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Perhaps one of the most interesting topics in this book is ‘The Renter.’ As we all later find out, this is Oskar’s grandpa, his dad’s dad. Throughout the book we were exposed┬áto clips inside the grandfather’s mind, mostly concerning the act of leaving his wife and his unborn child. We basically get to know a man who has made mistake after mistake with his life. However, the curious thing is that he is mute, or at least he pretends to be. He explains how he lost his speech in his first section of the book titled “Why I’m Not Where You Are 5/21/63.” It was like he slowly lost word after word, until “‘I’ was the last word [he] was able to speak aloud” (Foer 17). Initially, I thought I would google selective muteness, because that’s what it seemed to be. However, selective muteness was defined as a child’s disease in which the child “does not speak in certain situations, like at school, but speaks at other times, like at home or with friends.” After that I was a little concerned that maybe my idea that he fakes it was completely wrong; however, after just googling muteness, I discovered that there is another form known as avowedly mute. Based on Webster’s Online Dictionary, avowedly mute is usually for religious problems, although not necessarily. I believe that the grandfather has vowed to be mute as some form of punishment for not saving Anna. We learn later on that Anna, the grandmother’s (his ex-wife) sister, died in the Dresden Bombings. Although it seems like this was not his fault, the muteness seems to have spawned from it so that when he finally meets up with Anna’s sister years later, he is completely mute.

On a side note, the muteness seemed to start a chain of punishment, such as leaving his wife. From what I understood in the book, he left his wife because he could not love her like she deserved to be loved. Even though ‘The Renter’/the grandfather seems to play a small role in the book, he is pretty important. Like Oskar, I believe he has some underlying psychological issues…

2 Responses to “The Renter and his Mysterious Disease”

  1. Marta says:

    I’m not sure that there’s textual evidence to support the idea that the Renter’s condition is due to any sort of conscious choice. The fact that he describes the silence as having “[overtaken him] like a cancer,” and the words themselves as being “lost” indicates that he does not want to be mute. I feel like if his silence was any sort of self-punishment or statement of failure then he would not have struggled to keep speaking. His description of that struggle on the page you cited also makes it seem unlikely that he is feigning it.
    That his mutism is psychosomatic is, in my mind, unquestionable; the fact that “Anna” is the first word to go, followed by “and” (because, he says, of its similarity to Anna’s name) is certainly indicative that his inability to speak is due to the trauma that he experienced in losing her and his unborn child. Whether or not he blames himself for this on any level is unclear to me, though I’m willing to accept the premise that his condition could be exacerbated by an undercurrent of unconscious self-loathing or repressed pain.
    Selective mutism is not exclusive to children, and a quick Google Scholar search will reveal that comorbidity with post-traumatic stress is not out of the question. Also, boiling his relationship with Oskar’s grandmother down to a case of unrequited love seems to me an oversimplification, and leaving one’s wife when she is pregnant with one’s child seems incongruous with an attempt at quasi-religious self-punishment.

    • stewart15 says:

      You are much more informed about psycho analysis than I am! I simply googled to see if his disease was something that could actually happen or if it was complete fiction created by Foer. After finding the little bit of information I did based on a ten minute google search, I basically made an assumption that I thought made sense. Your explanation, however, is much more interesting! Thanks for sharing (: