Thomas Sr. Man of Stone

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel that shows very different characters and how they choose to react to tragedy and love. Thomas Sr. (hereafter just referred to as Thomas) is literally a man of few words. Foer develops a character who is flat and surprisingly static.

Looking at the multiple letters we have from Thomas, we begin to see the rationale behind the stoic, silent man. It is the loss of Anna that haunts him for the rest of the life. This loss is why he insists on the rules that we hear in “Why I’m Not Where You Are.” Thomas is entirely defined by this experience. In “My Feelings” Thomas starts to sculpt Anna by using the grandmother. The grandmother is just a literal stand-in for Anna. He is so consumed by being Anna’s boyfriend that he can’t see his wife as anything but Anna’s sister. Thomas can’t connect with his son because Anna had been with child when she died. “I’ll never be your father and you’ll always be my son” he informs the child. Thomas is entirely defined by losing Anna and this makes him a hopelessly flat character.

Thomas writes, in “Why I’m Not Where You Are,” that “I’m leaving her today.” Thomas flirts with leaving every time he enters the airport to fetch the magazines and further in he does finally leave. Thomas’ exit and re-entrance, while thematically important to understanding the relationship between Oskar’s grandparents, had the potential to redefine his person and to redirect his life, but they don’t. He doesn’t return because he suddenly realizes a profound love for the grandmother nor does he leave her because he has any intensely good or bad feelings; Thomas is afraid to live and he realizes that being with Anna’s sister is the most comfortable way to avoid the effort of connection.

Maybe some of Thomas’ flatness is a result of his contrast with rounder characters like Oskar and the grandmother, but even when he is given multiple opportunities to share his life story and emotions, he never succeeds in attaining depth.

Black and White and Red

Perhaps the most striking divergence from the typical printed page, for me, is the section written by Thomas Schell Sr. describing his experience during the Dresden firebombing. These pages are so markedly different from the rest of the book because they have been “marked up” with red-orange ink, with circles around words and phrases that the reader grasps for connections between the seemingly disconnected words and phrases. As someone who copiously marks up books, underlining and circling particularly touching phrases, marking shifts in the plot with stars in the margin, and scribbling questions in between lines, I was upset to find this section as it was. Who dared to mark it up before me and how would I be able to tell the difference between what I marked and what they marked?!

Anyway.

When we gathered for class and realized that all of our books had similar markings and that this was a narrative technique of Foer’s, I began to look on the section with a little bit more…patience. In fact, what Thomas Schell Sr. notes in this “Why I’m Not Where You Are” section falls right at or just after the physical middle of the novel. The content of the section is heavy, recounting Thomas’ already-fragmented experience in Dresden in 1945. The orange ink circling the first reference to “my child” (as opposed to “my unborn child”) and words on opposite ends of a line further fragments the narrative. I googled “the effects of red ink,” with several different phrasings, to figure out what exactly it was that made this chapter stand out. It is the first color that the reader encounters in the book and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Furthermore, who has made these red marks? With our knowledge from the end of the book, Thomas’ “child” has read the letter – it is the one he bases his search for his father on (!!!!!) and we already know that he uses red ink to mark up the New York Times. Since we can’t officially make this connection at this point, though, readers are left grasping for connection and meaning in the fragmented narrative, as Thomas Schell Jr. must have done upon his reading of the letter.

Anyway.

I think Foer perhaps chooses this method of fragmentation to slow the reader down. Oskar’s chapter preceding this one leaves the reader anticipating more lock-searching. The shift to 1945 Dresden in Thomas Schell Sr.’s perspective is dramatic and disorienting, mirroring Thomas’ own experience during the firebombing; from the first time his father shouted at him to the escaping zoo animals to the hospital room and his fragmented memories of Anna’s pregnancy, Thomas’ experience is visual and emotional and those powerful images stick with him, leading to what he conveys to Oskar and the reader. Without the physical disruption of red-orange ink where it should not be, the reader could (and possibly would) simply skim over this narrative, unsure of Thomas’ importance as a narrator yet. In effect, Foer uses the red-orange ink to disrupt the narrative to prevent the reader from skimming over tragedy. If the reader skims over this passage, Thomas (Sr.) loses his humanity that he displayed in the emotional despair of losing Anna and the depth of the tragedy of being connected to both Dresden and 9/11.

