All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

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Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc Character Analysis

Etienne LeBlanc is an old, eccentric, and extremely reclusive (it’s implied he has post-traumatic stress disorder from World War I) man who lives in the seaside town of Saint-Malo, France. When his nephew, Daniel Leblanc, and his grandniece, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, come to live with him following the Nazi invasion of Paris, he becomes close with Marie-Laure, often spending long chunks of time reading books to her. As time passes, Marie-Laure’s courage inspires Etienne to take his own actions against the German soldiers, and he bravely aids the French resistance by broadcasting important information about the German troops on his radio. Etienne’s love for Marie-Laure is confirmed when, frightened that she’s been arrested, he overcomes his terror of going outside and rushes out of his house to find her. He later tells his grandniece, “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See

The All the Light We Cannot See quotes below are all either spoken by Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc or refer to Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc . 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): The Professor Quotes

“But I wasn’t trying to reach England. Or Paris. I thought that if I made the broadcast powerful enough, my brother would hear me. That I could bring him some peace, protect him as he had always protected me.”
“You’d play your brother’s own voice to him? After he died?”
“And Debussy.”
“Did he ever talk back?”
The attic ticks. What ghosts sidle along the walls right now, trying to overhear? She can almost taste her great-uncle’s fright in the air.
“No,” he says. “He never did.”

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc (speaker), Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc (speaker)
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Marie-Laure's Great-Uncle, Etienne explains to Marie-Laure that he once had a brother, Henri, who went away to war. Etienne tried his hardest to get in contact with his brother, despite the fact that he eventually realized that his brother was dead. Etienne then used his radio equipment to broadcast the scientific lectures his brother made years before. We, the readers, recognize that these radio broadcasts are the same ones that Werner heard on his radio, years before.

In short, Etienne's broadcasts have had an impact on the world, but not in the way Etienne wanted them to. Instead of bringing Etienne's brother back from the grave, the broadcasts have sparked curiosity in someone else--a young German child. (It's ironic that during World War II, broadcasts meant for a Frenchman ended up inspiring a German.) The ambiguous "failure" of Etienne's broadcasts points to the unknowability of life. Our actions have enormous consequences (the broadcasts changed the course of Werner's life, after all, and eventually inspire him to save Marie-Laure's life), but these consequences are rarely the ones we envision or intend. All human communication is complex, fragile, and fleeting, but it also leads to connections like those explored in the novel.

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Five (January 1941): The Frog Cooks Quotes

“Do you know what happens, Etienne,” says Madame Manec from the other side of the kitchen, “when you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water?”
“You will tell us, I am sure.”
“It jumps out. But do you know what happens when you put the frog in a pot of cool water and then slowly bring it to a boil? You know what happens then?”
Marie-Laure waits. The potatoes steam.
Madame Manec says, “The frog cooks."

Related Characters: Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc (speaker), Madame Manec (speaker), Marie-Laure LeBlanc
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Etienne's servant, Madame Manec, tries to convince Etienne to help her oppose the Nazis in small but important ways. Manec wants to tamper with Nazi mail, send messages to soldiers fighting the Nazis, etc. Etienne refuses to help Manec--he's too afraid of the consequnces. Manec analogizes Etienne's caution to that of the proverbial frog in the pot of water. Her point is that human beings, like frogs, can be made to grow accustomed to even the most nightmarish of conditions, as long as things change little by little. In other words, Manec argues, Etienne is going to keep giving his tacit acceptance to Nazi atrocities, because he'll always be able to rationalize his indifference as "caution."

Manec's parable is relevant not only to the "Marie-Laure half" of the book, but also to the "Werner half." Werner is in Etienne's position: as a Nazi soldier, he witnesses increasingly horrific war crimes happening around him. But because he's slowly being acclimatized to such atrocities, Werner never protests what he sees--if, on the other hand, Werner arrived at the Nazi military academy and were immediately ordered to torture a prisoner, he would have left immediately, like a frog leaving a pot of boiling water.

