Oskar asks his grandma why his grandpa left. She says he had to leave. She tells Oskar she hopes he never loves anyone as much as she loves Oskar.

Oskar ranks the people he loves. He puts the mysterious key next to his apartment key on the string around his neck. Finally, he falls asleep.

Analysis: Chapter 3

This chapter reveals Oskar’s fraught relationship with his mom and their differing approaches to grief. Oskar’s anger at his mom stems not only from her relationship with Ron but also her ability to continue to do everyday tasks normally, meaning that Oskar would like her to stop trying to live her life. Ron, in particular, drives Oskar’s anger because he represents his mom moving past his father’s death and possibly finding love again. Because Oskar not only loves his dad but also relied on his dad to explain the universe to him, Oskar finds the thought of accepting a world without his dad and moving on impossible. His decision not to tell his mom about his quest for the lock represents him shutting his mom out of his grieving process. Oskar’s belief that his mom is forgetting him stems from his sense that she’s also moving on from his dad, whereas Oskar, by pursuing his dad, remains trapped in his grief and longing for the past. Since his mom has already moved forward, Oskar’s pursuit of anything related to his dad inevitably means moving farther from his mom.

Chapter 3 introduces how Oskar’s dad’s death has caused Oskar to become deeply pessimistic. This is clearest in his insistence to his mom that he no longer believes in the truth of beautiful things. Even more than his belief that humans will destroy each other, Oskar’s distrust of beauty suggests a change in world view. Oskar used to think the world was safe, but the loss of his dad shattered this illusion. Oskar’s online search for images that distress him recalls his search through Central Park in Chapter 1 for objects that could be relevant to his Reconnaissance Expedition. Instead of a physical search full of wonder and beauty, Oskar now finds himself glued to upsetting images that he forces himself to identify with by stating they happened to him, which suggests a shift in how he explores the world. Under his dad’s guidance, Oskar saw adventure in the unknown, but now he uses the searching to find possible threats and add visuals to his fears. In this sense, Oskar seeks out these images to remind himself of the dangers of the world. 

This chapter highlights that Oskar not only grieves his dad’s death, but feels guilty about it for reasons that are not yet clear. The phone Oskar hides demonstrates his guilty conscience. Oskar insists that he hid the phone to protect his mom, but this explanation seems incomplete because he doesn’t clarify what about the messages would hurt her. Furthermore, Oskar’s reaction to listening to the message involves not just invention to soothe his mind, but also giving himself a bruise to, in effect, punish himself. Oskar also gives himself a bruise after his mom and Ron don’t hear him break the vase. Most simply, Oskar might be punishing himself for breaking something of his dad’s. He waits until he’s sure his mom and Ron don’t hear him in order to keep his guilt a secret. However, his bruising may also serve as a reaction to his mom and Ron not noticing him. In this reading, Oskar bruises himself in order to make it visibly clear that he’s hurting. Bruises are visual marks on the body that his mom might notice. 

Oskar’s idea about the ambulance encapsulates his desire to eliminate grief by eliminating ambiguity. It is likely that Oskar starts inventing the device as soon as he hears an ambulance because his anxiety and grief cause him to worry that he might know the injured person. Oskar’s inventions, therefore, help him imagine ways to stay safe physically and to mentally protect himself from worry and harm. In this light, his thought that the ambulance could tell a dying person’s loved ones “Goodbye, I love you,” hints that Oskar’s dad may not have said, “I love you,” in his message, causing Oskar to long for a scenario in which all doubts about a dying person’s love are eliminated. Finally, Oskar tries to quantify love with a ranking system, forcing a clear-cut organization onto the messy world of emotions. This impossible task harkens back to the way Oskar’s dad explained the world to him through science, but also emphasizes the impossibility of using math and science to erase doubt or to impose order onto feelings.