Study Guide

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close What's Up With the Title?

By Jonathan Safran Foer

What's Up With the Title?

Extremely Butterfly and Incredibly Banana

Sometimes it feels like Jonathan Safran Foer is playing literary Mad Libs. Adverb: Extremely. Adjective: Excited. "Extremely excited" (7.109) "Extremely important" (7.134) "Incredibly nervous" (9.52).

There are lots of extremely thises or incredibly thats sprinkled through the novel. Oskar's a pretty intense kid who's usually in a ramped-up emotional state, so the incrediblys and extremelys are understandable. But how about Loud and Close?

And then a thought came into my brain that wasn't like the other thoughts. It was closer to me, and louder. I didn't know where it came from, or what it meant, or if I loved it or hated it. It opened up like a fist, or a flower. What about digging up Dad's empty coffin? (13.165-13.166)

This idea seems to come out of nowhere. BOOM. And it ends up being a defining moment for Oskar. It's tempting to think of loud and close as referring to moments of immediacy of experience for Oskar, as well as a description of what those planes crashing into the World Trade Center felt like for most New Yorkers. But there's another meaning to "close" as Oskar uses it.

When Oskar's feeling anxious and panicked, he describes it like this:

It's just like everything was incredibly far away from me. (2.2)

Contrast this with Oskar's feeling when he's with his Dad tucking him in at bedtime:

I loved how my cheek could feel the hairs on his chest through his T-shirt, and how he always smelled like shaving, even at the end of the day. Being with him made my brain quiet. (1.27)

And:

I tucked my body incredibly close to his, so my nose pushed into his armpit. (1.32)

"Close" means personal closeness, which is the antidote to the distant, scary world inside Oskar's head.

"Close" makes appearances in other personal context throughout the novel. Oskar stands "incredibly close" to Abby Black when he visits her apartment. He was "incredibly close" to William Black in that same apartment, even though he didn't see him. Here, Oskar just seems to be referring to physical, not emotional closeness. And as we discussed in our "Symbols" section, close sometimes means "close, but not close enough."