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I think the theme of our private and public journeys really stands out in the story. Each of the three narrators exemplifies the theme of the journey in a different way. The most obvious example is Oskar’s quest to find the lock that fits his father’s key. His journey through the streets of New York is both a physical expedition and a mental undertaking. However, by overcoming his fears of strangers, crowded places, and heights, Oskar also undertakes an emotional journey, one that helps him move past his grief to better understand his connection to the world outside himself.
Grandma’s journey is emotional from the start. She speaks of a shadowed yet naïve childhood during World War II, and of her arrival in New York City seven years later. She strives to Americanize herself, but often stumbles when confronted by foreign concepts. Her marriage to Thomas is tarnished by the memories of her deceased sister, but she moves past some of her self-doubt by deciding to get pregnant and focus her life on her child (and later her grandchild). Later, her focus shifts inward, and her journey becomes one of self-discovery through her correspondence.
Thomas’s journey is about trying to transcend the pain of his past. He is unable to escape the trauma of the bombings, and lives his life according to abstract rules which deny him the true possibility of happiness. After he learns of the death of his son, his journey switches focus and becomes about the present. His love for Oskar is his saving grace as he moves forward into a new life without the hindrance of self loathing.
Overall, the novel suggests that physical and emotional journeys are interlinked, that by searching in any way do we ultimately come to search within ourselves.