9/11 in Literature and Film

Examination Thesis, 2008

77 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. 9/11 as trauma
2.1. Definition of trauma
2.2. 9/11 as a traumatic experience

3. 9/11 in literature
3.1. Overview
3.2. Jonathan Safran Foer “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
3.2.1. Plot summary
3.2.2. Structure and style
3.2.3. The narrator
3.2.4. Recurring themes and motifs The key Loneliness and loss The pictures of the falling man
3.2.5. Conclusion
3.3. Ian McEwan “Saturday”
3.3.1. Plot summary
3.3.2. Structure and style
3.3.3. Setting of the novel
3.3.4. Recurring themes Religion Illness Terrorism
3.3.5. Conclusion
3.4. Don DeLillo “Falling Man”
3.4.1. Plot summary
3.4.2. Structure and style
3.4.3. Recurring themes Terrorism Religion The Falling Man Loss of memory
3.4.4. Conclusion
3.5. Art Spiegelman “In the Shadow of No Towers”
3.5.1. Structure and style
3.5.2. Analysis of plate no. 2
3.5.3. Conclusion
3.6. Conclusion: 9/11 in literature
3.6.1. Setting
3.6.2. The Falling Man
3.6.3. Mental diseases / loss of memory
3.6.4. Family
3.6.5. Religion
3.6.6. Politics

4. 9/11 in film
4.1. Documentaries
4.2. Movies
4.3. Oliver Stone “World Trade Center”
4.3.1. Plot summary
4.3.2. Authentic background
4.3.3. Fact vs. fiction
4.3.4. Inaccuracies and dramatizations
4.3.5. Recurring themes Heroism Family Patriotism Religion
4.3.6. Film techniques
4.3.7. Conclusion
4.4. Jules and Gédéon Naudet “9/11”
4.4.1. Background information
4.4.2. Summary of the film
4.4.3. Arrangement of the film Narration Creating suspense / dramatization External footage
4.4.4. Central themes Heroism Patriotism
4.4.5. Conclusion
4.5. Conclusion: 9/11 in film

5. Final Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch“1 This is a famous quotation by Theodor W. Adorno. It may surprise to find it at the beginning of a thesis paper called “9/11 in Literature and Film”. Obviously, the amount of victims of the Holocaust and 9/11 differ enormously, and the events are therefore incomparable. However, many people have labeled the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that happened on September 11, 2001 as the major catastrophe of our times; irreversibly changing the world we live in. Causing a trauma and massive grief to many people and leading to further deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq (civilians as well as soldiers), the attacks have huge significance for today’s worldwide political and social situation. For example, the issue of withdrawing the troops from Iraq is a major point of discussion in the ongoing presidential candidate debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is the question of how one can do justice to the many victims of 9/11 and its aftermath by means of literature and film. Is it possible to put trauma and grief in words, and maybe even contribute to overcome these states and accept reality? This will be the central focus of this thesis paper. To examine how 9/11 is represented in literature, I have chosen to examine three novels and one collection of comic strips. These have been written by very different authors: a hyped youngster, an old hand at fiction about politics and terrorism, an Englishman and a comic-strip artist who has before dealt with the Holocaust in a graphic novel. This indicates a great variety of how to come to terms with the traumatic experience; however, they share more than may be visible at first sight. Additionally, I will analyze two films, a documentary and a mainstream Hollywood feature and show how these films surprisingly similarly tackle issues of loss and grief.

2. 9/11 as trauma

2.1. Definition of trauma

A trauma, in the way it is commonly understood and defined in public, is basically a “psychological reaction to overly upsetting, extreme events”2. Examined closer, however, the definition goes further than that rather simple classification. In this broader consideration, traumata can be labeled as events which threaten to bring injury or death to people and thereby prompt “intense feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror.”3 An important element of trauma is the fact that the triggering event leads to a delay in coping with that event, but still has an intense effect on the psyche of the individual experiencing the trauma. Lieberman quotes Freud to support this claim:

It may happen that someone gets away, apparently unharmed, from the spot where he has suffered a shocking event … In the course of the following weeks, however, he develops a series of grave psychical and motor symptoms, which can be ascribed only to his shock … He has developed a ‘traumatic neurosis’.4

The event has not yet fully sunken into the person’s consciousness, but rather seems to be lingering in the subconscious, manifesting itself by means of several symptoms5.

