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Comparative Essay: Asterios Polyp & Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

This Comparative Essay of Asterios Polyp & Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close explores the visual and narrative parallels between the two books

Comparative Essay of Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli Cover
A Comparative Essay of Asterios Polyp & Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close that explores the visual and narrative parallels in the two books
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer Cover

Images Without Much Context

Immediately when you open these books you see isolated images, images with no text to give them context. In Asterios Polyp the images are of Asterios the character. Before the Mazzucchelli begins any kind of dialogue we see the Asterios. We know nothing of him yet nor why he is on the pages before the title of the book. Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close does a similar thing but with photographs. You see seemingly random photographs before the chapter starts but after you read the title page. Each of the authors introduced their stories visually before beginning their text. I think this prepares the reader to be visually aware of what is happening in the book, to look beyond the written word.

Each author inserts images without context throughout their books as well. In Asterios Polyp the images are found at the beginning of each chapter. The images typically do not make sense until you are further into the chapter which you will then see the same image but within a context. Mazzucchelli does not place his isolated images in such a consistent manner. He places images in seemingly random manner throughout the chapters. None of the images have any text on or below them indicating context. As you read his book though, it is possible to infer what the images are there for but that is still up for debate. Mazzucchelli does not ever truly give context to his isolated images. The reader must make up his own context from reading the story.

Doorknobs

Another device they both used are pictures of doorknobs. Mazzucchelli’s pictures are black and white photographs of actual doorknobs. Foer draws the pictures of doorknobs in his book. Doorknobs represent the typical first and last action when someone opens or closes a door. Doorknobs are of extreme familiarity; most people touch and use them every day without thought. They can also represent limited access, that doorknob must be turned before the door is opened but first it must be unlocked. That simple doorknob is useless without a key unlocking the door.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer pages
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer comparative essay

In Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, the photos of doorknobs can be seen as representations of the journey that Oskar is on to find out who Black is. He visits addresses of people with the last name of Black. He knocks on their doors and asks them if they were aware of the key he found. In the chapter called “Why I’m Not Where You Are 5/ 21/ 63” an image appears of a doorknob. Even though the narrator at this time is not Oskar nor is he talking about Oskar’s journey, I believe it is a reference to Oskar’s journey that is about to begin in the next chapter. As the story progresses, Oskar must encounter these doorknobs to complete his goal of finding Black.

In Asterios Polyp there are pictures of doorknobs throughout the book but the most meaningful and symbolic picture comes at the end of the book as Asterios is standing in front of Daisy’s house. Asterios had been walking through a winter storm when he arrived at Daisy’s doorstep. Foer shows us the door of her house and then a close-up picture of the doorknob with no text on it. This is the moment that Asterios had been working for through the entire story, the moment that he would once again return to Daisy. The only thing that was now between him and her was this door with a doorknob that must be opened so he may complete his journey as well.

Text Form

Another but much more subtle device each book used is text form. Text form is referring to how the actual text looks on the page. Each author makes the appearance of their written text look differently according to which character in the story is speaking. On any page where dialogue is happening in Asterios Polyp, you can see how Foer changed the font style of each character to his or her own unique style. I believe he did this to help create a sense of unique personality and style for each person. This helps the characters be more lifelike than if all the text were the same.

Mazzucchelli also changed the way his text looked depending on which character was speaking. His book differs from Foer’s book in this regard by the way made his text look different. Where Foer changed the font style, Mazzucchelli changed the format style while keeping mostly the same font. He varied the text’s formatting style by creating indented paragraphs for Oskar, no paragraphs for Oskar’s grandfather, italics for Stephen Hawking, and more. These subtle variants help us to visually differentiate between characters and narrators of his storyline.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli Page
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli Page comparative essay

Conclusion

An author has many different tools and devices available to them that go far beyond the written word. They can modify the text, insert images and use specific imagery to carry their narrative along. Using these devices as Mazzucchelli and Foer did in their books helped to create an engaging experience when reading their books. Though they used similar devices at times, they deployed them very differently in ways the suited each of their narratives. This comparative essay revealed how both these books told their narrative with more than just black text on white paper. Writting their books in this way caused their stories to enter my imagination in creative and unexpected ways.

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