Everything Is Illumination By Jonathan Safran Foer: Character Analysis

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As I read the novel Everything is Illuminated, I, like many others in the class, struggled to separate reality from fiction. At the heart of this confusion is the fictional Jonathan Safran Foer. We had lengthy debates over the artistic value of naming the fictional Foer after his real-life counterpart, but as I finished the novel, I realized that one of its most frequent motifs is names, and what they signify to an individual.
When the novel begins, Alex goes into great detail about how his mother and father refer to him, and how he abhors their name-calling. To Alex, “spleening” his mother is a call for liberation: to be called Alex is to be called a man. Outgrowing his childhood is a central component of Alex’s character development, and
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Grandfather’s name is an escape from his ugly past. To him, the name Alex does not signify manhood, but rather it is an excuse to give himself and his family a second chance. As Eli, Grandfather is happy, friendly and loving, until the moment he kills Herschel and everything changes. As Alex, Grandfather is miserable and unaccomplished, and he fails both as a father and as a businessman. His name is symbolic of his failed escape, and Eli’s poor decisions haunt Alex for the rest of his life. Giving the two men the same name helps further draw parallels between their Grandfather-Grandson relationship, as both Foer and younger Alex learn about their pasts.
The most important false name, however, is Augustine. In his search for Augustine, Foer hopes to find the person who is, by the transitive property, responsible for his birth. Augustine is never found, and thus, Foer’s search for his past is technically unfulfilled. In finding Lista, however, Granfather’s past is revealed. Younger Alex receives the information that Foer desperately sought out. It is later revealed that both Grandfather and Safran Foer killed someone they loved, in an attempt to save others they

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