Proofreading the letter.

In ELIC Foer often uses images and disruptions in traditional text to communicate things beyond the text with the reader.  In a novel with so many emotionally and psychologically damaged characters this is usually used to communicate some sort of feeling of the characters or to provide an insight into their perspective.  There were many instances of Foer playing with the form of the text that impacted the passages I read, but it was the “Why I’m not where you are 4/12/78,” red highlights on page 208 that gave the most significant insight into the character through its divergence from regular text.  Thomas Jr. is perhaps the most mysterious character in the novel because he seems to have overcome his trauma, the adversity of not having a father, most successfully.  Yet we get so little about his thoughts or insights in the novel.  He seems to be a healer and soother of damaged people rather than a victim of his own adversity.

Upon reading the section with the red highlights I remember thinking that it was pretty clever of Thomas Jr. to mark up his father’s letter like that.  By marking up the typos in the paper he made it like any other piece of literature he proofread, like the newspapers.  This took the emotion out of the text and seemed like a good technique for distancing himself from the content.  This is important because his father, in my opinion, had no right to be heard out and understood on his own terms.  By only writing and refusing to speak, and also abandoning his wife and son, Thomas Sr. only lived life on his own terms.  Yes, he experienced horrible trauma, but he became extremely selfish as a result.  Thomas Jr. needed his father growing up and had to become a man without him.  He owed his father nothing and thus in return, read the letter on his own terms.  The proofreading of his dad’s letter shows that he read the letter objectively, or he at least attempted to.

Without the red proofreading marks on the text we would have to be told through the text or an outside narrator that it was Thomas Jr. reading the text, or that he had read the text.  By having these marks we can assume that Thomas had read the letter and don’t need to be disrupted by any outside narration.  This makes it much more impactful because it is like we as an audience are reading with Thomas Jr. and are not being told how he feels through any inner dialogue or omniscient narrator insight.  This technique was very unique and I think it gave insight into Thomas Jr. character in just the right way.

Images and Disruptions

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has one of the most unique narrative formats. While most books are double-spaced and full-page narratives, Foer breaks away from this norm and adds countless disruptions. These aren’t just distractions though. All the strange pictures, odd fragments, and sudden breaks contribute to the reading experience, enhancing the story and allowing us to dive into his plot.

In particular, I found the image on page 98 very interesting. Oskar has just started his search, and after visiting a woman named Abby Black, he wants to take a picture of her. She hesitates, so he captures the back of her head instead. Although I didn’t think much of the picture at first, I realized its symbolism as I got farther into the story. In my opinion, this indirect shot of the woman parallels Oskar’s life – he struggles in dealing with his pain and fears directly. For example, when asked to come to the ninth floor of a building, Oskar says, “I can’t go up…Because you’re on the ninth floor and I don’t go that high” (90). Oskar is scared of heights. He is haunted by his father’s death. He is terrified of the future. To me, this indirect picture mirrors Oskar’s beginning character: afraid, unsure, and hurting.

If Foer had not included such images, he would have lost a major element of the story. In the book, there are countless disruptions like the one described above that add an additional layer of depth to his book. I loved Foer’s narrative techniques because his story reflects real life where everything connects. The present connects to the past, the past connects to the future, and the future connects to the present. By using these disruptions in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer crafted an extremely realistic and unique masterpiece.

(A Lack of) Resolution

Jonathan Foer walks a thin line incredibly well at the end of his novel. While Foer must have felt obligated to provide resolution to the fictional aspects of the story—particularly Oskar’s quest for the lock—he would also be trying to balance the real, unresolvable tragedy of September 11th, too. As readers, we want loose ends of the story to be tied up. As a people, we know that the dead of 9/11 cannot be brought back. We’ve pledged to ourselves not to forget them.

