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.
Family Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See
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.
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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.