All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

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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.
Zero (August 7, 1944): Number 4 rue Vauborel Quotes

Marie-Laure twists the chimney of the miniature house ninety degrees. Then she slides off three wooden panels that make up its roof, and turns it over. A stone drops into her palm. It’s cold. The size of a pigeon’s egg. The shape of a teardrop. Marie-Laure clutches the tiny house in one hand and the stone in the other. The room feels flimsy, tenuous. Giant fingertips seem about to punch through its walls. “Papa?” she whispers.

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc (speaker), Daniel LeBlanc
Related Symbols: The Sea of Flames, The Models of Paris and Saint-Malo
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Marie-Laure--trapped in a house in a town that's about to be bombed by airplanes--stumbles upon a precious stone, hidden inside a tiny model of the house. The passage is especially confusing, considering that at this point in the book, we have no idea what the stone is, who Marie-Laure's father is, why she's trapped in the house, etc. Essentially, the passage is like a "cold-open" in a TV show--it draws our attention because we need to lean in just to figure out what's going on.

One important thing to notice about the passage, even before we're aware what's going on, is that Marie-Laure draws a connection between the stone and her father; she seems to feel his presence, even when he's nowhere in sight. The ambiguous presence of Marie-Laure's father, Daniel, points to an ongoing theme of the book--the sense of deep, uncertain longing that family members feel for one another. Notice as well the analogy Doerr draws between the tiny house being pried open by Marie-Laure's fingers, and the literal house seeming to be pried open by "giant fingertips." Right away, Doerr is implying a connection between the tiny house and the house itself--perhaps suggesting that Marie-Laure (and we, the readers) can learn about big, complicated historical events by studying tiny, model-size objects like the model house.


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One (1934): Key Pound Quotes

He sweeps her hair back from her ears; he swings her above his head. He says she is his émerveillement. He says he will never leave her, not in a million years.

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc , Daniel LeBlanc
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this early scene, Daniel, the happy father of Marie-Laure, tells his daughter that he'll never leave her. Because we've read the Prologue to Doerr's novel, however, we know that in just a few years Marie-Laure will be on her own, with her father nowhere nearby. Right away, then, Daniel's promise to his daughter comes across as bittersweet--we know he's not going to be able to keep it.

The quotation is important because it establishes the close bond between father and daughter--a bond that will continue to motivate both characters throughout the book. Even after she loses contact with Daniel, Marie-Laure will try to find him; her love for her father will give her strength throughout some of the darkest years of World War II. Without this initial portrayal of the two's relationship, Marie-Laure's actions later in the novel wouldn't make much sense: we can't understand her unless we recognize that she adores her father.

One (1934): Something Rising Quotes

In the play, the invaders pose as hook-nosed department-store owners, crooked jewelers, dishonorable bankers; they sell glittering trash; they drive established village businessmen out of work. Soon they plot to murder German children in their beds. Eventually a vigilant and humble neighbor catches on. Police are called: big handsome-sounding policemen with splendid voices. They break down the doors. They drag the invaders away. A patriotic march plays. Everyone is happy again.

Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, told from the perspective of Werner Pfennig, a young German orphan, a theater troupe puts on a "play" for the children at Werner's orphanage. The play, we understand, is Nazi propaganda: designed to teach children, before they know any better, that Jews are frightening, loathsome creatures, who should be beaten and killed for their crimes. The words, "everyone is happy" convey the implausible, vanilla tone of the play: it's unrealistically cheerful in order to disguise the true brutality of anti-Semitism from the children.

The passage is important because it suggests that many of the people growing up in Nazi Germany aren't undeserving of sympathy. Some of those who would go on to fight on behalf of Adolph Hitler had been trained since before they could read to despise the Jews; the cruelty they showed the Jews was as much a product of their own ignorance as their sadism. Doerr certainly isn't trying to excuse the Nazis' actions, but by telling the story of a young, reluctant Nazi--Werner--he makes it clear that painting the Nazis as inhuman demons is overly simplistic--almost as simplistic as the anti-Semitic play from the passage.