Foer balances these two conflicting desires by layering the fictional and less fictional conflicts in the novel. Oskar’s quest for the lock, then, is a conflict that can achieve some sense of resolution because it is entirely fictional. The key opens William Black’s safety deposit box at the bank. Oskar’s inner conflict about coming to terms with his father’s death is not so easily resolved because far too many people suffered unrecoverable losses on that day.

Even though Oskar finds the lock, he realizes that it doesn’t make him hurt any less—“it had nothing to do with Dad” and “now [he’ll] wear heavy boots for the rest of [his] life” (302). This may be an important milestone in Oskar’s grieving process, but it is far from resolution.

Foer uses many of these mixed moments of fictional resolution and irresolution (Oskar’s grandparents’ final conversation, Oskar’s mom’s tears, etc.) to show that while the story is moving forward, there is still a long way to go for healing.

This sense of irresolution and the ending sequence of pictures in particular addresses the broader conflict felt by those who lived through 9/11 or are just trying to make sense of the modern world. Oskar’s desire to reverse the order of the pictures that may or may not show his dad falling to his death reflect our own desire to save the man suspended in the pictures. Many of us who watched on screens “the same images over and over, as if the world itself were repeating” (272), can deeply empathize with Oskar’s wish. If only…

a falling man

Foer leaves the final sequence of pictures without commentary afterward because there is nothing to say that will make our wishes true or less painful. Instead, he lets his readers sit with the pain in their own personal journeys to healing.

How Multiple Resolutions Form Oskar’s Final Resolution

In Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Foer resolves each character’s conflict, but instead of them all being separate, they all contribute to Oskar’s final resolution. The first thing resolved is the key and what it opens. Oskar had been so close to the owner of the key when he visited Abby Black, the second Black he met with. The owner of the key has also lost his father. In Edmund Black’s letter to William, it is revealed that their relationship was not all that great. The letter was formal and business-like in nature. It was distant. Oskar then follows up this story with his own last message from his father; which seemed to be almost begging for “you” to answer the phone. Through this meeting Oskar does not get any closer to his father. The key that he thought was his, actually belonged to someone else and his father gained it on accident. What Oskar did get from this exchange was that his father was finally being remembered as a good man. He looked for his dad in Mr. Black’s bio for the longest time and was still hopeful up until he pulled his own name out of the bio.

Next we have the resolution of Grandma and the renter. Once again this is all in a letter being addressed to Oskar. This is written the day after Oskar and the renter dig up his dad’s grave, so it is important to note that at the end of the book, when Oskar is back in his room, he has not received this letter. In this letter, the reader witnesses the grandma’s desire to remain together with Thomas. She says that she cannot stand to be alone and that she will do whatever it takes to remain together, even f that means staying at the airport, this in a way mirrors the lady that stays in the Empire State building. Both grandma and this lady cannot stand to return to their previous lives if the one that they loved were not there. She ends her letter with a sad story about not being able to tell her sister that she loved her the night before the bombings. She then follows that by saying, “It is always necessary.” This is a comment on how unexpected life can be and that just because things seem to be alright now, in a few moments they could drastically change. This is evident in the messages left for Oskar by his dad. In five out of six messages, his dad was calm and collected. He seemed to be fine, but in the sixth Oskar knew that something was wrong, and he never got to tell his dad that he loved him or anything because he could not answer the phone.

Lastly we get Oskar resolution with his mother and Ron. Oskar begins to give Ron a chance, even though he may be asking him extremely difficult questions, this is the most Oskar and Ron have interacted in the novel to this point. The next morning while he is trying to sneak back in, his mother and he have a talk, which results in a lot of crying by both parties. Oskar is bonding with both Ron and his mother, before he even gets his Grandma’s letter. His talks with William Black leads Oskar to be closer to his mother, as he does not want be have a similar relationship William had with his father. He wants his mom to be happy and is willing to allow her to fall in love again. This shows great character development in Oskar. He no longer restrained by his father’s death. He has found a way to live. His dad will be remembered as a good man, at least by William Black, and his mom still has a shot at love, and she knows that Oskar loves her.

