he got home after filling his dad’s coffin. “I cried some more. I wanted to tell her all of the lies that I’d told her. And then I wanted her to tell me that it was OK,” (324). This was the first time in the story Oskar felt sorry about the lies he told towards his mom, because he recognized he needs to care about her as well. However, Oskar shows some disappointment when he sees his dad’s coffin empty. He knew in his mind that it would be empty, but his heart felt like his dad would somehow be in there. However, Oskar finally feels somewhat at peace about his dad.
Oskar’s search for the key shows how dealing with death can lead one to become more withdrawn from the people they love, but they can end up becoming a stronger person because of it. Oskar is very rude to his mom, therapist, and classmates in most of the story. “‘Do you think any good can come from your father’s death?’ I kicked over my chair, threw his papers across the floor, and hollered, ‘No! Of course not, you f****** a**hole!’” (203) Oskar is clearly still dealing with emotional problems about his father’s death, has become withdrawn, and is not open to accepting any ideas from others about it. However, at the end of the story when he begins to feel compassion for his mom, it shows how he has become a stronger person as a result. This shows how in the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Foer uses Oskar’s behavior after his father dies to convey the theme ‘dealing with death can lead one to become more withdrawn from the people they love, but they can end up becoming a stronger person because of it.’
Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close experiences the loss of his father, which causes a myriad of emotional problems for him. Throughout the story, he acts with anger and becomes withdrawn towards people in his life. However, Oskar becomes a stronger person after his search for justice, which ends up being a journey where he finds out more about himself and the world. Jonathan Safran Foer wanted to convey this message, and did it well by creating a unique story from the point of view of someone who lost a loved one in a terrorist attack.