Oskar tells his mother this phrase in Chapter 3, while listing things about the world that make him sad. He explains that beautiful songs upset him because he doesn’t believe in the truth of beautiful things. Although Oskar creates this long, distressing list of reasons why he’s sad in order to get out of going to school, when he concludes that humans will likely destroy each other within fifty years, he makes it clear that a major source of his sadness is actually a newfound anxiety about how unsafe the world is. We later learn in Chapter 11 that Oskar once considered himself an optimist, meaning that his dad’s death completely changed his outlook on the world. We see throughout the early chapters that in addition to Oskar’s fear of crowded places, he also seeks out frightening images of terrible things, as if to remind himself that the world can be an ugly, dangerous place.
The ramifications of this quotation echo throughout the novel as many of the characters struggle with the ugliness of truth, often turning to lies to save themselves from grief. Oskar’s dad, knowing that he’s about to die, calls Oskar’s mom to tell her that he’s gotten out safely, presumably because he cannot figure out how to tell his wife goodbye. Under the incredible stress of that ugly truth, he turns to fantasy. In Chapter 16, Thomas tells Grandma that he’s going to the airport to get newspapers even though they both know he’s trying to leave again, preferring a comfortable illusion to coping with the ugliness of trying to live with his son’s death and the responsibilities he has evaded. Oskar himself recognizes how painful truth can be when he weaponizes it during his argument with his mom in Chapter 7, by emphasizing that his dad’s body likely burned to ash and his dad’s coffin is therefore a lie. Throughout the argument, Oskar objects to his mom trying to move on with her life, and this statement of truth about the empty coffin is an attempt to shatter his mom’s illusion of closure.