Quoting Cathy Caruth, a contemporary trauma theorist, Lieberman continues to extend this definition by stressing the psychological delay of the traumatic event and its consequences, namely the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)6. The structure of the experience and reception of the event is delayed, it “is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it.”7 Paraphrased, this means that the event is avoided and relived at the same time, which is apparently a paradox. However, it is this “haunting” which is problematic, as the affected persons cannot cope with the original event while at the same reliving it again and again. Therefore, it can be labeled as a belated immediacy8. By not digesting this event in the mind, it is as if the affected person has never even lived through that devastating experience, as that person in a way never really lived through that event on a conscious level of the mind. This non-experience leads to the phenomenon of the event as a “recurrent source of pain and as a site of perpetual reinterpretation.”9 The delay of the experience is a form of self-protection, ultimately distancing it from the event, consequently worsening that encounter by keeping it in an unresolved state. The processes of memory and forgetting (and, in my interpretation, mourning), are interrupted. The reliving of the event becomes compulsive. It transforms into a sort of open wound, the relationship between the event and its meaning is disabled10. The past becomes the present, or, since the experience has in a way never happened to the affected person, the present is a timeless state.

2.2. 9/11 as a traumatic experience

The events on September11, 2001 have caused worldwide dismay affecting people who have watched them live on TV or the internet and who listened to their radios. Initially, many people (including myself) responded in disbelief, unable to grasp what was going on in downtown Manhattan. However, the experience was definitely a lot worse for the people directly affected by it, be it by watching the attacks in the streets of Manhattan or, even worse, by being inside the attacked buildings. Researchers have found out that, after 9/11, a proportion of 11, 2% of residents in the New York metropolitan area suffered from symptoms likely to constitute PTSD11. This is an enormous amount of people, considering how many people live in the area. However, considering the fact that millions of people saw the same images on screen simultaneously, the amount of people who experienced the attacks as a trauma may be significantly higher. I want to make clear that I do not in any way want to compare the experiences of TV audiences with those of the actual victims. However, coming back to the earlier definition of trauma as the witnessing of an event that threatens people’s lives, 9/11 witnessed on TV clearly can be labeled as a traumatic event, if only in a milder form than a trauma which threatens one’s own life12. Due to the fact that the event was simultaneously broadcasted around the globe made the viewers feel as if they were actually “there”, experiencing it themselves, and, due to their scope as an attack on Western civilization and America in particular, affected many more people than those physically present13.

The form, in which the events were experienced, however, was a mediated one. The images are well-known and dominated newspapers and TVs for days and weeks after they were taken. However, there was a discrepancy “between mediation and visceral reality”14. The events seemed unreal, an impression which was reinforced by the fact that one saw them on the television. To many people, the events seemed like a Hollywood film. Houen quotes Žižek:

The Real which returns has the status of a(nother) semblance: precisely because it is real, that is, on account of its traumatic / excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and we are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.15

Here, the traumatic character of the 9/11 attacks becomes clear: the event is too big, too violent, too raw to accept it as reality. This is, as indicated before, only reinforced by the circumstance that, though not physically present at the site, through the live mediation, one has the feeling of being actually there. The principle of reality is lost.

I will now investigate in further detail the attacks of 9/11 as images16. Images can be traumatic in themselves, according to Adi Drori-Avraham, who cites Roland Barthes: “The traumatic image offers no values, no knowledge.”17 The traumatic image is so violently shocking (as is true of the images of 9/11) that nothing can be said about it. There we see a delay in response typical for trauma: the reaction does not take place immediately, but is delayed. The events are not considered real, and therefore they do not exist. A meaning has not yet been attached to the occurrence. In critical theory, images have already been considered as “wounds”, conjuring a “shock effect”. Trauma itself has been pondered the prime motivation and subject of photography18. Depicting trauma, images can reproduce this experience.

Another important feature of trauma is, as I have explained before, the repetition of the underlying event. This can truly be applied to the images of 9/11. The footage from the Towers, especially those of the second plane hitting the South Tower and the collapse of both towers, have been repeated over and over again in a loop, “[their] repetition [was] the symbol of the event”19. The repetition did not only keep the wound open, but at the same time served as a means to try to master the situation. Moreover, they function as the background to the creation of (a new) identity20 and the eventual overcoming of the trauma21. On a different level, they also appeal to a darker side of the human mind, a pleasure from the fact that the events are real. This, I interpret, however, is not so much an evil trait, but also serves as a kind of self-protection – “thank God it’s not me”.

At the time of the attacks, their background was yet completely unknown. The viewers had to try to put them into context on their own. As not accepting the pictures as real, though, the viewers are somehow also repelled from the depicted event. This also serves as a mechanism of self-protection, consequently also delaying the process of getting over the event itself. Globalization and media in general draw the spectators closer together and thus narrows the space between “us” und “them”. The immediacy of the events happening make the viewers feel as if they were actually there22.

As said before, the events of trauma repeat themselves in the mind of the affected person again and again. The images “burn” themselves into the mind, acting like a flashbulb “on the ‘photosensitive’ plate of our minds”23.