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.

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.

One (1934): Mark of the Beast Quotes

She cannot say how many others are with him. Three or four, perhaps. His is the voice of a twelve or thirteen-year-old. She stands and hugs her huge book against her chest, and she can hear her cane roll along the edge of the bench and clatter to the ground. Someone else says, “They’ll probably take the blind girls before they take the gimps.” The first boy moans grotesquely. Marie-Laure raises her book as if to shield herself.

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc
Related Symbols: Vision
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Marie-Laure walks though the streets of Paris, something she's learned to do only recently, with the help of her cane. As she walks, she overhears a gang of older boys tease her for her blindness, and even imply that when the Nazis inevitably invade Paris, they'll kill Marie-Laure because of her disability.

The passage alludes to many of the historical events of World War II. The Nazis did indeed invade Paris in June of 1940--and for the next 5 years, the city was under Fascist control. Beginning in the late 1930s, the Nazis began rounding up so-called undesirables (Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, etc.) and sending them to camps where they were isolated from the rest of society. By 1942, the Nazis had begun systematically murdering the people in these camps.

Marie-Laure can't understand the full extent of the Holocaust, of course, but she's still afraid of the "real world"--a world that, due to her blindness, she can't always understand completely. The 1940s are an especially dangerous time for anyone to grow up--let alone someone who can't see. Thus far, Marie-Laure's father has protected her, and also tried to train her to interact with the real world by building elaborate models, effectively allowing her to master the theoretical before she moves on to reality. In this scene, Marie-Laure tries and fails to protect herself with her book--a clear symbol of the fact that models and learning are no longer going to work for her.

Three (June 1940): Entrance Exam Quotes

On the second morning, there are raciological exams. They require little of Werner except to raise his arms or keep from blinking while an inspector shines a penlight into the tunnels of his pupils. He sweats and shifts. His heart pounds unreasonably. An onion-breathed technician in a lab coat measures the distance between Werner’s temples, the circumference of his head, and the thickness and shape of his lips. Calipers are used to evaluate his feet, the length of his fingers, and the distance between his eyes and his navel. They measure his penis. The angle of his nose is quantified with a wooden protractor.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig
Page Number: 113-114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Werner is examined for entrance to a prestigious military academy. But as we can see, his examination has little if anything to do with his intelligence or bravery--the focal point of the exam is his Aryan appearance. The Nazis celebrated a certain racial ideal: the blond-haired, blue-eyed German. Werner, an extremely blond, blue-eyed boy, is a natural fit for the academy.

In a broader sense, the passage is important because it suggests that science and curiosity aren't necessarily tools for good. Werner has sought to measure and quantify the world, using the knowledge he's learned over the radio. Here, Werner himself is measured and quantified--an allusion to the way that the Nazis measured millions of German citizens, and (if they weren't Aryan, or didn't measure up in some crucial way) sent them to die in concentration camps. Science divorced from morality is all too easily twisted into Nazi pseudoscience.

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.

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.

Three (June 1940): Weakest Quotes

The fastest cadet is lunging for the back of the boy’s shirt. He almost has him. Black-haired Ernst is going to be caught, and Werner wonders if some part of him wants it to happen. But the boy makes it to the commandant a split second before the others come pounding past.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Ernst
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Werner and his peers are training at the Nazi military academy. Their commander, a sadistic man, orders the slowest and weakest of the students--an unfortunate boy named Ernst--to run as fast as he can. Then, the commander orders Werner and the other students to chase Ernst--if Ernst can make it across the field before being caught, he'll be allowed to stay in school; if not he'll be dismissed (and, it's assumed, attacked by the other students).

