For the majority of All the Light We Cannot See, the only connection between the two major storylines (that of Marie-Laure and that of Werner) is the radio that Werner owns as a child. As the story goes on, we realize that Werner’s favorite broadcast is being narrated by Marie-Laure’s own grandfather, Henri LeBlanc. When Marie-Laure and Werner finally meet in the last 100 pages of the book, it’s partially Werner’s memories of the radio broadcast that impel him to save Marie-Laure’s life and guide her to safety. In a sense, the radio as a symbol is then a kind of “flip side” of vision as a symbol. In the absence of “vision”—that is, perfect knowledge of each other and ourselves—we must depend upon unpredictable, unstable, and tenuous ways of forming connections with other people.
Radio is a kind of tentative reaching out to others—there is a speaker, but the existence of a listener is always in question. Etienne is a recluse and afraid to leave the house, but he still finds a connection to the outside world through his radio—both listening and broadcasting. Likewise Marie-Laure, trapped in the attic, sends out broadcasts of herself reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, hoping to comfort, entertain, or connect with someone, but she wonders if anyone is listening or cares. And yet Werner is listening, just as he listened to Marie-Laure’s grandfather years before—and these fragile connections lead to something much more real, when Werner uses Marie-Laure’s radio broadcasts to find her and save her life. Ultimately, radio is a rather lovely symbol of how vital it is to seek connection with others, and how even the most unstable and fleeting methods of communication can be life-saving in a world of chaos, blindness, and alienation.
Radio Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See
Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.
The voice, the piano again. Perhaps it’s Werner’s imagination, but each time he hears one of the programs, the quality seems to degrade a bit more, the sound growing fainter: as though the Frenchman broadcasts from a ship that is slowly traveling farther away.
“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.