The need to come to terms with the events through their repetition is also expressed by literature and films that have emerged after the attacks. While some of these media deal with the repetition of the event or its reenactment, they can be considered as an attempt to cope with the attacks and eventually attribute meaning to them, to renegotiate and trying to make sense of them. Besides, they resound the feeling that the attacks were not real in the first place. Turning “fictitious reality” into “reality fiction” is thus another way of interpret the events.

3. 9/11 in literature

3.1. Overview

Generally considered the major event of the present, it is no surprise that several authors have written novels dealing directly or indirectly with the events and aftermath of 9/11. One of the first reactions to the events by litterateurs were essays in newspapers and magazines. A famous example of this would be Don DeLillo’s essay “In the Ruins of the Future”, published in Harper’s Magazine in December 2001. However, a more artistic approach to 9/11 also began quite shortly after the attacks, namely in the form of short short-stories and poetry. It seems as if these were the appropriate mediums for a first response. Obviously, novels take longer to be written.

In a study about novels dealing with 9/11, Allison B. Moonitz counted as many as 79 novels24 up to February 15, 2006. This list is not complete; however, as her methodology does indeed include novels not written in English, e.g. “Windows on the World” by French author Frédéric Beigbeder, but no German-language novels are included. Still, the research makes clear that there are many fictional works dealing with 9/1125. Most of them can be categorized as “literary fiction”26. Another sub-genre includes suspense and thriller fiction; however, this genre was more present right after the attacks rather a few years later27. Maybe it was too early to cope with the grief and trauma yet, as the events were still present, so it was easier to tackle them in ways of suspense. These works seem rather superficial to me. One work that could fall into this category is “Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson, a work which I originally intended to examine in this paper28.

Another genre of books published about 9/11 consists of what I like to call “conspiracy books”. These books deal with the events of 9/11 and what or who caused them. However, they can be labeled as “non-fiction” books.

The books I am about to analyze in the following chapters stem from very different authors and deal with the topic of 9/11 in diverse ways. One of the novels will be “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”29 by Jonathan Safran Foer, a hyped young author whose debut novel was widely celebrated. The novel is mainly told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy who has lost his father in the 9/11 attacks, which brings about an interesting (fictive) point of view about the events. The second work which will be investigated is “Saturday”30 by Ian McEwan. Being an English novel, it will be interesting to see how an author who was not directly affected by the attacks incorporates the event into his fiction. The last novel which will be analyzed for its way of dealing with 9/11 and the trauma it has caused is “Falling Man”31 by Don DeLillo. It was controversially discussed in criticism, and it will be interesting to see how an old hand at writing about terrorism and politics tackles this event which itself could have sprung from one of his earlier novels. Finally, I will examine Art Spiegelman’s collection of comic strips “In the Shadow of No Towers”32 in order to illustrate how a medium commonly perceived as shallow attempts to put grief into boxes by means of combining text and images.

3.2. Jonathan Safran Foer “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

3.2.1. Plot summary

Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, depicts the story of the nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who has lost his father in the attacks on the World Trade Center and now lives alone with his mother. When Oskar is sent home early from school on 9/11, he is the first to arrive there (his mother returns from work later), and he listens to messages his father has left on the answering machine. His father was trying to contact his family, telling them he was all right. After having listened to the five recorded messages, the phone rings and Oskar sees that it is his father calling again. However, he does not pick up the phone. Instead, he unplugs it and goes to buy exactly the same phone again, then hides the original one in his closet and never tells his mother about the messages.

Oskar has great troubles dealing with his father’s death. When going into his father’s bedroom for the first time (more than a year after the attacks), he accidentally destroys a vase he finds in his closet. He finds a key wrapped up in paper with the word “Black” written on it. As his father used to give him riddles to solve, Oskar thinks this is yet another one and decides to solve this final quest, thinking it will bring him closer to his deceased father. Oskar sets of to visit every single person in New York City whose surname is Black, convinced that one of them has important information for him. He does not give his mother any information about where he goes on the weekends, and she does not seem to care or at least does not show any concern about her son’s whereabouts. On these trips, he meets several people. One of the Blacks, a 100-year-old man, lives in the same apartment complex as Oskar and eventually accompanies him on his mission.