The scene is important because it shows Werner beginning to be seduced by Nazi propaganda. Werner isn't an evil person, but he gets caught up in the thrill of competition, and even notices himself wanting to catch Ernst, rather than rooting for him to succeed in staying in school. The fact that Ernst is black-haired suggests that Werner has even begun to believe the Nazi myth of Aryan superiority: he's come to think that dark-complexioned people are inferior.

Three (June 1940): Blackbirds Quotes

Why always triangles? What is the purpose of the transceiver they are building? What two points does Hauptmann know, and why does he need to know the third? “It’s only numbers, cadet,” Hauptmann says, a favorite maxim. “Pure math. You have to accustom yourself to thinking that way.”

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Dr. Hauptmann (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Werner works closely with his teacher, Professor Hauptmann. Hauptmann is a talented physicist who takes time out of his schedule to teach Werner the finer points of engineering, recognizing that Werner is a smart, ambitious young man. In the quotation, Hauptmann teaches Werner how to plan coordinates for Nazi soldiers, and ignores Werner's question about what the coordinates are for.

Hauptmann's mantra, "It's only numbers," is his way of telling Werner to ignore the horrors of war itself and focus on his job. In truth, Werner and Hauptmann are using their mathematical training to find enemy radio stations, which the Nazis then proceed to destroy. In short, Werner's intelligence and scientific turn of mind are being corrupted and put to use for the Fascist cause. Hauptmann seems ill-equipped to consider the lives he's endangering by working for the Nazis: he seems not to want to think about the war, either. Generally speaking, the passage shows the fallacy of embracing "pure science"--one must also consider the real-world ends for which science is being used, or risk doing immoral things (such as aiding the Nazis).

Four (8 August 1944): Atelier de Réparation Quotes

Atelier de réparation, thinks Werner, a chamber in which to make reparations. As appropriate a place as any. Certainly there would be people in the world who believe these three have reparations to make.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Frank Volkheimer , Walter Bernd
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

In 1944, Werner and his fellow soldiers are stationed in France. During a bombing by the Allied air force, Werner and his peers are trapped below the ground in a small, dark room--the atelier de réparation (basically, a repair room). Werner notes the irony that he's trapped in a room intended for "reparations" (i.e., payments). In a moral sense, Werner and his fellow Nazis certainly have reparations to make--they have to atone for the crimes they've committed against innocent people.

Werner's thinking in this scene suggests that he's fully aware of the sins he's committed as a Nazi. Based on his experiences in the military academy, one might think that Werner truly believed that he was doing the right thing by joining the Nazi army. Instead, it seems that Werner was lying to himself all along: he recognizes that he was committing war crimes by working for the Nazis. Trapped below the ground, Werner seems to be condemned to a version of hell--beneath the earth, he's forced to relive his horrific crimes again and again.

Five (January 1941): January Recess Quotes

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.”

Related Characters: Frederick (speaker), Werner Pfennig
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Werner's friend Frederick, a fellow student at the Nazi military academy, has a conversation with Werner. Werner tells Frederick that he has ambitions of becoming a great scientist or engineer. Frederick's sad reply, quoted here, suggests that Werner is too willing to believe in his own individual freedom and agency. Werner, we've already seen, believes that he'll be allowed to use his military training and engineering skills for his own ends. Nevertheless, as we've already seen (in the scenes set in 1944), the opposite is true: Werner will be forced to use his abilities for other people's ends: most of all, Hitler's.

Frederick's words in this quotation are supposed to remind us of the speech that Werner's sister Jutta gave him before he left for military school. Just as Jutta accused Werner of lying to himself, Frederick calls out Werner's delusions of control and freedom. Werner is more willing than his peers to believe that he's headed for a bright future, because he's the very image of an Aryan: light blond hair and blue eyes. Frederick, a bespectacled, nerdy boy, isn't so naive about the Nazi regime: he knows that everyone is a slave to Hitler and his Fascist regime.

