As a young girl, Marie-Laure loses her sight. The doctors can do nothing for her. Everyone in Marie-Laure’s community pities her—indeed, they even pity her Marie-Laure’s father, who’s had a tough life. His own father died in World War I, and his wife died in childbirth.
It’s implied that Marie-Laure and her father have an especially close relationship in part because of shared tragedy and hardship, particularly the loss of Marie-Laure’s mother. These two non-traditional nuclear family units—Marie-Laure and her father, and Werner and Jutta—will be the most important and powerful relationships of the book.
Marie-Laure’s father tries to stay optimistic about Marie-Laure’s condition. He trains her to guide herself without the need of sight, equipping her with a small cane. Marie-Laure’s father works as a locksmith for the Natural History Museum, and he’s very good with his hands. Every day, he appears at the museum and gives the employees their keys (no one is allowed to leave the building with a key). He spends huge chunks of time teaching Marie-Laure to read Braille and walk with her cane.
Marie-Laure’s father (whose name, we later learn, is Daniel) is an intelligent and enterprising man—he wants to train his daughter to be as independent and capable as possible. Above all, Daniel is clearly devoted to Marie-Laure, and there’s a strong, seemingly unbreakable bond between father and daughter. Yet we can’t help but think of the Prologue, in which Marie-Laure is on her own—where is her father?
Marie-Laure’s father makes sure that his daughter is given as good an education as he can get for her. He takes her to spend time with an aged doctor named Geffard, who’s spent time studying shells and coral reefs across the world. Marie-Laure loves to feel the contours of Geffard’s shells.
Marie-Laure seems to be developing an aptitude for science. Her love for shells and coral seems to fit with her interest in the Natural History Museum: she loves beautiful things that form slowly and gradually. This also fits with the theme of science as a way of seeing the world, and of small, ordered versions of a larger, chaotic reality (like the ordered, labeled exhibits at a museum).
On weekends, Marie-Laure and Marie-Laure’s father walk around Paris, enjoying all the things in it that cannot be seen: delicious smells (there are bakeries everywhere), sounds of children playing, etc. Marie-Laure’s father tells her that he’ll never leave her—not in a million years.