Letters written by Oskar’s grandparents generally hold a depressed tone, occasionally becoming regretful. Foer makes specific decisions in word choice, syntax, and other literary devices which contribute to setting this tone. A primary example of this is the general lack of exclamatory phrases or exclamation marks in the letters (besides when used to quote something that was said in the past). This lack of expression of excitement, even in the description of dangerous or delightful events, exhibits a sense of emptiness and sadness in the narrator.
“My father begged me to stay, I grabbed the doorknob and it took the skin off my hand, I saw the muscles of my palm, red and pulsing, why did I grab it with my other hand? My father shouted at me, … he struck me across the face, it was the first time he had ever struck me, that was the last time I saw my parents.” Even in describing the dresden bombings, almost undoubtedly the most defining event in his life, grandpa still describes it without any sense of urgency or emotion.
This straightforward blunt explanation doesn’t indicate that the subject bores Grandpa, but rather suggests he has become numb to the violent reality, and views it sadly rather than with surprise. This sad narration contributes to the depressed tone. Furthermore, Grandpas question “why did I grab it with my other hand?” helps to establish the regretful tone, as it displays him reflecting on his own poor decision and its consequences, suggesting he wishes he hadn’t done it. In chapters narrated by Oskar, the narrating can be exciting, depressing, informative, and more depending on how Oskar feels at that point in the story, though despite this rapid change in Oskar’s expression of feelings, the tone for the most part remains depressing, a result of Oskar constantly thinking about his father’s tragic death. At the same time, the tone can also be hopeful at times, brought by Oskar’s journey to discover more about his father.
Oftentimes, the tone is set through Oskar directly telling the audience how he feels, or telling the audience what he’s thinking about.