Five (January 1941): Prisoner Quotes

Bastian steps forward. His face flares scarlet in the cold. “Give him another.”
Again Frederick sloshes it onto the ice at his feet. He says in a small voice, “He is already finished, sir.”
The upperclassman hands over a third pail. “Throw it,” commands Bastian. The night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head. Frederick pours the water onto the ground. “I will not.”

Related Characters: Frederick (speaker), Bastian (speaker)
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Frederick and his peers at the Nazi military academy are asked to torture a prisoner. One by one, the boys are ordered to empty a bucket of cold water on the prisoner's shivering, frail body. Each boy--including Werner--follows orders. but when it's time for Frederick to comply, he refuses, dumping his water on the ground.

Frederick's behavior is remarkable because it's one of the few times in the entire novel that a potential Nazi student refuses an order. Sociologists have written thousands of pages on what it must have been like to live in Germany during the 1940s: peer pressure and the fear of disobedience led millions of "normal" Germans to commit or sanction atrocious crimes. But Frederick's actions prove that it was possible for normal, everyday people to exercise their own moral values rather than complying with orders—but only if they were willing to deal with the consequences. As we'll see, soon after this Frederick is beaten to the point that he loses his sanity.

Five (January 1941): Intoxicated Quotes

Mostly he misses Jutta: her loyalty, her obstinacy, the way she always seems to recognize what is right.
Though in Werner’s weaker moments, he resents those same qualities in his sister. Perhaps she’s the impurity in him, the static in his signal that the bullies can sense. Perhaps she’s the only thing keeping him from surrendering totally.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Jutta Pfennig (speaker)
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Werner begins to resent his beloved sister, Jutta. As Werner sees it now, Jutta partly represents everything he is trying to suppress about himself: his natural "weakness" (which we recognize as kindness), his innate sense of right and wrong, etc.

Werner's thoughts in this quotation walk a fine line between ignorance and willful denial. On one hand, Werner seems to genuinely believe that he's doing the "right" thing by trying to become the perfect Nazi--he sees his weakness and compassion as barriers to being a good soldier and a good servant of the Nazi regime. And yet on some level, Werner seems completely aware that what he's doing is morally wrong on every level--it's no coincidence that he thinks of his service to the Reich as a form of "surrender." Werner knows, deep down, that by becoming a Nazi he's surrendering everything that matters to him, including his curiosity and his love for his sister. Not until 1944 will he be brave enough to admit his self-deception.

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.

Seven (August 1942): White City Quotes

Volkheimer who always makes sure there is food for Werner. Who brings him eggs, who shares his broth, whose fondness for Werner remains, it seems, unshakable…

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Frank Volkheimer
Page Number: 366
Explanation and Analysis:

Werner has been shipped out to fight for the Nazi army in Russia. During his time in Russia, Werner witnesses the Nazi soldiers committing terrible crimes against their enemies. And yet Werner also sees Nazis showing remarkable kindness. One soldier, Volkheimer, takes good care of Werner--sacrificing his own happiness for Werner's sake again and again. It's strange to think that the same soldier who's so tender to his friends can be so brutal to his enemies.

Volkheimer's behavior in this passage suggests how thoroughly the Nazis have trained their soldiers to do evil. Even Volkheimer, someone who seems like a highly moral, responsible man, shows no signs of protesting when he's ordered to kill women and children on the opposing side of the war. Nazi propaganda is so strong and pervasive that it compels its soldiers to do evil while believing that they're doing good.

Werner waits for the child to blink. Blink, he thinks, blink blink blink. Already Volkheimer is closing the closet door, though it won’t close all the way because the girl’s foot is sticking out of it, and Bernd is covering the woman on the bed with a blanket, and how could Neumann Two not have known, but of course he didn’t, because that is how things are with Neumann Two, with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Frank Volkheimer , Neumann Two
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Werner has directed his fellow soldiers to a house, where, he believes, a family is hiding a radio. When Werner and his fellow troops arrive at the house, they find no evidence of a radio of any kind. Before the troops leave, a soldier, Neumann Two, is startled and shoots a child. Werner then watches the body of the dead child in horror.