Seven (August 1942): The Bridge Quotes

He says, “The war that killed your grandfather killed sixteen million others. One and a half million French boys alone, most of them younger than I was. Two million on the German side. March the dead in a single-file line, and for eleven days and eleven nights, they’d walk past our door. This is not rearranging street signs, what we’re doing, Marie. This is not misplacing a letter at the post office. These numbers, they’re more than numbers. Do you understand?”
“But we are the good guys. Aren’t we, Uncle?”
“I hope so. I hope we are.”

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc (speaker), Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc (speaker), Henri LeBlanc
Page Number: 360
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Etienne takes his place alongside Marie-Laure as an opponent of the Nazi occupation in France. Etienne and Marie-Laure will work together to oppose the Nazis in any way they can. Although their actions may seem small and insignificant, Etienne explains, he and Marie-Laure are actually taking a major step toward defeating the Germans. By sending radio broadcasts to other enemies of the Nazis, Etienne and Marie-Laure will effectively be killing Nazi soldiers.

As the passage shows, Etienne doesn't take his responsibility lightly. As a man who lived through World War One, he's reluctant to kill anyone, whether on the enemy side or not. Indeed, Etienne questions whether he's doing the right thing by opposing the Nazis at all.

Etienne's questions may seem odd--it's easy to say that the French were "good" and the Nazis were "evil." Paradoxically, the very fact that Etienne stops to question his own actions suggests that he really is doing good by opposing the Nazis. The merits of Etienne's approach to Nazi resistance become clear if we contrast his behavior with Werner's. Where Werner is ordered, again and again, to focus on "pure numbers," Etienne knows very well that his radio coordinates are "more than numbers"--they're directions sending human beings to their deaths. And while Werner's commanders never discuss the morality of what they're doing, except in the blandest terms, Etienne is genuinely thoughtful about his service. In short, the very fact that Etienne wonders if he's doing wrong suggests that he's not.

Nine (May 1944): Sea of Flames Quotes

“Marie-Laure,” he says without hesitation. He squeezes her hand with both of his. “You are the best thing that has ever come into my life.”

Related Characters: Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc (speaker), Marie-Laure LeBlanc
Page Number: 431
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Etienne is about to go out of the house. Marie-Laure is aware that there's going to be an air raid very soon--therefore, Etienne is risking the possibility of becoming separated from Marie-Laure. Before Etienne leaves the house, Marie-Laure asks him if he regrets having to take care of her for so long, and Etienne replies that she's the best thing that ever happened to him.

It's worth asking why, precisely, Marie-Laure has been so good for Etienne. In part, Marie-Laure's energy, curiosity, and devotion to the French Resistance have given Etienne something to live for: a new sense of wonder, and a noble cause to fight for. Prior to receiving Marie-Laure, Etienne was a lonely, paranoid old man, obsessed with the memory of his dead brother and afraid to go outside. Inspired by Marie-Laure, Etienne has become a passionate opponent of the Nazis in France. Etienne has chosen to fight the Nazis largely because he wants to set a good example for Marie-Laure--it's only because of her encouragement that he decides to make anti-Nazi radio broadcasts after Madame Manec's death. The link between Etienne's newfound bravery and Marie-Laure's presence is made crystal clear when Etienne discovers that Marie-Laure is missing from the house--although he's a major agoraphobe, he summons the courage to leave the house and goes looking for her.

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Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc Character Timeline in All the Light We Cannot See