While Oskar tries to find the solution to the riddle, he becomes more and more estranged from his mother, whom he accuses of not mourning his father´s death decently, as she seems to have a new boyfriend, Ron. Oskar thinks she is not showing her grief often enough. However, he intensifies his relationship to his grandmother, who lives in a building opposite his own apartment building, and who he thinks is more in mourning than his mother. She comforts him. His grandmother has a renter which Oskar has never seen before and whose existence he doubts. Eventually, however, he meets him while trying to visit his grandmother. He does not know that the “renter” is actually his grandfather, who had left his wife pregnant with his unborn son years before and only returned after he found out that his son had died on 9/11. Oskar befriends the “renter”, and they both decide to dig up Oskar’s father’s empty coffin (no parts of his body had been found in the ruins of the World Trade Center) to fill it. They carry out this plan, and the coffin is filled with letters that Oskar’s grandfather had written to his son over the period of all the years, but never sent to him.

Eventually, Oskar finds the owner of the key. It belongs to a man whose own father had died shortly before 9/11 and then sold the vase to Oskar’s father in a yard sale, oblivious of the key that rested at its bottom. It turns out that the key belongs to a safe deposit at a bank, and that the owner of the key seems to have inherited whatever is in that deposit. Furthermore, we learn that Oskar’s mother had received a phone call from the first person that Oskar had visited and that she had then informed all other Blacks in New York City about Oskar’s mission. This explains why she had not been concerned about his unexplained weekend trips. In the end, Oskar reconciles with his mother.

3.2.2. Structure and style

The narration is mainly told through Oskar’s perspective and therefore depicts the attack through the eyes of a child. Thereby we find a first-person narrator. Oskar is not omniscient; his perspective is limited to his own experiences. The reader gets to see a lot of Oskar’s thoughts and feelings. However, Oskar’s point of view is not the only one. Oskar’s narration is mingled with letters from his grandparents. So, two intradiegetic narrators are embedded in the novel. Foer includes letters that the grandmother wrote to her grandson; it is not clear, however, whether he has ever received these letters. Also, Foer includes letters that the grandfather wrote to his son, whom he never saw alive. These letters were written in the time after Thomas Schell Sen. had left his family until his return after the death of his son. Later, he resumes this habit. It is important to mention that the letters were never actually sent, but are kept by Oskar’s grandfather himself.

The letters from the two characters differ greatly in style. While Oskar’s grandmother writes in a very calm manner and very short sentences (there is a long space between each sentence, and all sentences are very short, “staccato-jabs”33, leading to a tone of dreaminess in her writing34), the letters his grandfather writes exhibit a very fast style, with endless stream-of-conscious sentences only separated by commas. This is very likely due to the fact that Thomas Schell Sen. has become a mute after the experience of the Dresden bombings during World War II. He is not able to communicate with his surroundings unless by writing single sentences into a notepad, and by showing his hands, on which “YES” and “NO” are tattooed. Thus, he compensates his inability to communicate verbally by writing down what he thinks in a very expressive way. On one occasion, his writing becomes so quick that the lines and lettering become narrower and narrower until they form an illegible black mass35. The amount of thoughts, which is undeliberately locked in his head, seems to be too great to be merely expressed by writing letters. So, the letters literally do not give him enough space to express himself as it is visualized in the novel.

The novel contains several mostly non-textual “extras”. These include pictures (e.g. one of Stephen Hawking, whom Oskar sends letters too36) as well as other “gimmicks”, as Deveson calls them37. They serve as a visual dimension which complements the prose narrative. For example, when Oskar tries to find out more about the key, he goes to an art supply shop and examines a test pads on which customers test pencils, etc. These pages are reprinted in color in the book38. In general, one can say that the “gimmicks” often depict what Oskar sees: be it pictures from places where he has been to, or simple visualizations of calling cards. In doing so, the reader gets a deeper insight into Oskar’s perspective. The images manage to draw the reader closer into the story and minimize the distance between reader and narration.

A lot of the pictures stem from a collection of images in a book that Oskar calls Stuff That Happened to Me39. This scrapbook contains a lot of the pictures reprinted in the novel, and they seem to aim at improving understanding things by remembering them and arranging them in a book. They are a way of dealing with the things that surround and happen to Oskar.

Furthermore, the book visualizes things that are not part Oskar’s perspective. For example, pages out of his grandfather’s notepad are reprinted in order to visualize them. This has a very emotional effect on the reader, as the almost blank pages with only single lines on them demonstrate the loneliness of Thomas Schell Sen. and his inability to communicate verbally. Oskar’s grandmother’s recollections of her entire life written on a ribbon-less typewriter are also “reprinted” as blank pages in the book, so as to visualize again the loneliness and loss40.