Werner's behavior in this scene makes it clear that he feels personally responsible for the child's death. By calculating the location of the secret radio--a location that, it quickly becomes clear, was improperly calculated--Werner allows Neumann Two and the other soldiers to murder innocent women and children. If there is a silver lining in this scene, it's the fact that Werner seems totally aware of his situation: he's aware that as a Nazi soldier, he's ordered to obey, look out for himself, and repress any feelings of guilt or compassion. In short, the Nazi "facade" is cracking--Werner is beginning to see how corrupt and hypocritical his Fascist orders have been all along.

Nine (May 1944): The Girl Quotes

Neumann One raises a single steady hand. His mouth is expressionless, but in the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, Werner can see despair. “In the end,” murmurs Volkheimer as the truck heaves away, “none of us will avoid it.”

Related Characters: Frank Volkheimer (speaker), Werner Pfennig , Neumann One
Page Number: 424
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Volkheimer, the commander of Werner's corp, sends Neumann One and Neumann Two to the front line, where the German army badly needs reinforcements. The soldiers are terrified, but Volkheimer insists that they're going to face the same fate that everyone will experience in the end.

Volkheimer, it would seem, is saying that Neumann One and Neumann Two are going to the front lines to die--a fate that everybody experiences in the end, and which Volkheimer and Werner will probably experience very shortly. The mood of the passage is quiet and hopeless: the fact that the German front lines are now begging for reinforcements is a sign that the German war effort is crumbling away--it's pretty clear now that the Allies are going to win the war. In no small part, the passage is so hopeless because it conveys a sense of fatalism: the idea that people have no control over their destinies. Werner began his military career believing that he could use his engineering training to freely choose a future for himself. But now, at the end of the war, his traumatizing experiences in battle have taught him that there's no such thing as freedom--people have no choice in the face of the vast movements of war and history.

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.

Ten (12 August 1944): Comrades Quotes

“The cease-fire is scheduled for noon, or so they say,” von Rumpel says in an empty voice. “No need to rush. Plenty of time.” He jogs the fingers of one hand down a miniature street. “We want the same thing, you and I, Private. But only one of us can have it. And only I know where it is. Which presents a problem for you. Is it here or here or here or here?”

Related Characters: Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel (speaker), Werner Pfennig
Related Symbols: The Sea of Flames
Page Number: 464
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic scene, the villainous von Rumpel surprises Werner Pfennig inside Etienne's house. Von Rumpel has come to the house to find the famous jewel, the Sea of Flames, that's supposedly hidden somewhere inside. Although Werner has only come to the house to save Marie-Laure's life, von Rumpel naturally assumes that he's looking for the jewel, too.

The contrast between von Rumpel and Werner in this scene--the former a parody of Fascist greed, the latter a heroic individual, endangering his life to save Marie-Laure's--makes it clear how much Werner has changed since arriving in France. For a long time, Werner appeared to be headed down the path of corruption: he seemed to be enjoying being a Nazi, are at least felt that he has "surrendered" his will to the cause. But recently, Werner has remembered his youthful innocence--a mental transformation caused when he rediscovers the radio broadcasts he listened to as a child. Reminded of a time in his life when he was neither a soldier nor a murderer, he summons the courage to protect other people.

Ten (12 August 1944): Cease-fire Quotes

She reaches for his hand, sets something in his palm, and squeezes his hand into a fist. “Goodbye, Werner.”
“Goodbye, Marie-Laure.”
Then she goes. Every few paces, the tip of her cane strikes a broken stone in the street, and it takes a while to pick her way around it. Step step pause. Step step again. Her cane testing, the wet hem of her dress swinging, the white pillowcase held aloft. He does not look away until she is through the intersection, down the next block, and out of sight.

