All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See Five (January 1941): January Recess Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In January of 1941, Frederick invites Werner to travel to Berlin with him and meet Frederick’s family. Frederick has been slow and bruised lately, due to his beating from Helmut. Werner is excited to visit Berlin, which he associates with the brilliance of scientists like Bohr, Einstein, and Bayer. He agrees.
When All the Light We Cannot See was published, Doerr was criticized for confusing Niels Bohr (a Danish scientist with Jewish blood) with other German scientists. But perhaps this grouping is intentional on Doerr’s part—it signifies that Werner groups all scientists together into one community, even at a time when scientists were increasingly being forced to divide along national or political lines. Bohr himself was placed under house arrest before escaping to the U.S.
Themes
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner and Frederick travel to Berlin by train. In the city, Frederick takes Werner to his home, which is large and beautiful. Werner notices that a Jewish woman named Frau Schwartzenberger lives in a nearby apartment. Inside his apartment, Frederick puts on a pair of eyeglasses, revealing to Werner that he’s nearly blind without them. He passed his eye exams by memorizing the eye charts in advance. Frederick also shows Werner his prized collection of bird drawings by the great American artist, Audubon. Werner, impressed, tells Frederick that his sister Jutta would love all this.
One of the most noticeable links between Werner and Frederick is the fact that both boys respect creative and scientific people from outside Germany: Frederick idolizes Audubon, just as Werner idolizes various non-German scientists (including Marie-Laure’s grandfather). We’re also reminded that Werner is still thinking about his sister all the time—clearly, he continues to love her even if there’s a distance growing between them at the moment.
Themes
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
In the evening, Werner meets Frederick’s mother and father. More guests come by the house, and everyone has a lavish dinner. During the dinner, someone mentions that Frau Schwartzenberger will “be gone soon enough.” Later at night, Werner and Frederick sit down and discuss their futures. Frederick suggests that they don’t have to go back to the National Institute. Naturally, Werner disagrees with this, explaining that he and Frederick need education to become an engineer and a birdwatcher, respectively. Frederick smiles sadly and tells Werner, “Your problem is that you still believe you own your life.”
Like Jutta, Frederick pities Werner for believing so desperately in his own ambitions, and in his ability to determine his destiny through his own intelligence, skill, or perseverance—he’s discounting the role of big, unbeatable forces like the Nazis, WWII, or, still larger, the forces of extinction and entropy that he studies in science class. The mention of Frau Schwartzenberger is the most obvious reference to the Holocaust in a novel that generally avoids the subject—she’s the only real Jewish character who appears, and Frederick’s neighbors feel sure that she will be evicted or arrested soon. They might not know that her life is in danger, but they are at the very least complicit in institutionalized racism and oppression.
Themes
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon