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Oskar’s words

Oskar’s words

Chapter 1: “What The?
1. What is important about the title of this first chapter?
2. Oskar says, “The more I found, the less I understood,” (10). Explain how the writer uses Oskar’s words to suggest the meaning of journey.
3. White is Oskar’s favorite color. Why is this color symbolic? Analyze its importance to the theme? What does it suggest?
4. What is significant about the last two times that Oskar hears his father’s voice? Why do you think the author includes this for only Oskar to hear?
5. How does Oskar deal with the loss of his father? What does he begin to do?

Chapter 2: “Why I’m Not Where You are 5/21/63.” The date indicates that this chapter will discuss an event that happened in the past. It begins with a letter addressed to “To my unborn child: I haven’t always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk…the silence overtook me like a cancer…” (16). The narrator, just to save you time… is Thomas Schell, Sr., Oskar’s grandfather and Thomas Schell, Jr.’s father who has lost his voice.

1. Why does the chapter begin in this way? What is significant is this to the theme of loss?
2. Why does he write in notebooks?
3. What do you think is the loss Thomas suffers from?
4. On page 29, there is a photo of a glass doorknob and lock which takes up an entire page. Why do you think it is at the end of the chapter? What is the symbolic significance of this and how does it suggest a theme?
5. The chapter ends with Thomas’s words: “The end of suffering does not justify the suffering; and so there is no end to suffering, what a mess I am, I thought….Help” (33-34). Does this suggest the meaning of the door and lock?

Chapter 3: “Googolplex.” We are back to the present.
1. Describe Oskar’s state of mind “even after a year.”
2. Why does Oskar go into his father’s closet? What does he discover? What sends Oskar on his new found quest? Why is this important to the theme? What is the important clue about the envelope?
3. What does writing accomplish for Oskar? Who does he write to?
4. What is a common theme in the images in Oskar’s scrapbook, “Stuff that Happened to Me,” suggest? What is the message that connects the images?
5. Why is Oskar silent about his father’s messages? What role does silence play in healing?
Chapter 4: “My Feelings.” This chapter begins with a letter to Oskar, dated 12 September 2003, from his grandmother.
1. What is symbolic about letters? How are they used to connect the past with the present? Why is this significant to a theme?
2. “We never talked about the past” Who says this and why is this relevant?
3. Why does Oskar’s grandmother want to marry Thomas Schell, Sr.?
4. What can’t Thomas erase from his memory?
5. Why do they agree not to use German?

Chapter 5: “The Only Animal.” More disappointments for Oskar.
1. What is symbolic about “heavy boots”? Who experiences “heavy boots”?
2. “The Only Animal” in Abby Black’s townhouse is an elephant. Where is the picture located? What does an elephant symbolize? How does this relate to voice and identity?
3. Why does Oskar lie to his grandmother?
4. Explain what is on Oskar’s card as shown on page 99. How do you interpret this?
5. What type of symbol is the Nature Hike Anklet? What does it symbolize?

Chapter 6: “Why I’m Not Where You Are” 5/21/63. 108-141.
Background: In this chapter, Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas Schell while at the airport, writes a letter to his child.

1. What is Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas Schell, reaction to memory? Why does he want to leave his wife?
2. Twice in this chapter there are visual images of door knobs. Where are they? What happens before the image for each and why? How does the write use these to indicate the importance of time in shaping and defining identity?

Chapter 7: “Heavy Boots/Heavier Boots” 142-173.
Background: This chapter opens with Oskar recounting his school’s performance of Hamlet.

1. While on stage, Oskar expresses some extremely important feelings: “I felt, that night, on that stage, under that skull, incredibly close to everything in the universe, but also extremely alone. I wondered, for the first time in my life, if life was worth all the work it took to live. What exactly made it worth it? What’s so horrible about being dead forever, and not feeling anything, and not even dreaming? What’s so great about feeling and dreaming?” (145). How do his words express how he is changing? Explain. What do you think “incredibly close….extremely alone” mean in this context? How does the title relate to this passage?
2. What happens when Oskar “extremely slowly” turns on Mr. Black’s hearing aids? Why is this important for the importance of memory and time?

Chapter 8: “My Feelings” 174-186.
Background: This chapter is a continuation of Chapter 4, where Oskar’s grandmother explains her marriage to Oskar.
1. Where do Oskar’s grandmother’s memories take her in this narrative? What things does she describe? How does she describe her feelings about his life?
2. What is symbolic in the final scene of this chapter, where she releases the animals?

Chapter 9: “Happiness, Happiness” 187-207
Background: The chapter begins with Oskar presenting an interview about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima to his classmates.
1. Why do the kids at Oskar’s school make fun of him? What is Oskar’s state of mind after the kids bully him?
2. What makes Oskar repeat “happiness” to Dr. Fein? What does this tell you about his state of mind? At the end of the chapter, he listens to message four. Why does Oskar get upset?
Chapter 10: “Why I’m Not Where You Are” 4/12/78– 208-216.
Background: This is fifteen years later and Thomas Schell is in Dresden and he writes a letter to his son, Oskar’s father. He re-members the tragedy that occurred in Dresden; he lost everything. This trauma extremely affects him psychologically and he agonizes over losing Anna and his unborn baby.

1. What role does writing play for Thomas Schell? Why is it important that he writes his letters to his son that he never met? Why is it important that he does not send them?

Chapter 11: “The Sixth Borough”—217-223
Background: Here Oskar and his dad on the night prior to 9/11. Thomas tells him about a sixth borough and it was once there, but it is not there any longer. There are some clues that suggest it did exist and Thomas, Jr.

1. What is significant about this story? How does it foreshadow the events of 9/11? What does Oskar keep in his memory of this night?

Chapter 12: “My Feelings”—224-233
Background: Oskar’s grandmother writes about her feelings of when she watched the horrific images of 9/11.

1. What memories does 9/11 bring up for Oskar’s grandmother? How does she deal with the tragedies in her life?

Chapter 13: “Alive and Alone”—234-261
Background: Oskar’s quest with Mr. Black as his companion comes to an end. One door closes and another opens: he meets his grandfather, the renter.

1. How does this chapter connect characters to show that they are indeed incredibly related?
2. Why do you think Oskar lets the renter hear the phone messages from Oskar’s dad?

Chapter 14: “Why I’M Not Where You Are—9/11/03. 262-284. The two-year anniversary of Thomas’s death.
1. What is significant about the symbol of the door? How is it used in the narrative structure to support the writer’s themes?
2. What is the parallel connection between Oskar’s making jewelry out of Morse code and his grandfather’s attempt to spell out his life in a pay phone? How does this connect the two?

Chapter 15: “A Simple Solution to an Impossible Problem”—285-305. Oskar’s Voice.
1. What is the simple solution to an impossible problem? What does Oskar discover about life? About the key?

Chapter 16: “My Feelings”—306-314: Oskar’s grandmother’s last le

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