How the Disruption of the Text Helps Readers

“Help”

One simple written word jars readers from a comfortable complacency. Out of context, the word “help” could mean anything. It could refer to anything. But to us, and more importantly, to Oskar, help is everything.  FullSizeRender-4

Situated on an empty page, “help” screams louder than any block of text ever could. Why use 100 words when one will convey the same message?

Foer often diverges from typical printed pages to show relationships and how his characters’ minds work and process. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a novel that explores these relationships and the interwovenness of human life through and around tragedy. Foer, through this atypical writing style, seems to be making the claim that life is not linear. Contrasting to what most authors would have us believe, life is a constant mystery, a jumble of emotions. Only at the end can we make sense of what has happened.

FullSizeRenderEvents are messy and so is the mind. Through these divergences, Foer expresses the mind of a young boy, tragically trying to make sense of the death of his father. Pictures, letters, and handwritten words from his grandfather all add to the experience of Oskar’s loss. To the reader, this adds to our confusion and helps us to reside in Oskar’s miFullSizeRender-1nd. We feel his emotion. We are confused with him. Our minds travel in all of his tangents. As readers, Foer takes us for a ride through this unusual writing technique.

The disruption of this technique lies in our expectations as readers. We are conditioned to read a story from beginning to end, expecting semi-linear motions. Foer challenges this notion. However, his challenges lend towards the aforementioned result: we enter the mind and life of Oskar Schell.

Eventually Everything Runs Together

Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, does not follow the generic novel layout.  Yes it has chapters with titles and various characters that develop over the course of the story, but not every page contains multiple paragraphs with multiple words.  Some pages only contain one or or a small phrase, or in some cases a photo. Foer breaks away from the normalcy to help his readers understand the different tones in his novel .

Page 262 begins the chapter titled, “Why I’m Not Where You Are 9/11/03”, and this is where we as readers are introduced to Oskar’s grandfather.  This chapter includes all the different ways that Foer diverts from generic narrative.  We do not even begin the chapter with a paragraph but with a single sentence, and the same goes for the next two pages until we get to a picture of a door knob.  The tone of the chapter is almost solemn.  The words are almost read in a quiet and hushed voice.  There is no real content until the reader is 6 pages in and as the chapter goes on the words are formatted differently and begin to be spaced closer and closer together until they become one solid mass.  This gives the illusion that the grandfather is speaking (writing) faster and faster until all that he says becomes jumbled together.  Could this be due to excitement?

As a reader this interrupts my expectation by catching me off guard.  When I began this novel I expected chapters and paragraphs not photos and one sentence per page.  It does give a glimpse at the different tones of the novel and helps us to understand how the characters perceive certain events and people.  For the grandfather, his one page sentences give us a feeling of remorse and sadness as he meets his grandson for the first time.  That feeling continues through the chapter.  By breaking away from the norm, Foer creates more of a connection between the reader and the characters.

 

Blindness and Blank Pages

In his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer manipulates the typical text format of simple ink on a page by introducing visual elements to convey deeper meanings. One instance of this manipulation is the blank pages on pages 121-123. These pages serve as a visual representation to the reader of Grandma’s failed story entitled “My Life”, which she had attempted to type up without realizing that the old typewriter Grandfather gave her had no ribbon. Grandfather’s discovery that Grandma is actually basically blind is significant because it mirrors her emotional blindness; also, it means that Grandma was unable to read any of Grandfather’s letters. This exemplifies the lack of communication between the couple, as well as their inability to express their feelings and truths to each other, as Grandma had pretended she was reading her husband’s letters.