3.2.3. The narrator

Dealing with “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, it is important to take a closer look at the narrator, Oskar Schell. It is quite remarkable that a story about 9/11 is told from the perspective of a nine year old boy who has lost his father. This clarifies that the loss affected families as a whole. Most other books on 9/11, which I know about, use rather conventional points of view by choosing adult narrators. However, the use of a child narrator implies a certain innocence and indicates the purest form of suffering, unspoiled by thoughts about the broader context of the attacks. He thus represents the state of New York before the attacks, according to Walter Kirn41. It has been widely noticed that Oskar Schell in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” has similarities with Oskar Matzerath in the novel “The Tin Drum” by Günther Grass42. Both have suffered a great loss or trauma, and both are exceptionally clever individuals. After all, Oskar Schell seems very mature for his age. He is quite precocious and has insight into things that “normal” nine-year-olds do not care about.

3.2.4. Recurring themes and motifs The key

The key that Oskar finds in the remains of the broken vase and the quest for its meaning are symbolic for Oskar’s struggle to cope with his father’s death. Oskar has a strong need to know the reasons for why things happen: “Just because you’re an atheist, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love for things to have reasons for why they are.”43 He is unable to grasp the significance and meaning of 9/11 and his father’s subsequent death and therefore tries to solve this final riddle. His hunt for the truth becomes his healing process. He meets several people, who all have problems in their very own ways. For example, Aaron Black is disabled and does not leave his apartment. Abby Black is very rich, but seems very lonely. Mr. Black, who accompanies Oskar on his journeys through the five New York boroughs, suffers from the loss of his wife. By seeing that all these people have problems on their own unrelated to 9/11, Oskar sees that not only he is grieving, and that life holds disappointments and troubles for everyone.

This prevalence of grief and loss is also indicated by the recurring mentioning of worldwide catastrophes. Obviously, the book deals with 9/11. However, we learn that Oskar’s grandparents have suffered through the bombings of Dresden. Furthermore, one chapter begins with a scene at Oskar’s school where Oskar shows the class, probably as a part of a presentation, a recorded interview of a person who survived the bombing of Hiroshima. This further reference to a destroyed city shows that the suffering is not limited to the USA, but that there has always been grief. However, this recurring theme of destroyed cities has led to criticism for being a cheap trick. Deveson calls it “willful and vulgar”44. In my opinion, though, it rather seems to be a political allusion: the USA are not the innocent victims they portray themselves as. A lot of grief worldwide has been caused by them; many people died in Dresden and Hiroshima due to the American attacks. Obviously, the nations under attack were considered as the enemy; however, the attacks were not carried out on the enemy’s military resources, but on civilians. This reminds me of the terrorist attacks on 9/11: the terrorists considered the USA as the enemy and attacked civilians. The terrorists considered themselves to be at war with the USA. However, this recurring motif displays the notion of a world which is constantly under the impression of grief and loss.

In the end, Oskar finds out that the key actually signifies nothing that is related to his father. It has no relevance for his life or death respectively. Considering that Oskar initially set out to find out about the meaning of the key and thereby tries to make sense of his father’s death, but ending up with ultimately finding out that there is no meaning, Oskar finally realizes that there is no sense to Thomas Schell Jr.’s death. There does not have to be a reason for everything, as it is explained in a dialog between Oskar and his father about the existence of the universe. Oskar: “What’s the reason?“ His father: “Who said there was a reason?”. Oskar: “No one did, exactly”45. The perception that things are more complex than they seem to be and that there is no simple solution to the questions is also expressed in the following sentence: “I don’t believe in God, but I believe that things are extremely complicated.”46

However, Oskar is sad about the fruitless outcome of his quest. Already before having solved the mystery, he becomes frustrated: “I miss my dad more now than when I started, even though the whole point was to stop missing him.”47 The key and the related search for its meaning made him feel close to his father: “Looking for it [the lock which belongs to the key] let me stay close to him for a little while longer.”48 He realizes that he will not always be this close to his father or his memory of him and even wishes to have never found the key’s owner49. Nevertheless, it is only after the quest is over and his mother’s role in it is revealed that Oskar is eventually able to reconcile with her. It seems as if it was necessary for him to understand that nothing will bring his father back, that there is no actual meaning to everything, in order to accept reality. Loneliness and loss

One theme that recurs frequently throughout the novel is that of loneliness. For once, Oskar feels very lonely after his father passed away. He thinks that his mother is not really grieving and that it is unfair that she occasionally seems to enjoy life:

I wanted to tell her she shouldn’t be playing Scrabble yet. Or looking in the mirror. Or turning the stereo any louder than what you needed just to hear it. It wasn’t fair to Dad, and it wasn’t fair to me.50

Oskar is unable to realize that people mourn differently, and that his mother’s behavior does not signify that she is not sad about the loss of her husband, but that there may be ways of getting on with life and trying to distract oneself. Nevertheless, Oskar feels betrayed by his mother and becomes estranged from her. His inability to understand her, his feeling of betrayal and thereby his loneliness culminate in a scene in which Oskar tells his mother that he wished she was dead instead of his father51. Oskar also feels lonely in that respect as he thinks that no one misses his father more than he does, “more than she [his grandmother] or anyone else missed him.”52 His loneliness goes so far as to make him think that everyone in the world has to be lonely: “It probably gets pretty lonely to be anyone.”53

