All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

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Henri LeBlanc Character Analysis

Marie-Laure LeBlanc’s grandfather and Etienne LeBlanc’s brother, Henri LeBlanc was a bright, intelligent young man who was killed in World War I. Although he’s rarely mentioned in the novel, he exerts a powerful influence on both of the main characters: his radio broadcasts on scientific topics inspire Werner to become a scientist, while his commitment to broadcasting information partly inspires Marie-Laure to enter the French Resistance and bravely oppose the Nazis in her city.

Henri LeBlanc Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See

The All the Light We Cannot See quotes below are all either spoken by Henri LeBlanc or refer to Henri 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.
One (1934): The Professor Quotes

Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Henri LeBlanc (speaker)
Related Symbols: Vision, Radio
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Werner listens to a radio broadcast that he's picked up on a radio he's found. On the broadcast, an old man tells his audience to open their eyes--in other words, to use science and reason to understand the world and seek truth. As Werner, still a young boy, hears these words, he's filled with excitement: he can't wait to use his ingenuity and curiosity to study the world.

In more way than one, the passage is meant to be taken ironically. To begin with, we know full-well that the notion of "opening one's eyes" to see can't apply to everyone in the novel--since Marie-Laure, the other protagonist, is blind. Moreover, the idea that science and experimentation can enlighten is appealing, but ultimately insufficient. As Werner will see first-hand, the Nazi party is full of curious, intelligent young scientists--including some of the greatest scientists of all time, such as Werner Heisenberg. Science itself isn't automatically a tool for good--it can be twisted and manipulated to serve evil causes, such as Fascism. For now, though, Werner is blissfully unaware of the negative implications of what the man is saying: as far as he's concerned, he's headed for a life of limitless success.


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One (1934): Open Your Eyes Quotes

The voice, the piano again. Perhaps it’s Werner’s imagination, but each time he hears one of the programs, the quality seems to degrade a bit more, the sound growing fainter: as though the Frenchman broadcasts from a ship that is slowly traveling farther away.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Henri LeBlanc
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

As Werner listens to the old man's radio broadcast, he has the strange sense that the man's voice is getting a little fainter. Werner has no idea--and neither do we until page 300--that in fact, the man's voice is fading away: he's long since died, and the voice Werner is listening to over the radio is being played on the same record, which is slowly deteriorating.

On a metaphorical level, the quotation points to the tragedy of interconnectedness. Werner thinks that he feels a deep, intimate connection with the man--and yet this connection was only ever tenuous at best, and it is now disappearing, very slowly. By the same token, all human connections, it would seem--the connection between a father and son; a brother and sister, etc.--are destined to vanish over time. Doerr leaves it up to the reader to decide if it's true that all connections are short-lived, or if it's possible for a connection between two human beings to somehow stand the tests of troubles and time.

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.

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Henri LeBlanc Character Timeline in All the Light We Cannot See

The timeline below shows where the character Henri LeBlanc appears in All the Light We Cannot See. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Three (June 1940): The Professor
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...radios and books. Marie-Laure also asks Etienne about the mysterious locked bedroom where her grandfather Henri supposedly lived. Etienne takes Marie-Laure to the bedroom, and opens the door. He leads her... (full context)
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...the same lecture Werner and Jutta listened to years before). Etienne explains that his brother, Henri (Mari-Laure’s grandfather) was good at everything. Years ago, during World War I, Etienne and Henri... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Grotto
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...Marie-Laure that he used to play in this area, along with Etienne and Marie-Laure’s grandfather Henri. Manec insists that they must go back to the house, and Bazin agrees. But he... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Forty Minutes
Family Theme Icon Suddenly, he realizes where she must be—the grotto where he played with his brother, Henri, years ago. Etienne runs to the grotto, where he finds Marie-Laure, sitting on the ground,... (full context)