All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

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Frau Elena is the head of the orphanage where Jutta and Werner Pfennig grow up. She’s a gentle, kind woman, and treats all her children well, despite a severe lack of resources. When the Nazis rise to power in Germany, she’s bullied for being a Frenchwoman—but her decision to teach all her children to speak French leads (years later) to the thematic center of the novel: the encounter between Werner and Marie-Laure in Saint-Malo.

Frau Elena Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See

The All the Light We Cannot See quotes below are all either spoken by Frau Elena or refer to Frau Elena . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fourth Estate edition of All the Light We Cannot See published in 2015.
Three (June 1940): Don’t Tell Lies Quotes

“It’s not forever, Jutta. Two years, maybe. Half the boys who get admitted don’t manage to graduate. But maybe I’ll learn something; maybe they’ll teach me to be a proper engineer. Maybe I can learn to fly an airplane, like little Siegfried says. Don’t shake your head, we’ve always wanted to see the inside of an airplane, haven’t we? I’ll fly us west, you and me, Frau Elena too if she wants. Or we could take a train. We’ll ride through forests and villages de montagnes, all those places Frau Elena talked about when we were small. Maybe we could ride all the way to Paris.” The burgeoning light. The tender hissing of the grass. Jutta opens her eyes but doesn’t look at him. “Don’t tell lies. Lie to yourself, Werner, but don’t lie to me.”

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Jutta Pfennig (speaker), Frau Elena
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Werner--who's just been accepted into a prestigious Nazi military academy--tries to justify his attendance at the school to his sister, Jutta, who's going to remain at the orphanage. Werner argues that his military education will be invaluable for his career: he could learn to be an engineer. Werner even suggests that he could use his training to fly Jutta out of the country. Jutta then accuses Werner of lying to himself.

It's important to understand what Jutta means when she calls her brother a liar. Werner seems convinced that he'll become a great engineer, someone who can use his intelligence and training for his own advantage. Jutta suggests that the opposite is true: Werner will be trained to become a cog in the Nazi military machine--he won't have any more freedom than anyone else in the party.

In an even broader sense, one could say that Werner is so blinded by his scientific curiosity and ambition that he can't see the obvious truth: his scientific training at the academy will imprison him, not set him free. Jutta always acts as Werner's voice of conscience in the novel, and here she points out the fact that science can never be divorced from morality and "real life"—Werner might learn important skills, but he will in the process be using these skills to help an evil cause.

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Frau Elena Character Timeline in All the Light We Cannot See

The timeline below shows where the character Frau Elena appears in All the Light We Cannot See. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
One (1934): Zollverein
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...children and overworked adults. As a boy, he’s sickly but highly inquisitive—he loves to ask Frau Elena , his nurse and the head of the orphanage, impossible questions about the world. Werner... (full context)
One (1934): Something Rising
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...Werner shares his radio with the other orphans, and entertains the head of the orphanage, Frau Elena , with music and news reports. One day, the radio issues a broadcast about “the... (full context)
One (1934): Our Flag Flutters Before Us
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...are punished for reading or enjoying anything that’s not German: British books, French candies, etc. Frau Elena , who is French, speaks German more and more, and notices her neighbors looking at... (full context)
One (1934): The Principles of Mechanics
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...orphanage. To prepare, all the orphans are washed and carefully dressed to impress their visitors. Frau Elena prepares delicious food, and combs everyone’s hair. Werner finds it hard to be excited for... (full context)
One (1934): Bigger Faster Brighter
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...continues to study and listen to the radio. He teaches himself complex mathematics. One day, Frau Elena asks Werner to help her repair a neighbor’s radio. Werner is able to repair the... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
...orphanage. He’s the oldest and strongest boy in the building, and he often quarrels with Frau Elena . He starts fistfights, and there are rumors that he burned a car. At times,... (full context)
One (1934): Herr Siedler
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...which he’s used to listen to foreign broadcasts. To his surprise, the lance corporal and Frau Elena come to Werner. The soldier explains that his superior officer has a radio that needs... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...he fixed the commander’s radio, but doesn’t add anything about the science school. He gives Frau Elena all of the money Siedler gave him. Elena is surprised, and gives most of it... (full context)
Three (June 1940): You Have Been Called
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
In the months before he starts classes at the Institute, Werner tries to talk to Frau Elena . Elena is sad that Werner is going to the National Institute. She tells Werner... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Fever
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
As the months drag on, Werner thinks more about Jutta and Frau Elena . One day, he and the other soldiers are riding through the mountains on a... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Edge of the World
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...powerful mining official, sends Werner congratulations for his success as a soldier. She adds that Frau Elena has had a toothache lately, though she’s getting better. (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Letter #11: From Werner to Jutta
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...about his duties as a soldier. Werner concludes by asking Jutta to say hello to Frau Elena “and the children who are left.” (full context)
Eleven (1945): Berlin
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
It is January 1945, and Frau Elena , along with her orphans, is sent to work in a factory. They work hard... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...invade in May. Three soldiers come to the factory. The narrator explains that each woman— Frau Elena , Jutta, and even some of the children—are forced to go into a room with... (full context)