Oskar is not the only one to experience loneliness, however. His grandparents clearly suffer from it, too. Both have experienced the Dresden bombings of 1945, in which Anna, the sister of Oskar’s grandmother and girlfriend to his grandfather, died pregnant with Thomas Schell Sen.’s child. This loss leads to Oskar’s grandfather becoming mute54. The trauma is so strong and he is so unable to communicate about what has happened that be becomes unable to communicate altogether. By coincidence, Oskar’s grandparents, who had lost each other due to the confusions of war, meet each other years later in a café in New York City. Oskar’s grandmother proposes to Thomas only minutes after meeting him again. This marriage, however, is not a very happy one. The motivation for it on both sides reflects that love is not the cause, but rather the fear of being alone. Thomas Schell Sen. marries Anna’s sister because she is the closest he can get to the person he had lost. Also, she signifies a part of his home, which he had also lost. That he sees a substitute for Anna in his wife is indicated by the way the couple performs sex: only in the dark and, on Thomas’ wish, only from behind. This seems to enable him to imagine it is Anna he is making love to55. Also, it occurs to Oskar’s grandmother, that Thomas, a sculptor, forms sculptures as representations of Anna that she models for56. The reasons for Oskar’s grandmother to engage in this marriage are summed up by her in one very striking sentence:” I don’t know if I’ve ever loved your grandfather. But I’ve loved not being alone.”57 However, not surprisingly, considering the reasons leading to the marriage was in the first place, it is not a very happy one. The couple does not communicate about their terrible experiences of the past; in fact, they never speak about the past58. This drives the couple even further apart from each other, and their only possibility to bear their existence is their division of their apartment into “Nothing” and “Something” places. This is a form of dealing with their trauma by means of denial. By never speaking about what happened, the pain is numbed away, but never resolved.

Also interesting is the fact that Oskar keeps inventing things in his head. Some of them are clearly related to his father’s death in the burning and collapsing World Trade Center. For example, he comes up with the idea of a short made out of birdseed, so that humans can fly away from dangerous situations59. The connection to the 9/11 attacks becomes very clear when Oskar thinks about the idea of building skyscrapers that can vanish into the ground when hit by a plane:

[I]f you’re on the ninety-ninth floor, and a plane hits below you, the building could take you to the ground, and everyone could be safe, even if you left your birdseed shirt at home that day.60

Oskar seems to be afraid that attacks like those on September 11 might happen again, and he therefore invents things that could prevent other people from dying in similar attacks, and, ultimately, would save other families from losing members. Oskar also invents skyscrapers that can rearrange their parts to make openings for planes to fly through61, and devices that collect all tears shed in New York City to be collected in an enormous reservoir, so that everyone can see how sad the city is62. All these inventions are symbols for his dealing with the loss of his father. The pictures of the Falling Man

Central issues in „Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close“ are the pictures of a person falling from one of the towers of the burning World Trade Center. Oskar has seen these pictures on a Portuguese website and is deeply disturbed by them, imagining that they show his father63. Since he does not know how his father exactly died, he imagines that he might have jumped. The first image of the falling person is inserted on page 59, and the image is enlarged to focus on the falling person on page 62. The images are meant to be taken from Oskar’s book Stuff That Happened to Me. I think that the images are supposed to demonstrate Oskar’s situation as a mediator between his personal and the collective trauma. He tries to identify his father in one of many pictures that have become iconic for the attacks of 9/11. At the end of the novel, Oskar does something remarkable with the complete sequence of 15 images. He reverses their order so that it looks like the person in the picture was not actually falling, but floating upwards through the sky, eventually disappearing from the picture entirely, as though he had never jumped in the first place64. In my opinion, this expresses Oskar’s wish that the events of 9/11 should also be reversed which is mirrored in his childish logic. This is also supported by his Oskar’s thought prior to the pictures. He says he wished he had more pictures, so that he could have rearranged the pictures in a way that the man[…] would’ve flown through a window, back into the building, and the smoke would’ve poured into the hole that the plane was about to come out of.65 Oskar then goes on imagining that his father would have reversed all his final activities too: emptying the messages on the answering machine, moving home backwards, telling Oskar the good night story backwards. Oskar concludes that then “[W]e would have been safe”66. This expresses his wish that the attacks had never happened at all, and shows that he is still unable to cope with his father’s death. His wish is a form of denial, denying that the events have occurred, thereby articulating his trauma. Sandy Ullman adds another interpretation of the use of the pictures in the novel. She claims that Oskar was trying “to find relief in art’s potential to comprehend and subsume grief”67. However, he fails, and this failure can be assigned to the entire novel. Foer is aware of the fact that grief as enormous as the one about 9/11 cannot be honored by a novel, as the narration merely remains a fragment unable to mirror the actual complexity of the attacks. A novel can never be able to consume the entity of loss due its limitations, spatial and artistically.