The timeline below shows where the character Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc appears in All the Light We Cannot See. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Zero (August 7, 1944): Bombs Away
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Meanwhile Marie-Laure’s great-uncle Etienne is cowering inside the Fort National, just outside of the city. The bombs are seconds... (full context)
Two (8 August 1944): Number 4 rue Vauborel
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...stone in her fist. She calls her father’s name, Daniel, and wonders if her great-uncle Etienne has managed to survive the bombing as well. She tries to tell herself, “this is... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Château
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Marie-Laure’s father explains to Marie-Laure that they’re trying to find his uncle, Etienne, Marie-Laure’s great-uncle. Etienne is “76% crazy,” Marie-Laure’s father claims. (full context)
Three (June 1940): Brittany
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Marie-Laure and Marie-Laure’s father make their way to the town of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s Great-Uncle Etienne lives. As the chapter begins, they’re almost at the sea, meaning that Saint-Malo is very... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Madame Manec
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...that she eats everything she’s given in only a few minutes. Meanwhile, Marie-Laure’s father discusses Etienne with Manec. Marie-Laure comes to understand that Manec is her great-uncle’s maid and cook. (full context)
Three (June 1940): Occupier
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...if the entire house belongs to her great-uncle, and Manec says yes. She explains that Etienne lives in the house, but rarely comes out of his room, which is on the... (full context)
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...and behave like Germans. Marie-Laure tells her father that everything will be okay—they’ll live with Etienne for a while, and then eventually go back to Paris and get her copy of... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Etienne
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It takes Marie-Laure three days before she meets Etienne. On the third day, she finds a whelk shell in her new bathroom. To her... (full context)
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Etienne greets Marie-Laure, and asks her if she’d like to see his collection of radios. He... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Flying Couch
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...without a fight—there are only about 300 of them, in all. Meanwhile, Marie-Laure bonds with Etienne. They talk about Darwin and joke about the English. Etienne tells Marie-Laure about the places... (full context)
Three (June 1940): The Professor
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Etienne and Marie-Laure continue to bond over books. One day Marie-Laure plucks up the courage to... (full context)
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Etienne shows Marie-Laure the details of the attic. There is a gramophone there, playing a record.... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Perfumer
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...he’s noticed a mysterious man from Paris—a new arrival in Saint-Malo—staying at the home of Etienne LeBlanc. The man spends his days walking through the streets, making detailed drawings of the... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Time of the Ostriches
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...of a year away from her home. In the meantime, however, she’s become close with Etienne. Her father spends his days making models for her so that she can walk through... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Mandatory Surrender
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...surrender their radios immediately—anyone who refuses will be arrested. Marie-Laure wonders what will happen to Etienne’s radios. Etienne doesn’t open his door to talk to Marie-Laure. (full context)
Three (June 1940): The Wardrobe
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...night so that the city will be invisible from the sky. One day, Marie-Laure visits Etienne in his room and asks him about his radios. Etienne reveals that while he’s surrendered... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Bath
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...as soon as possible. One evening, he helps Marie-Laure bathe on the third floor of Etienne’s house. As he washes his beloved daughter’s hair, he feels a pang of guilt: he’ll... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): The Fort of La Cité
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...Most of the city has been destroyed by bombing, though a few buildings, including “old Etienne’s house,” are still standing. Von Rumpel thinks about the strict orders he’s been given from... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): Two Cans
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...beneath the house. She finds that she’s still holding the model house, and still wearing Etienne’s coat. She wonders what’s going on outside—if the Germans are still present in the city,... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): Number 4 rue Vauborel
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...in the evening, the day after the bombing. Sergeant Major von Rumpel slowly walks toward Etienne LeBlanc’s house, noticing the ruins of the buildings around him. As he approaches the house,... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): Trip Wire
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...are no explosions or guns waiting for her on the streets. She urinates back in Etienne’s house, and then goes to drink from a bathtub (previously, she and Etienne had filled... (full context)
Five (January 1941): He Is Not Coming Back
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...searching for her father, but nothing can make Marie-Laure feel better. She begins to hate Etienne for not doing more to track down his nephew, and wishes that she could leave... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Plage du Môle
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...been gone from her life for 29 days. One day, Marie-Laure hears Madame Manec and Etienne arguing—Manec says, “I cannot stand by one moment longer.” Manec instructs Marie-Laure to take her... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Letter #6: To Marie-Laure, from Daniel
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...He claims that he’s being served “wonderful food,” and insists that Marie-Laure be polite to Etienne and Madame Manec. He concludes by saying, “I am right beside you.” (full context)
Five (January 1941): Old Ladies’ Resistance Club
