Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See
“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.”
“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."
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.