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 area—the streets, the tides, the weather—could be very useful to the French resistance in Saint-Malo. Etienne refuses to help Manec, however, pointing out that he’d be arrested immediately. He knows that he’s being watched by Claude Levitte, the perfumer who lives nearby. Etienne also points out that the resistance in Saint-Malo will accomplish nothing—the “system” of Fascism will still stand strong. Manec proposes that Etienne transmit secret messages via one of the resistance group’s radios. Etienne refuses, and tells Manec to leave him alone.
Etienne represents a middle way between the active collaboration of those like Claude Levitte and the resistance of those like Manec. Etienne argues, not without merit, that he could never defeat the Nazis through any individual action of his own—the forces of history and politics will always be more powerful than his own personal decisions. We can also understand his choice because he’s already lost one loved one to the madness of war—his brother, Henri, during World War I. Furthermore, if Etienne were caught, then the Germans would seize his house, endangering Manec and Marie-Laure. Despite all these valid reasons, however, the fact remains that Etienne is choosing passivity, thus making himself complicit in whatever might follow because of his lack of resistance.