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Mother

Of all the characters to which any real attention seems to have been paid by Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it seems that Oskar’s mother is the least accessible.

This might seem to be a pointless or obvious observation; she is featured quite sparsely in the novel.  And her seeming not to care at all about her young child’s physical well-being throughout almost the entirety of the book novel certainly does not do her any favors:

‘Mom?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘I’m going out.’ ‘OK.’ ‘I’ll be back later.’ ‘OK.’ ‘I don’t know when. It could be extremely late’ ‘OK.’ Why didn’t she say more? Why didn’t she try to stop me, or at least keep me safe?

I wondered perpetually as I read how this woman could possibly allow her nine-year-old kid to go wandering around New York City alone, particularly her emotionally unstable, paranoid, mourning nine-year-old child. I wanted to shake her fictional shoulders until she came back to her senses enough to realize she had to be more careful with her son.

The behavior of Oskar’s mother was actually disconcerting enough to me that I was distracted, walking a line between waiting for something dramatic to occur that would expose her own suffering in a way that explained her apparently poor parenting decisions and being incapable of believing that she was truly letting Oskar out like she seemed to be.  Of course, the latter turned out to be correct, and that brings me to the question of whether Foer meant for readers to know that Oskar’s mother knew more of his whereabouts than she is portrayed as knowing.  Either way, I have trouble empathizing with her, which seems odd, considering the incredible emotional vulnerability that she must be living with after her husband’s death (on that note, even her deceased husband seems more thoroughly exposed and open to a connection with the reader than she does, do to the various ways in which Foer explored his family’s story).

It seems important here to remind myself that, if I am perceiving this distance so strongly, the author most likely intended for it to be conveyed in some capacity, or at least for it to be open to interpretation.  Because the reader is seeing the world from Oskar’s perspective for much of the novel, the inability to understand his mother’s emotional state and actions could be indicative of Oskar’s distance from her (though though there are a few sad moments when she rather mechanically offers to look with Oskar for mistakes in the Times).  We as readers are cut off from her character because Oskar is cut off from her emotionally. I would rather think of her this way than be frustrated with a sad, one-dimensional woman who repeatedly allows her little boy out alone in a scary world.

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