Loud and Incredibly Close
The Key is the Journey: Life and Loss in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
In the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, the key and lock are respectively symbolic of loss and recover and/or discovery. The novel concerns the adventures of a young boy, Oskar Schell, who lost his father during the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, his feelings of loss and loneliness are nearly overwhelming. He is a young boy who recently lost the most important role-model in his life. However, the way in which he handles this loss is highly unusual and moving. From the beginning, the reader is transported through the search that Oskar begins to find the lock that he believes will also unlock the secrets he needs to carry on with his life. Several characters accompany Oskar on his journey; most notably his mother, his grandfather, and his grandmother. The story is told from the first-person narrator perspective of Oskar, his grandfather and his grandmother.
Significantly, Oskar feels his loss most keenly within the family context. He feels alone in his family after the loss of his father. It is this loneliness however that begins the journey to ultimate peace. He cannot recover his father, but he can discover himself and others; a process that ultimately makes life worthwhile. Oskar learns to not only love life, but to treasure it.
Although Oskar experiences his loss on an intensely individual level, the author demonstrates that such loss is hardly unique. Oskar's grandfather loses his family and his love, Anna, during the war in Germany. Anna was also the sister of Oskar's grandmother, who also lost her family during the same war. The result is that the narrators each search for a way to make meaning in their lives, with varying degrees of success.
Oskar's grandfather is for example so badly damaged by his loss, that he is unwilling to commit to anything on such an emotional level again: "I'm so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything" (pg. 216). His grandmother in turn lives with the regret of never having told Anna how much she love her (pg. 314). With time, both learn to live with their losses, although Oskar's grandmother adds to her existing regrets the one that she had not enjoyed her life more. Only during old age does she realize that life is precious, and that loss only makes it more so.
While his grandparents' search is generally symbolic, in terms of years rather than physical distance, Oskar's journey functions on both the physical and symbolic levels. After the death of his father, Oskar discovers the key in question in a vase after his father's death. For the boy, the key becomes the symbol of his father's memory. Discovering the lock it opens becomes vital to discovering himself and the perpetuation of his father's memory. During the better part of the novel, the key and the search are what keeps Oskar's father alive in his mind. His words to Mr. Black summarizes the feeling: "The key used to belong to my dad,' I said, pulling it out from my shirt again, 'and I want to know what it opens" (pg. 160).
Mr. Black, in search of adventure, agrees to help Oskar look for the meaning of the key and what the opened lock might reveal. Initially, Oskar is confused as a result of his father's death. It feels as if his father's life meant nothing at all -- the world continues without him as if he never lived. Discovering the key however focused Oskar's loneliness into determination. Finding the purpose of the key, according to Oskar, would also mean finding the meaning of his own life in the face of death. This in turn culminates in the already mentioned theme that life is precious, precisely because it is not permanent. This preciousness is what provides meaning, rather than how the world functions with or without any particular person.
In the action of opening the lock, the key is symbolic of the human search to fill the…