While simply informing the reader that the pages of Grandma’s story were blank would have conveyed these messages, Foer chooses to represent them visually. This tactic of Foer’s allows the reader to actually experience, and thus empathize with, the shock and disappointment that Grandfather feels instead of simply reading about it. When the reader reaches the blank pages, they feel confused at first, flipping through them to ensure there isn’t a mistake; then, there is a final realization about the extent of Grandma’s “crummy eyes” and the implications of the fact that she can’t see. This is essentially the same thing that Grandfather experiences, as expressed on page 124, when he remembers that it was he that tore the tape out of the typewriter as an “act of revenge” and remembers her telling him that her eyes were crummy. The fact that Grandfather had written off her claims of failing eyesight as another way to “touch” him or another “figure of speech” shows the fact that Grandfather didn’t see her either, which is also represented with the blank pages. Grandfather could never truly see Grandma, and her memories now reflect that. The fact that Grandfather was the one to destroy the typewriter as an attempt to destroy his thoughts of a future with Grandma shows that he also destroyed their past in the form of their memories as a couple. The several blank pages also cause the reader to pause and reflect, to wonder how this could have happened, which primes the reader for Grandfather’s thoughts and conclusions on the next page.

Breaking Up the Mundane

The most notable moments when Foer diverges from regular print is on several occasions in the grandfather’s, Thomas Sr, narrative. Foer goes for pages without a break from the typical printed page, and then suddenly switches to a type of printed work that is not normally seen. He will type a sentence or sometimes only a word on each blank page.
This type of page break is first seen when we are introduced to a narrative of a character that is not named. It turns out to be the grandfather but we do not really connect that until later on. We learn that the grandfather was not always silent but once he came to America and tried to talk about Anna that was when his silence hit. Soon after that is found out we get the blank pages with only a sentence or word on the entire thing. This greatly disrupts the readers thought process. They were involved in a regular narrative then jolted out of their comfort zone. Which is exactly what Foer wants. For this specific character in order for readers to truly get a sense of what he is feeling and going through this break in regular format must happen.
It shows how this silence has disjointed his life and made it harder to communicate. The reader is shocked out of their comfortable reading mindset and that is like what is going on in Thomas’s. If Foer had not done this most readers would have merely trudged through that section and found it some freak accident but never had any emotional connection to the character. This interruption caused readers to feel the shock and sympathize with Thomas Sr.
Foer uses this method several times in the grandfather’s narrative. Each section does have a bit of a different context but they all take the reader out of their mundane reading mind and transport them into the feelings and thoughts of the grandfather. This gives Foer’s novel a spark of genius and the ability to make an impact on readers.

Tin Cans and String

elic

Hello.

How are you?

I’m doing well.

These are some basic questions and answers that people use to communicate. Communication seems to be an ever increasing complicated word in our world. In Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close the lack of communication is a problem, and he shows this by using an interesting style of writing to display the difficulty of communication.

One of the examples that stuck with me was the pages of numbers on page 269-271 when the Grandfather is trying to talk to Oskar’s mom. I am ashamed to admit how long I spent trying to figure out what the numbers were saying, and I went through a lot of paper. The first few numbers are simple, “Hello, is it really you?” and a couple of lines down it repeats, “Is it really you? Help!” Oskar’s mom, of course, cannot understand what he is saying because all she hears is beeps. Two pages full of beeps where a couple of words were caught like, “My name is…arrived…airport.” The “language” barrier is weaved throughout the novel and is also a larger theme for the time period and in our own lives.

Oskar and his grandmother have difficulty communicating what and how they feel to others, while his grandfather has a difficulty communicating to people since he does not have the ability to talk. And throughout the novel we meet many Blacks who have the inability to communicate effectively.

