All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in All the Light We Cannot See, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family Theme Icon

One of the key similarities between the two plots in All the Light We Cannot See is the existence of an exceptionally strong, loving family relationship. Werner Pfennig is extremely close with his sister, Jutta Pfennig, just as Marie-Laure LeBlanc is extremely close with her father, Daniel LeBlanc. In the novel, these family ties are different from other kinds of relationships, and they play unique roles in the characters’ lives.

In the case of the novel’s characters, an especially close bond between family members often reflects a deeper tragedy in the past. Daniel LeBlanc becomes unusually close with Marie-Laure after his wife dies giving birth to her, and by the same token, Werner and Jutta Pfennig’s love for one another seems closely tied to their sadness at having lost their father, a miner, at such an early age. In short, families are subject to pain and tragedy, just like everything else in All the Light We Cannot See, and yet families are also uniquely positive forces in the novel—a family can “weather the storm,” responding to tragedy with more powerful bonds of love and compassion.

In the novel, family generally represents a source of strength with which to endure the tragedies of the rapidly changing world. In an era when countries go to war and people are forced to move around the continent, family is an important constant in the lives of Werner and Marie-Laure. Even as he becomes more and more invested in the evils of the Nazi state, Werner thinks back to his carefree childhood with Jutta. This is crucial for Werner, because it reminds him of a time when he was happy, inquisitive, and—most importantly—wasn’t a part of the Nazi army. Werner’s love for Jutta is one of the key reasons why he decides to disobey his commanders and save Marie-Laure’s life—as Frank Volkheimer says, it’s all “for Jutta.” Much the same is true of Marie-Laure’s love for her father: even after she’s separated from Daniel, Marie-Laure continues to love her father intensely, and this love is crucial in inspiring her to join the French Resistance and oppose German soldiers in Saint-Malo.

Even the most loving family relationships are subject to change, of course—as time goes on, family members die, move away, or develop other, closer relationships. And yet family ties, unlike almost everything else in the novel, don’t fade away into oblivion. In an inspiring epilogue, Doerr describes Marie-Laure as an old woman: she has a beloved daughter, Hélène, and an equally beloved grandson, Michel. In the final pages, Marie-Laure wonders if her father’s spirit walks on through the streets of Paris. And Doerr makes it clear that Daniel does live on: in the feelings and behaviors of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Michel mentions reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the book that Daniel gave to Marie-Laure years before, and in general it’s clear that Daniel’s commitment to science, education, and quick thinking have passed down through the generations. In all, family may be the closest thing to a “silver lining” in All the Light We Cannot See: a powerful force that can often outlast the burdens of war and suffering.

Get the entire All the Light LitChart as a printable PDF.
All the light we cannot see.pdf.medium

Family ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family appears in each chapter of All the Light We Cannot See. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Chapter length:
Chapter
7.1944
7.1944
7.1944
7.1944
7
7.19444
7.1944
7.1944
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
19341
1934.
1934
1934
1934
1934
1934
8
819444
81944
81944
81944
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
1940
19405
1940
19402
1940
81944
81944
81944
819444
81944
81944
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
19413
19417
1941
1941
1941
19418
1941
1941
1941
1941
1941
19419
1941
1941
1941
194110
1941
1941
1941
1941
81944
81944
8
81944
81944
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
1942
91944
91944
91944
91944
91944
91944
91944
91944
1944
1944
1944
1944
194411
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
1944
194471944
1944
121944
121944
121944
121944
121944
1219441
1219442
1219443
121944
121944
121944
121944
121944
121944
121944
12
121944
121944
1945
1945177.
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
1974
2014

Family Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See

Below you will find the important quotes in All the Light We Cannot See related to the theme of Family.
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.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other All the Light We Cannot See quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.