3.2.5. Conclusion

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is substantially a novel about loss and grief, and how to cope with these strong feelings. All characters in the novel seem to have experienced these negative sides of life, be it by losing relatives through death or simply by the loss of feelings and love, or they are affected by other struggles (e.g. illness). These people come to together one way or another and fight their loneliness, healing each other by sharing their grief68. In the center of the novel is the breakup of hierarchical boundaries between media, genres and forms of communication. The limitations of media are represented by the inclusion of the “gimmicks”; genre boundaries are breached by the fact that “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” seems to converge genres such as the epistolary novel (the grandparents’ letters), the detective story (Oskar’s hunt for the lock) and even the Bildungsroman (Oskar’s maturing throughout the novel). Oskar seems to be torn between the wish to know how his father died and the images of the falling people; he imagines that his father also jumped, secretly not wanting this idea to be real. The hunt for the lock becomes a way of dealing with his traumata: the trauma of having lost his father, and the trauma of not having answered the phone when he called for the last time. Oskar has a guilt-ridden conscience about this failure, and his quest ultimately confronts him with this feeling of guilt. The use of pictures throughout the entire novel serves to exemplify the process of individual and collective memorization: the pictures not only show what Oskar sees, but also what his grandfather sees, and thereby form a continuum of remembering. However, the novel, including the pictures, seems to be a kind of collage, mixing so many styles, genres and images, and therefore attempts like Oskar, to sort things out, without coming to a satisfying solution.

3.3. Ian McEwan “Saturday”

3.3.1. Plot summary

The novel “Saturday” by Ian McEwan is about 24 hours in the life of the 48-year-old neurosurgeon Henry Perowne. The doctor is an upper-middle-class white, living with his wife Rosalind, a lawyer, and his 18-year-old son Theo, a talented Blues musician, in a wealthy part of London. On the morning of February 15, 2003, a Saturday, he wakes up very early, unable to sleep. Instead, he watches out of the window and sees a burning aircraft. He is worried that this might be a terrorist attack, but decides not to call for help, as nothing could be done anyway. Nevertheless, he desires to gather more information about the incident and goes to the kitchen to watch the four o’clock news on TV. There, he meets his son Theo, and they talk about the soon-to-begin war on Iraq. The news report that the plane, transporting cargo, landed safely in Heathrow and that no one was injured. Henry returns to bed and makes love to his wife, who gets up to go to work. Henry falls asleep again.

In the morning, Perowne makes his way to the squash court for his weekly match against a colleague; however, the traffic is blocked due to the demonstrations against a possible war on Iraq. Trying to quickly cross a road in order to make it to his match in time, he is hit by another car. Three people get out and try to press him for money, which Perowne refuses. The men want to beat him up, but Henry confuses the gang’s leader Baxter by diagnosing him with Huntington’s Disease, so he can escape. He then plays his squash match and loses. Afterwards, he buys seafood at a fishmonger’s to prepare for tonight’s dinner, when his father-in-law, a renowned poet, and his daughter Daisy, an aspiring writer, will arrive from France for a family reunion. He brings the food home and then visits his mother, who is living in a retirement home and severely suffers from Alzheimer, not able to recognize her own son anymore.

Eventually at home, Perowne prepares dinner, and one by one, his family members arrive. However, when his wife Rosalind returns home at last, she is intimidated by Baxter and his companion who were awaiting her in front of the house. Baxter threatens to kill Rosalind and rapes Daisy, whom he forces to undress. It then turns out that Daisy is pregnant, and Baxter abandons his intent to rape her. Instead, having found out she is a poet, he makes her read one of her poems. But Daisy recites the poem “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. Baxter is so touched by the poem that he renounces his entire plan to take revenge for the earlier humiliation (being told he was ill in front of his friends) and can finally be overpowered by Henry and Theo. However, he is heavily injured and brought to hospital. Henry shortly afterwards receives a phone call about an emergency patient that he shall perform surgery on – Baxter. Henry carries out the surgery and eventually returns home, making love to his wife before falling asleep.


1 Theodor W. Adorno, “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft“, Gesammelte Werke, vol.10, ed. Theodor W. Adorno (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1980) 11-30, 19.

