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While writing about Oscar, Foer drew upon the emotions Oskar faces after his father’s death. He writes about an anger, fear, confusion, love, grief, hope, and uncertainty with unflinching clarity. In my opinion, Foer realizes that although the details of intense experiences vary between people, the emotions behind them are universal. The crossroads between hope and grief are at their most poignant long after Oskar has started looking for the lock to the key he discovered in his father’s closet. In Oskar’s vocabulary, the words extremely and incredibly occupy a great deal of space. For instance, Oskar turns the dials on Abe Black’s hearing aid “extremely slowly” (Foer 165). The birds fly by the window “extremely fast and incredibly close” (Foer 165). Oskar has an “extremely important rehearsal” for Hamlet (Foer 168). He tells his mother he is “extremely brave” (Foer 169). He writes “EXTREMELY DEPRESSED” and then “INCREDIBLY ALONE’ to describe his feelings (Foer 171). All of this describes a boy who is living in a heightened state of anxiety. Events do not just happen in Oskar’s world. They take on an exaggerated sense of importance or nearness or loudness; he is overreacting in the face of a terrible tragedy that is also a very personal one. He worries that his mother will not be there in the morning. Try as she might to convince him otherwise, he knows from experience that the possibility of her not returning from work one day is real. So everything in his life is critical because it may be the last time and thus Oskar transfers this to his feelings of grief, not recognizing that others, especially his mother, might have similar feelings and be of some comfort to him. That is why he feels incredibly alone or, to use his metaphor, has heavy boots. In the same section as above, his mother mentions that she cries too. Oskar asks her why she rarely lets him see her cry, a question that really means he needs to know that she hurts as much as he does (Foer 171).
Oskar is refusing to let go of his dad because of his emotional attachment to his father. “I opened the coffin. I was surprised again, although again I shouldn’t have been. I was surprised that Dad wasn’t there. In my brain I knew he wouldn’t be, obviously, But I guess my heart believed something else. Or maybe I was surprised by how incredibly empty it was.” (Foer 320) Even with his intelligence level Oskar is not able to get over the emotions running his head because of this tragedy. He can’t let go of father and when he goes to dig up his grave with the renter he is hoping that somehow his dad will magically appear in front of his eyes or yet thats what “his heart believes”.
Digging up his father’s empty coffin constructs the climax of the story as it center’s around Oskar’s sadness and reaction to the loss of a loved one. The empty coffin shows how symbolically he cannot accept his father not being in the coffin. When Oscar digs the grave he is surprised at how the coffin is damaged already and knows that his father would not like his coffin to be in this condition. “One thing that surprised me was that the coffin was wet. I guess I wasn’t excepting that, because how could so much water get underground?” (Foer 320) “Another thing that surprised me was that the coffin was cracked in a few places, probably from the weight of all that dirt. If Dad had been in there, ants and worms could have gotten in through the cracks and eaten him, or at least microscopic bacteria would have. I knew it shouldn’t matter, because one you’re dead, you don’t feel anything. So why it feels like it mattered?” (Foer 320) “Another thing that surprised me was how the coffin wasn’t even locked or even nailed shut. The lid just rested on top of it, so that anyone who wanted to could open it up. That didn’t seem right.” Oskar is starting to accept the fact that his dad’s body could have been in the coffin, and comes to realize that he isn’t because of how they coffin is treated already.
The physical and emotional journey Oskar goes on in order to connect once more with his father demonstrates how intertwined hope and grief are regardless of the age at which one experiences loss. Oskar states: “I turned on the radio and found a station playing ‘Hey Jude.’ It was true, I didn’t want to make it bad. I wanted to take a sad song and make it better. It’s just that I didn’t know how” (Foer 207). This is an incredibly heartfelt moment: Oskar wants to feel good again, but he does not know how to do so. He does not know how to be happy but remember his father; he does not know how to forgive his mother for trying to move on; he does not know how to live anymore. Everything he had known up until September 11th is foreign to him. Such feelings are not only poignant, but empathetic. Foer tries to portray that Oskar’s and everyone experiences are unique to their life, but that their emotions are universally inescapable. Everyone goes through a trying time in life, regardless of age, nationality, wealth, or title.
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