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...France now” on money, ensuring that the message will be distributed across the country. While Etienne is morose and uninterested in undermining the authorities, Manec is gleeful, and says that she... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Grotto
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...to show Marie-Laure something. Accompanied by Manec, they go down to an alley far from Etienne’s house. Bazin opens a heavy gate and leads Marie-Laure and Manec through. He takes them... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Alive Before You Die
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As Marie-Laure listens carefully from downstairs, Madame Manec goes to talk to Etienne on the fifth floor of the house. Manec tells Etienne that his knowledge of the... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Visitors
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One day at Etienne’s house, there is a knock at the door. Marie-Laure, Etienne, and Madame Manec all think... (full context)
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The officers ask Marie-Laure, Manec, and Etienne more questions. They ask to see the letters that Daniel sent to Marie-Laure. Etienne produces... (full context)
Five (January 1941): The Frog Cooks
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...the weeks following the police officers’ visit, Madame Manec is unusually formal and polite with Etienne and Marie-Laure, as if she’s hiding something. Sometimes, she disappears for long periods of time.... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Pneumonia
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...spring in Saint-Malo, Madame Manec gets sick. Marie-Laure takes care of her, and so does Etienne. Etienne is a tender nurse—he even reads to Manec when she’s getting tired. Manec becomes... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Relapse
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...in bed. Marie-Laure feels Manec’s face, and finds that it is very hot. She calls Etienne, who rushes to Manec’s room. Etienne touches Manec, then whispers, “Madame is dead.” (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): Someone in the House
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Back in 1944, Marie-Laure has just heard someone walk into her home. It is not Etienne—if it were, then he’d already be calling for Marie-Laure. She realizes that the intruder isn’t... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): Sixth-floor Bedroom
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Von Rumpel has entered Etienne’s house. He looks through the rooms, hoping to find a dollhouse, which he knows contains... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): In the Attic
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Marie-Laure feels around the radio room. She notices Etienne’s old records, and his recording machine. She goes over what she has with her: a... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): The Wardrobe
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After the death of Madame Manec, Etienne remains in his room at all times, and doesn’t let Marie-Laure see him. Madame Blanchard,... (full context)
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Weeks after Madame Manec’s funeral, Etienne gets an electric saw from his cellar, and uses it to make modifications to the... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): One Ordinary Loaf
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...has brought back her first loaf of bread from the bakery and presented it to Etienne. Etienne opens the loaf, and finds a small scroll inside. He tries to understand what... (full context)
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In the radio room, Etienne reads off the numbers on the scroll, and tells Marie-Laure that the information has been... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Fall
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Etienne and Marie-Laure continue undermining the Germans by sending secret messages via the radio. Etienne keeps... (full context)
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Etienne takes pleasure in his radio broadcasts. He even plays music after finishing a broadcast—Debussy, Ravel,... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Grotto
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...Manec. In honor of Manec, she continues visiting the bakery to pick up bread for Etienne. Although she’s exhilarated by her participation in the resistance, she can’t help but think of... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): The Messages
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In Saint-Malo, the Germans decree that all houses must report their residents. Etienne reports himself, along with Marie-Laure, and posts the names on the front door of the... (full context)
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...from Daniel. The letter contains the line, “If you ever wish to understand, look inside Etienne’s house, inside the house.” Marie-Laure isn’t sure what her father means by this. Sometimes, Marie-Laure... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Gray
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...is 15 years old. There’s a decree that all non-essential personnel must leave Saint-Malo soon. Etienne tells Marie-Laure that they can’t leave, as they’re accomplishing too much for the French cause.... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): The Bridge
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...day’s work as penance for the soldiers’ deaths. In the meantime, Marie-Laure continues delivering bread. Etienne is surprised that the resistance fighters are still sending messages—he mutters, “I thought they might... (full context)
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Etienne tries to explain the resistance to Marie-Laure. He says that World War I killed sixteen... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
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It is Marie-Laure’s 16th birthday, and Etienne presents her with a package. The package contains two books—both parts of Jules Verne’s 20,000... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): Delirium
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Von Rumpel stands in Etienne’s house. He’s been taking morphine for his pain, and wonders if his disease has been... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): Water
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...can smell the intruder in her house. She passes to the room next door, where Etienne has placed a bucket that collects rainwater. Grateful that there’s some water left in the... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Transmitter
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Marie-Laure feels her way through the radio room, and finds the transmitter that Etienne had used to broadcast previously. She wonders if anybody is listening to Etienne’s radio station... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Numbers
