The protagonist of the story is Oskar Schell, a nine years old intelligent, eccentric, and clever boy who manages to self-identify numerous things, which includes origamist, inventor, amateur archaeologist, and amateur entomologist. As a narrator, he contemplates topics at deeper level and has high level of empathy. He trusts stranger, makes friends, and keeps assorted collections and hobbies. The search for key’s lock is in fact the search for purpose of life, which reflects on the theme of mortality where dying is inevitable and the real question is the way we are supposed to live when we actually have this life.
Oscar finds key that drives the plot of the story, within an envelope labeled ‘Black.’ The key is in the blue vase of his father’s closet. Oscar’s father dies in 9/11 attacks and the key drives the storyline from character to character unraveling the plot. Protagonist begins expedition around New York, traveling to different corner of the cities to meet in-person with different people whose last name is ‘Black.’ He does so in the alphabetic order of first name, and the search is actually not for the mysterious lock that matches the keys of Oscar; instead, the object of search for Oscar is purpose and meaning of life, and key is metaphorical device for pursuing the search.
The process of overcoming fear of riding subways, and crossing bridges, Oskar’s quest learns to know about the lives of people that are associated to each other in some way. Key provides sense of purposefulness, and personal growth, to Oscar, when things go out of control or becomes chaotic. Physically, for forty years, the key to the apartment stayed with Oscar’s grandma, and it belonged to Oscar’s grandpa. She gave the keys to Oscar’s grandpa when he returns, but eventually the key resides in (Oskar) Dad’s coffin, while Oscar’s grandpa bury the key, coupled with letters to his unborn child. In the film adaptation of the novel, the psychological condition of Oskar is Asperger’s syndrome, and the aesthetic dimension to his discussion when he interacted with Abby for the first time states, “…Tests weren’t definitive” (Foer 35).
The driving force behind the quest to find the lock remain Oskar’s Dad. Oscar finds himself in existential crisis like the melancholy Prince of Denmark, which he manages to resolve with the quest of key’s lock, although the lock itself is symbolic of the chaos around the lives of Oscar’s family. Like his father, Oscar’s grandpa also lost his unborn child and wife during World War-II in 1945 Dresden firebombing. Mortality is also an underlying theme, and Oscar encounters mortality in multiple part of the story line, which includes his relationship with Grandma who is in her old age. Death is major part of the storyline, and sometimes death comes unnaturally with unexpected brutal force. The literal and figurative usage of mortality is extensive, which includes Oscar’s school production of Hamlet.
The ‘key’ in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” reflects the quest of Oskar Shell, protagonist of the story, towards deeper meaning of mortality and the way of living. He learns that living with compassion for other’s is important, and the way we live matters the most. After all, death is inevitable and can come unnaturally and takes the life away, as it did in the case of Oscar, and Oscar’s Grandpa. Key and the lock, both metaphorically indicate the quest of Oscar’s meaning to life. Due to key, Oskar manages to meet different people whose name ends with Black, and eventually finds his answers. The search for key’s lock is figuratively used to seek life’s purpose.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely loud and incredibly close: A novel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.