Study Guide

Mr. A. R. Black in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Mr. A. R. Black

Basic Black

Oskar meets tons of people with the last name Black over the course of the novel. We don't even get to learn the first name of the one we get to know the most. Just his initials. So we'll just have to be all formal and call him Mr. Black. Mr. Black has an eye patch and he lives in the coolest apartment ever, filled with dolls, seashells from Iceland, a samurai sword from Japan, and a bed made out of a tree. He is ancient, having "lived every day of the twentieth century!" (7.60) and everything he says ends in an exclamation point! He's shouting because of his hearing aid.

Mr. Black's a sentimental guy. When his wife kept tripping over a tree root, he cut down the tree and built a bed from it. Every day since she died, he's pounded a nail into the bed.

With age comes wisdom, and Mr. Black drops more tidbits of wisdom than the Dalai Lama. Here are a couple of Mr. Black's Greatest Hits (available soon on Blu-Ray):

  • "There are more places you haven't heard of than you've heard of!" (7.64) Mr. Black speaks the truth. No matter how much you travel, there will always be more places to see. You can never see it all.
  • "It's not a horrible world […] but it's filled with a lot of horrible people" (7.65). This might be true (Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump) but with Oskar, he gets to discover a few not-horrible people in the world.
  • "Nine out of ten significant people have to do with money or war!" (7.96) Oskar wonders why Mr. Black has a biography card of Mohamed Atta, the terrorist who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center. Do people remember the act of terror itself more than they do those who were lost?

Keep Your Feet Off the Ground

Mr. Black hasn't left his apartment in twenty-four years, so when Oskar shows up, he's kind of excited to leave and get to see the city again. Like Oskar, who's only nine, Mr. Black is seeing a lot of things in New York for the first time. Helping Oskar, Mr. Black becomes his de facto guardian, helping him get over his fears. One major one is Oskar's fear of heights, which is understandable considering that his Dad died when the World Trade Center fell.

Together, they travel to the top of the Empire State Building like a really young Tom Hanks and a really wrinkly Meg Ryan. There they find Ruth Black, who gives them a detailed history of the famous skyscraper. Ruth makes Mr. Black's heart skip a beat (at his age, we hope this is just a figure of speech) and he's smitten. (What is it with old folks living in weird places in this book?) He offers to spend the afternoon with her, atop the building, and they'll never have to touch the ground. Living in high places is something Mr. Black is good at.

Mr. Black tells Oskar that he's done searching on that day. But he doesn't tell Oskar that he had confronted a creepy old man who has been following them around that day, and that creepy old man turned out to be Oskar's grandfather. Does Mr. Black quit the search because he thinks Oskar should be with his Grandpa, or because of Ruth, or both?

That's the last time we see him. Oskar goes to his apartment later, but it's being cleared out. Oskar didn't even get to say goodbye. Do you think Mr. Black moved to the Empire State Building with Ruth, or did his 113 years finally catch up to him?