Communication is a way to exchange ideas and news, and is a connection between people and places. However, what happens when there is a barrier or a loss of communication. For Oskar not being able to fully communicate how he feels after his dad’s death leads him on this mission to find what the key opens. For his grandparents this leads to trying to find purpose in their lives since their lives have no purpose after all they have lost. The larger implications lie in the fact that after the tragedy of 9/11 we had a loss of communication in how to deal with the tragedy. In how to understand how this could happen so in turn we were afraid and that fear lead to anger and to misunderstandings of an entire people. Foer is able to express this more fully with the pages of numbers, the pictures, and the black pages. But in this it is not only a miscommunication it is a way to learn that people are different and that we communicate in different ways. To take the time to learn how a person communicates and how they understand could save us all a lot of fear, anger, and misunderstandings.

Characters’ Emotional Connection

In Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, we go from

“My first jujitsu class was three and a half months ago. Self-defense was something that I was extremely curious about, for obvious reasons, and Mom thought it would be good for me to have a physical activity besides tambourining” (2)

to

“To my unborn child: I haven’t always been silent” (16)

It’s a bit of a culture shock after fifteen pages of listening to a nine year old to suddenly hear from this older gentleman.Who is this man? How is he related to Oskar? Why am I reading this letter? All of these questions come up instantly in the reader’s mind when the narrator changes.

This sub-plot of sorts of the Grandparents’ letters certainly adds a new dimension to Foer’s story. Adult perspectives with wisdom and insight are able to present events quite differently from Oskar’s inevitably childish perspective.

Having this insight come from the first person point of view helps the reader to connect with the character’s emotions on a level that would not be the same in third person.

“Grandma knew Oskar was in the room, being silent.”   is very different from

“You were silent, but I knew you were there.      I could feel you.”

This shows readers the emotional connection that Grandma feels to Oskar, and that this connection is so real to her it is almost tangible.

The emotions this novel invokes are deep and complex, inspired by Foer’s ability to draw us in with each of the characters’ narration. The love between each of these characters is so real you could almost touch it, and it seems unlikely that this depth of emotion would be possible without the first-person narratives of all of these characters.

“My life story was spaces.”

 

In Foer’s, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a captivatingly playful novel about a young boy on a mission to make sense of a post 9/11 world, the readers are introduced to diversions other than just print on pages. We see these diversions in the form of pictures, irregular spacing, pages of just numbers, a page of handwritten text, and then the eye catching red annotating that fills up three pages of Foer’s text. So why does Foer choose to add these diversions? They cause the reader to step back from the text as a whole and concentrate on particular points at specific spaces in time. We’re truly able to feel what the characters are feeling and see what they say. It makes what Foer is writing about come across to his readers EXTREMELY loud and INCREDIBLY close.

One thing that is found numerous times throughout the novel is the irregular spacing in Oskar’s grandmother’s narrative. Upon first stumbling upon this, myself as a reader did not think of it to be of much importance, however my mind did wonder as to why Foer was writing the grandmother’s narrative this way. On page 176 the grandmother finally gives readers a discreet, yet powerful line that could explain why she writes this way. “I hit       the     space     bar     again    and    again   and   again.           My    life    story was      spaces.” (176)  The spaces within her writing could symbolize the spaces of void and emptiness that she feels toward the loss of her son, as well as her strained relationship with the grandfather that fostered many years ago.

This conclusion causes readers to empathize with the grandmother, and by Foer adding her personal narrative letters throughout the text as well, readers become aware of what these spaces in her life are caused by. It is a playful narrative technique that Foer uses, but it makes readers take a step back from Oskar and the key mission, and focus on the grandmother who has been hurting much longer.

“Wednesday has been cancelled due to a scheduling error”

[The name of the title comes from Episode 2 – The Glow Cloud in the “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast series]

Magical Realism is the beautiful attempt to challenge the constructed nature of society through the cohabitation of fact and fiction to “question what is considered real” (Magical Realism from New Frontiers in Education, Culture, and Politics: Critical Pedagogy and Global Literature : World Teaching). Magical Realism wants us to ask ourselves about why we consider some things to be strange and to question our own reality.

