Study Guide

Grandma in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

By Jonathan Safran Foer


The Last Little Envelope

Oskar's grandmother is nurturing and devoted to Oskar. She misses her son terribly and knows the depth of Oskar's pain. She's always knitting him scarves and mittens (white, of course). Since she lives in the next building and her window faces Oskar's, they communicate by two-way radio and notes on the window. She's always there to pick up when Oskar calls.

Grandma (we never learn her actual name) is another narrator in the book, and she wants us to know all about her feelings. No, really, all her chapters are titled "My Feelings" and they seem to be one long letter that Grandma's writing to Oskar after she's decided to reunite with her husband and move to the airport.

Yes, she moves to the airport (who knows exactly where… somewhere between a Dunkin Donuts and baggage claim, we guess). We'll back up a minute and explain.

When Grandma was a young girl, she asked everyone she knew to write her a letter. Her grandmother writes her a sixty-seven page letter, the story of her life. "She made my request into her own" (4.26). Grandma says, during her own long, long letter (about 40 pages split up into four chapters) to Oskar. This letter seems to be a way for Grandma to put her own life into order (a recurring theme in the book) and explain herself to Oskar as her Grandmother did to her.

Even though she and Oskar are incredibly close (see what we did there?) Grandma isn't extremely loud about her life. She keeps a lot of it a secret. Oskar doesn't really know his Grandma even though he spends most of his time with her. He even asks at one point:

What were we spending so much time doing if not getting to know each other? (5.59)

But maybe Grandma doesn't really get to know that many people. She doesn't seem to know her husband either, and even goes to great lengths not to know him. Even after he returns after 9/11, they live pretty separate lives under the same roof.

Privacy is Grandma's default defense mechanism.


It's easy to forget that our grandparents had a life of their own before becoming our grandparents. They weren't always doting folks waiting to bake us cookies when we got home from school. They were young once. They had romance. They had… sex.

Grandma reveals a lot of herself (and we do mean a lot) in her letter to Oskar. It turns out that her husband was in love with her sister, who died, and Grandma kind of served as a substitute for her own sister, Anna, during their marriage.

He never really loved her, but that doesn't matter. She didn't really love him either:

I don't know if I've ever loved your grandfather. But I've loved not being alone. (16.92-16.93)

Grandma, like Grandpa, lost her entire family in the bombing of Dresden, and Grandpa was the first person from Dresden whom she met after moving to America. Grandma and Grandpa get married, and set up a bunch of rules for each other and one of the rules is "no children." Grandma breaks that one. With her decision to get pregnant, she chooses life and love over grief and the past. Grandpa leaves her, unable to tolerate the idea of continuing to live and love.

Although she's able to hide it from Oskar, she's clearly been scarred by the trauma of losing her family and losing her son on 9/11. Right after his father died, Oskar decided to wander away from her as they were walking in the park. She panicked and looked everywhere for him. When she finally went home, Oskar jumped out from behind a door. He thought it was pretty funny.

She started to say something then she stopped. Stan took her arm and said, "Why don't you sit down, Grandma." She told him, "Don't touch me," in a voice I'd never heard from her. Then she turned around and went across the street to her apartment. That night, I looked through my binoculars at the window and there was a note that said, "Don't go away." (5.42)

As only happens in dramatic novels, Grandpa returns to her door the day their son, Thomas, dies. She takes him back, but eventually he decides to leave again. This is when Grandma chases him to the airport. We assume it's because she cannot bear to live alone.

Though her letter to Oskar, Grandma has a single bottom-line message:

And how can you say I love you to someone you love? […] Here's the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar. It's always necessary. (16.1)

Here's something that's absolutely heartbreaking to think about: after losing everyone she loved in the War, Grandma took a huge risk by getting pregnant and committing herself to loving a child and looking towards a future. And yet she eventually loses that child, too. All she can do is focus her attention and love on Oskar, who now becomes her reason for living.