2 Jessica Catherine Lieberman, “Traumatic Images”, Photographies 1.1. (2008): 87-102, 88.

3 Barbara Ganzel et al., “The Aftermath of 9/11: Effect of Intensity and Recency of Trauma on Outcome”, Emotion 7.2. (2007): 227-238, 227.

4 Lieberman 88.

5 Ganzel 227.

6 Ganzel 127.

7 Ganzel 127.

8 Ganzel 127.

9 Ganzel 127.

10 Ganzel 127.

11 Heidi Resnick et. al., “Research on Trauma and PTSD in the Aftermath of 9/11”, PTSD Research Quarterly 15.1 (2004): 1-8, 1.

12 Nordicom Review Homepage, Britta Timm Knudsen, “The Eyewitness and the Affected Viewer. September 11 in the Media.”, vers. 2003, 18. February 2008 <http://www.nordicom.gu.se/common/publ_pdf/32_117-126.pdf>, 119.

13 Neil Leach, “9/11”, diacritics 33.3/4 (2003): 75-92, 85.

14 Alex Houen, “Novel Spaces and Taking Place(s) in the Wake of September 11“, Studies in the Novel 36.1 (2004): 419-437, 419.

15 Houen 419.

16 The term “image“, as it is used here, means photographs as well as filmic footage.

17 Adi Drori-Avraham, “September 11th and the Mourning After: Media Narrating Grief”, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 20.3 (2006): 289-297, 282.

18 Lieberman 89.

19 Timm Knudsen 120.

20 Leach 77.

21 Leach 85.

22 Leach 85.

23 Leach 75.

24 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Homepage, Allison B. Moonitz, “An Experience Outside of Culture’: A Taxonomy of 9/11 Adult Fiction”, 29. March 2006, 13. February 2008 <http://etd.ils.unc.edu/dspace/bitstream/1901/247/1/Allison_Moonitz_masterspaper.pdf>.

25 Since it is almost impossible to give an accurate account of the amount of fiction published about 9/11, I will not go into further detail on the question of how many books there are.

26 Moonitz 29.

27 Moonitz 29.

28 I have refrained from doing so due to the limited space of this paper and because “Pattern Recognition” was not originally meant to be a novel about 9/11. The novel was already half-written when the attacks occurred, and Gibson decided to incorporate them into the novel. However, the novel does not deal with the trauma to a greater extent and grief caused by the attacks and therefore did not match my approach.

29 Jonathan Safran Foer , Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (London: Penguin Books, 2005).

30 Ian McEwan, Saturday (London: Vintage Books, 2005).

31 Don DeLillo, Falling Man: A Novel (New York: Scribner, 2007).

32 Art Spiegelman, In the Shadow of No Towers (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004).

33 The Times UK Homepage, Tom Deveson, “Fiction: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer”, vers. 29. May 2005, 13. February 2008. <http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article526274.ece>.

34 Keith Gessen, “Horror Tour”, The New York Review of Books 52.14 (2005): 68-72, 68.

35 Foer 267-284.

36 Foer 11 and 54.

37 The Times UK Homepage, Deveson.

38 Foer 47pp.

39 Foer 42.

40 New York Times Homepage, Walter Kirn, “’Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’: Everything Is Included”, vers. 3. April 2005, 13. February 2008 <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/03/books/review/0403cover-kirn.html?_r=1&oref=slogin>.

41 New York Times Homepage, Kirn.

42 E.g. Gessen 68.

43 Foer 13.

44 The Times UK Homepage, Deveson.

45 Foer 12.

46 Foer 324.

47 Foer 255.

48 Foer 304.

49 Foer 302.

50 Foer 35.

51 Foer 171.

52 Foer 71.

53 Foer 69.

54 Foer 16pp.

55 Foer 276.

56 Foer 83.

57 Foer 309.

58 Foer 83.

59 Foer 2.

60 Foer 3.

61 Foer 259.

62 Foer 38.

63 Foer 256p.

64 Foer 326pp.

65 Foer 325.

66 Foer 326.

67 Harvard University Homepage, Sandy Ullman, “Media Saturation and the Saturation of the Text”, vers. 10. February 2007, 13. February 2008 <http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~hbr/issues/winter06/articles/extremely.shtml>.

68 The Amhurst Student, Mee-Sun Song, “Let your imagination take flight with Foer’s genius“, vers. 22. March 2005, 10. February 2008 < http://halogen.note.amhurst.edu/~astudent/2004-2005/issue21/ arts/09.html>.

Excerpt out of 77 pages


9/11 in Literature and Film
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
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ISBN (eBook)
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Literature, Film, 9/11
Quote paper
Sandra Maschke (Author), 2008, 9/11 in Literature and Film, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/113179


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