Everything is Iluminated: Theme Analysis
Grandfathers, Fathers and Sons
The connections across the male line of generations is a significant thematic concern, as both narrators, Jonathan and Alex, are drawn back to consider their grandfathers and what happened to them during the Second World War.
These male relationships are not idealized, however, and the father-son bond is seen to be particularly fraught with regard to Alex and Little Igor and their father, and Safran and his father.
These respectively violent and difficult relationships are signposted further with the copy of Hamlet that Safran leaves behind at Lista’s home. Hamlet in this instance invites the readers to also see the Oedipal complexity in Safran’s bond with his mother (as well as in Hamlet’s with his mother) and in the rivalry between the father (figure) and son in both this novel and Shakespeare’s play. History and Truth
This novel encompasses the historical truth of the Holocaust while also fictionalizing a past that was almost eradicated forever. Through the format of the novel, then, Foer attempts to recreate and also commemorate a fictionalized Jewish community that is based on fact and this in turn challenges the dehumanizing effects of anti-semitism.
It should be remembered that this is a complex and delicate task that Foer has taken on, as anti-semitic deniers to this day question the truth of the Holocaust. By joining truth and fiction together in such a way as he does in this novel, though, he uses postmodernism to recreate a past that has been almost erased.
Foer draws on a micro scale view of history to engage with the truth of an unprecedented genocide. He also uses humor and numerous other stories, which may be seen as distractions from the main thread (of Alex’s grandfather betraying Herschel), to drive the narrative. It may be argued, though, that the humor and tales of 18th and 19th century Trachimbrod lend weight to the challenge to anti-semitism.
The lighter tone of the earlier sections of the novel also ensures that the later accounts of Lista and Alex’s grandfather have as grave an impact as possible. The destruction, humiliation and genocide inflicted by the Nazis is depicted as devastating humanity.