Oskar goes to his mom’s room to apologize. She tells him she was never mad at him, just hurt.
Oskar updates his feelings journal to describe how he fell asleep on the floor and awoke with his mom putting him into his pajamas. She must have seen the bruises he’s given himself. He’d hoped she'd see them and ask about them. She didn’t.
Oskar’s portrayal of Yorick in the school production of Hamlet highlights unhealthy things about his perceived role in his own family. Like the court jester Yorick, Oskar is the clown in his family, making his mom laugh and even believing his “raison d’être” is making his mom happy. We see this dynamic again in the way he couches his request for a mausoleum in humor, believing his mother’s love depends on his ability to keep her entertained. However, Yorick is dead, and Oskar’s ability to be a family jester is metaphorically dead, too. Oskar’s desire to no longer “play dead” and start attacking Jimmy demonstrates Oskar’s frustration at hiding his feelings in order to keep his family happy. In his argument with his mom at the end of the chapter, Oskar uses his feelings as a weapon by changing his mood journal to “depressed.” In his imagined onstage outburst, Oskar removes his mask and hits Jimmy with it, symbolizing that Oskar wants to strip himself of falsehoods to reveal painful truths. Similarly, he attacks his mom with the reality that his dad’s coffin lies empty, and they’ll never find his body, forcing her to acknowledge the empty coffin as a mask for the truth.
In this chapter, Oskar’s pessimism has escalated to the point of nihilism, the belief that nothing matters. Oskar’s imagined onstage outburst disrupts and destroys the play, something false but choreographed, and thereby metaphorically destroys all the falseness and roles in the world. He starts by attacking the falsehoods in his family. By imagining an attack on Ron, Oskar destroys the idea that Ron could replace his dad. He attacks his mom, believing her friendship with Ron proves that the love in his family means nothing. Oskar imagines attacking Dr. Fein, who, as a psychiatrist, forces happiness onto him, disguising the truth. Even his grandma requires an imaginary friend to be happy, which Oskar reads as her not being able to cope with reality, and he attacks this untruth. Oskar’s dad taught him to find meaning in meaninglessness, which Oskar can no longer do, so his dad too becomes a target. Importantly, when Oskar proclaims everything to be meaningless, the only thing he can think to do is smash everything, including people he loves. Here, nihilism leads to violence and isolation, making it a dangerous philosophy for Oskar. Indeed, when he later verbally attacks his mom with the nothingness he feels, he’s left “incredibly alone.”
Despite all that Mr. Black has experienced, he constantly returns to the importance of home and family, furthering the theme of the importance of the personal. As many of the “great” people in his bibliographical index get distilled into the word “war,” Mr. Black’s original description of himself under “war” puts him in the same rank as famous people. However, Mr. Black eventually rejects war and prioritizes his wife, elevating personal connections over the public and famous. His so-called last war emphasizes this because he fights not a real war but a tree that once inconvenienced his wife. What Mr. Black has learned from history is that greatness matters less than love. Mr. Black’s knowledge of history highlights Oskar’s ignorance. As a war reporter, Mr. Black has the potential to put Oskar’s understanding of 9/11 into a historical context, even if only by talking about how other survivors of terror attacks deal with grief. Although Oskar makes notes to Google all the names Mr. Black brings up, he can’t remember all the names listed, suggesting his disinterest. Just as Mr. Black prioritizes the personal over the great, Oskar wants to focus on his personal emotions about 9/11, not its historical scope.
Although Oskar spends most of this chapter depressed and furious, he finds the possibility of something both beautiful and true in turning on Mr. Black’s hearing aids. This action offers Oskar an alternative to nihilism in the form of human connection. As we see on his card in the biographical index, Mr. Black has made his wife the point of his life, his raison d’être. Without her, he therefore shuts out the rest of the world by turning off his hearing aids. Although Mr. Black could have physically turned his hearing aids back on whenever he wanted, he hasn’t, which symbolizes that a person who has shut himself out from the world cannot come back alone. By offering to turn on Mr. Black’s hearing aids, Oskar metaphorically helps Mr. Black back into the world, taking him away from silence and isolation. This act is beautiful because it’s a moment of caring between near strangers and true because both Mr. Black and Oskar genuinely want Mr. Black to experience the world again. Although Oskar still sees the world as bleak and meaningless, his ability to recognize the truth of genuine connection and love bodes well for his growth as a character.