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...on, Saint-Malo falls into disarray. There are always airplanes flying over the city. One day, Etienne goes to Madame Ruelle’s bakery. There, Ruelle tells him that the resistance needs the locations... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): May
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...crying, touches Marie-Laure’s face, and tells her, “You amazing child.” She tells Marie-Laure to tell Etienne, “The mermaids have bleached hair.” Marie-Laure goes home and passes on this message: Etienne understands... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Big Claude
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...in Saint-Malo, looking for Daniel LeBlanc, he talks to Claude. Claude points von Rumpel to Etienne’s house. (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Boulangerie
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Werner walks toward Etienne’s house, wondering how he can talk his way inside without making the broadcaster think he’s... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Grotto
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Every afternoon, Etienne makes a radio broadcast, and every evening, Marie-Laure reads to Etienne from 20,000 Leagues Under... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Agoraphobia
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Etienne is waiting for Marie-Laure to return from the bakery. He always times her trips to... (full context)
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Etienne tries to leave his house to look for Marie-Laure. As he goes to the door,... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Forty Minutes
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Etienne walks from his house to the bakery, where he sees Madame Ruelle. Ruelle is amazed... (full context)
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Etienne stares at his watch—41 minutes have passed since Marie-Laure left the house. He wonders if... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): The Girl
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In the days following his visit to the outside of Etienne’s house, Werner can’t stop thinking of the blind girl with the cane. He wonders if... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Little House
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After finding Marie-Laure in the grotto, Etienne tells her that he’s forced her to take on too much danger—from now on, she’s... (full context)
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Marie-Laure notices that she and Etienne have barely any food left to eat—the war has taken a toll on Saint-Malo. She... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Sea of Flames
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Late at night, Etienne wakes up and goes into Marie-Laure’s room. He explains that he’s going out, but will... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): The Arrest of Etienne LeBlanc
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Etienne walks outside his house, and feels strong and happy. Although what he’s doing will be... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): 7 August 1944
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Marie-Laure wakes up and hears guns firing. She goes to see if Etienne has returned—he hasn’t. Then, she goes to eat some breakfast—the loaf of bread Madame Ruelle... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Leaflets
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...in running away now. Werner can only think of the young woman who lives in Etienne’s house. As he thinks, the other soldiers report that the Allies have dropped leaflets from... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Fort National
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Imprisoned in the Fort National of Saint-Malo, Etienne begs his jailers to save his niece, who is blind, and won’t be able to... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Visitor
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Von Rumpel sits in the kitchen of Etienne’s house. He’s been here for four days, trying to find the Sea of Flames. It... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Music #3
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Von Rumpel sits in Etienne’s house, thinking about his own two children. He thinks about his daughter, Veronika, who loves... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Out
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...to go to protect the girl in the radio building. Werner turns and runs to Etienne’s house. (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Comrades
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Werner enters Etienne’s house, armed with a rifle. He climbs up the stairs, looking for any signs of... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): The Simultaneity of Instants
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...is walking down the streets of Saint-Malo, looking desperately for food. Also in this instance, Etienne is being marched out of the Fort National by a German soldier, thinking that if... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Are You There?
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...“Are you there?” The mysterious person might as well be Madame Manec, Marie-Laure’s father, or Etienne—he symbolizes everyone who’s ever abandoned her. The man whispers, in clumsy French, that he doesn’t... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Chocolate
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On the day the siege ends, Etienne is reunited with Marie-Laure, and they embrace each other. Etienne tells Marie-Laure that they’ll travel... (full context)
Eleven (1945): 177. Paris
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Etienne and Marie-Laure move to Paris, and Etienne rents the same apartment where Marie-Laure used to... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Saint-Malo
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...a large house that stood before World War II, and the man points her to Etienne LeBlanc’s house. Jutta walks to the house, taking Max with her. As they walk, Jutta... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Laboratory
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...has spent her adult life studying mollusks, and has been a trailblazer in her field. Etienne has passed away, but before his death he and Marie-Laure tried to determine what happened... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Visitor
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...Marie-Laure accepts, and tells Jutta that she wants her to have something: a record that Etienne kept in his house, and used to play in the evenings. She promises to mail... (full context)
Thirteen (2014)
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...wonders if it’s possible that souls could walk the streets as well: the souls of Etienne, Madame Manec, Werner Pfennig, and even Marie-Laure’s father. Perhaps their souls are walking the streets,... (full context)