Tropic of Orange works very hard to leave the audience unable to truly understand or genuinely connect with both the characters and story. The importance of that is why Yamashita would use magical realism to achieve this effect. The novel sees Arcangel move a geographic boundary and the child’s heart that casually interacts with the characters. These magical moments are interspersed in the novel and aren’t treated as the “magical” elements that they are.

“Commonplace binary configurations — magic and reality, life and death, body and spirit, fact and fiction, self and other, center and margin — commingle and coexist on an equal footing. Neither aspect is more important nor more characteristic of reality, and consequently, the coexistence of these opposites destabilizes or displaces the usually accepted hierarchies normally found within binary relations” (Magical Realism from Writing Between Cultures : A Study of Hybrid Narratives in Ethnic Literature of the United States).

Arcangel just happens to remember the dying men fighting in battle and Buzzworm listens to music. The big accident was caused by the poisoned oranges and Rafaela is a mother. Tropic of Orange presents the magical in the middle of the ordinary and that is how it qualifies as magical realism. Yamashita uses our lack of clear foundation to explore other topics: cultural diversity, relationships, and how we ought to interact with each other. The book is broken up into very individual accounts and never feels cohesive and this leads the audience to ask why we crave more order and quality relationships from our characters.

To address the elephant in the room, I’ve embedded a link to the “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast series because this series is a playful work that is magical realism with awareness. The characters acknowledge that no people or dogs are supposed to be in the dog park in straight dead-pan voice. If Tropic of Orange was too incohesive, but you want to explore magical realism, this free podcast is a great way to continue.

Magical Realism and a lot of Confusion

The novel Tropic of Orange can most definitely be categorized as magical realism work. There a couple notable elements that can be considered “magical” and a couple elements that can be considered to be “real.” The most notable and perhaps one of the most confusing “magical” elements of this novel is the character named Archangel.
He seems like any other character in this book but we soon find out he almost transcends the natural order of things. When in the cantina, a waiter recognizes him and says that Archangel has “not changed at all” (130.) That might not seem magical in itself but the waiter is twenty years old and has not seen Archangel in many years. If the progression of time was the same for Archangel was the same for every other human, he should have looked much older but he does not. This is not the only instance of his seemingly “magical” characteristics; his specific chapters even send a sense of magic to the reader. He thinks and talks about things that happened so far in the past that either he should not have been able to be there to witness them or he should be long dead by now.

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The orange also seems to take on a feeling of being “magical.” The oranges have apparently poisoned many people and are being confiscated all around. They cause an unusual uproar in L.A. that would realistically not be seen. Then there is the scene where Archangel, Sol and Buzzworm cross paths. Archangel is performing and while he is doing so, Sol shows up with an orange and disturbs the crowd. Buzzworm arrives and saves Sol from being swallowed by the crowd. That entire scene seems to take on a magical element because for one, it was caused by an orange. Secondly, a little boy was able to evade a huge crowd and somehow two men who had never met before were able to help effectively save Sol from this crowd. That seems to be relatively “magical” to me.
There are also real elements such as the setting of the novel, L.A. and most of the other characters. L.A. is a very real place that many of the readers would know of and they may know exactly where it is at geographically. This is not a fictional place and many know that so it would right to consider it a very real element of the story. Characters, besides Archangel can also be considered as “real” aspects since they seem to act as real people would. They have jobs and lives and if this novel did not have “magical” elements, no one would be the wiser not to think that this was realistic fiction or even nonfiction.
These “magical” and “real” elements work together to affect the characterization of the novel. They serve to place the reader in a real place with seemingly real people but at the same time they take readers outside of the normal world to teach them a lesson. However, this lesson may or may not be clear to readers since the “magical” elements work to take the reader out of the real world and this can be incredibly confusing.
Overall these elements work well to create an amazing, but confusing novel that wants to let readers know it has a point. I personally think they could have been ordered better but it could be a part of the way Yamashita wanted readers to view her message. She presents a real world that can be straightforward but at the same time it confuses and intertwines those who live in it.