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc (speaker), Werner Pfennig (speaker)
Page Number: 477
Explanation and Analysis:

In this beautiful but frustrating scene, Werner--who's just saved Marie-Laure from being murdered by the villainous von Rumpel, leads Marie-Laure through the city to an area where she'll hopefully be safer. After more than 500 pages, the two "halves" of the novel--Werner's half and Marie-Laure's half--have finally merged into one story. But instead of staying together, Werner and Marie-Laure separate almost immediately, and never see one another again.

In this passage Doerr teases us, frustrating our expectations for how "two-plot" novels are supposed to end. Instead of culminating in a happy reunion between the two protagonists, his novel splits in half once again. Doerr's point seems to be that interpersonal connection and unity is always temporary and unpredictable. If even a close relationship between a father and his daughter is subject to the chaos of World War II, then there's simply no reason that a chance encounter between Werner and Marie-Laure should span out into anything more. Moreover, the passage challenges our notions of fate. In this "two-plot" novel, Doerr has implied that Marie-Laure and Werner are "destined" to meet one another and stay together--such an ending would be satisfying in a conventional narrative way. But because Doerr wants to challenge our ideas about destiny, he doesn't offer anything like a predictable ending. Werner and Marie-Laure meet once, and that's all--in a chaotic world, there's no reason they should ever meet again.

Twelve (1974): Sea of Flames Quotes

It is cut, polished; for a breath, it passes between the hands of men.
Another hour, another day, another year. Lump of carbon no larger than a chestnut. Mantled with algae, bedecked with barnacles. Crawled over by snails. It stirs among the pebbles.

Related Symbols: The Sea of Flames, Whelks, Mollusks, and Shells
Page Number: 520
Explanation and Analysis:

In this lyrical quotation, Doerr describes the Sea of Flames, the priceless gemstone that has inspired von Rumpel, among others, to travel great distances and commit horrible deeds in order to possess it. Although it's been claimed that the Sea of Flames has a magical power (it keeps the owner alive while killing everyone the owner loves), Doerr never confirms this legend to be either true or false. As Marie-Laure points out many times, it's impossible to tell whether the gemstone is "special" or not--whether it's just a lump of carbon or whether it's fated to bring eternal life to its owner.

The two ways of looking at the gemstone (ordinary or special) correspond to two competing views of fate that the novel offers up--fate may either be a reality or a myth. During World War II, it often seems that the universe is a chaotic, random place. Yet there are times when the universe appears to have a "destiny"--for instance, when Werner saves Marie-Laure's life. Similarly, in this quotation, Doerr describes the gemstone as a mere "lump of carbon"—and yet also as something with a seeming life of its own, as it "stirs among the pebbles."

Thirteen (2014) Quotes

He kisses her once on each cheek. “Until next week, Mamie.”
She listens until his footsteps fade. Until all she can hear are the sighs of cars and the rumble of trains and the sounds of everyone hurrying through the cold.

Related Characters: Michel (speaker), Marie-Laure LeBlanc
Page Number: 530
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final scene of the novel, Marie-Laure, now an old woman, meets with her beloved grandson, Michel, and they spend the day together in Paris. Eventually, Michel says goodbye to his grandmother and walks away into the distance. Because Marie-Laure is blind, she listens carefully until she can't hear him any longer.

It's important to note that the novel ends with a scene of interpersonal disconnection and connection. After a few moments, Marie-Laure can no longer sense her beloved grandson at all. And yet her memories of her grandson--and the certainty that she'll see him again soon--live on even after he's far away from her. Marie-Laure is both close and far away from Michel.

By pairing connection and disconnection, the novel ends on a note of ambiguity. Many of the relationships between characters in the novel have "faded away," like the noise of Michel's footsteps fading into the distance. And yet the characters' memories of these relationships have remained strong: Marie-Laure continues to remember her father; Jutta remembers Werner, etc. Perhaps Doerr's point is that while human beings will always be distanced from one another, thanks to war, tragedy, and the basic unpredictability of life, they will also always be close to one another, so long as they have their memories and the methods of communication and connection.

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