All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

Radio Symbol Icon

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

The All the Light We Cannot See quotes below all refer to the symbol of Radio. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Fourth Estate edition of All the Light We Cannot See published in 2015.
One (1934): The Professor Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Henri LeBlanc (speaker)
Related Symbols: Vision, Radio
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

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One (1934): Open Your Eyes Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig, Henri LeBlanc
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

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Three (June 1940): The Professor Quotes

“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?”
“And Debussy.”
“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.”

Related Characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc (speaker), Great-Uncle Etienne LeBlanc (speaker)
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

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Five (January 1941): Intoxicated Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Jutta Pfennig (speaker)
Related Symbols: Radio
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

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Radio Symbol Timeline in All the Light We Cannot See

The timeline below shows where the symbol Radio appears in All the Light We Cannot See. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Zero (August 7, 1944): Cellar
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...and the fields of sunflowers near his house. He remembers something he heard on the radio decades ago: “Only through the hottest fire can purification be achieved.” (full context)
One (1934): Radio
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Meanwhile Werner is eight years old, and Jutta is six. One day, they find a radio near an old storage shed. Werner sneaks the radio back to the orphanage, and he... (full context)
One (1934): Something Rising
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
...is lonely as a child—while the other children play outside, Werner learns how to build radios, using as his model the radio he found. He finds the supplies he needs, such... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
One evening, Werner turns on his radio and shares it with the other orphans. It is 1936, and the radio broadcasts a... (full context)
One (1934): Our Flag Flutters Before Us
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...sound. He reads science magazines when he can find them, and constantly plays with his radio. Meanwhile, government officials visit the orphanage to tell the children about work opportunities in the... (full context)
One (1934): The Professor
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...near their orphanage. Werner is delighted—he uses the wire to extend the reach of his radio. As a result, he’s able to listen to radio broadcasts in languages other than German,... (full context)
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
One night, Werner uses his newly powerful radio to listen to a broadcast about the history of coal. Fascinated, Werner listens as the... (full context)
One (1934): Open Your Eyes
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
After discovering the Frenchman’s radio broadcasts on science, Werner and Jutta make every effort to listen to them. Over time,... (full context)
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Every time Werner listens to the Frenchman on the radio, he has the strange sense that the man’s voice is getting a little quieter, as... (full context)
One (1934): Bigger Faster Brighter
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...fight for his country. In secret, however, Werner continues to study and listen to the radio. He teaches himself complex mathematics. One day, Frau Elena asks Werner to help her repair... (full context)
One (1934): Making Socks
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...draw whenever it’s available. Jutta explains that she is drawing but also listening to Werner’s radio. Almost angrily, she tells Werner that the Germans have bombed Paris. (full context)
One (1934): Herr Siedler
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...walks through the building, Werner feels a rush of fear and thinks about his secret radio, which he’s used to listen to foreign broadcasts. To his surprise, the lance corporal and... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...to a prestigious science school in Berlin. He also gives Werner money for repairing his radio. (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner returns to the orphanage. He explains that he fixed the commander’s radio, but doesn’t add anything about the science school. He gives Frau Elena all of the... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Etienne
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
Etienne greets Marie-Laure, and asks her if she’d like to see his collection of radios. He shows her stereos, and radios he’s built with his own hands. Marie-Laure instinctively like... (full context)
Three (June 1940): The Professor
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...outside? Etienne replies that he gets “uneasy” being outside, and prefers the security of his radios and books. Marie-Laure also asks Etienne about the mysterious locked bedroom where her grandfather Henri... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Mandatory Surrender
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Marie-Laure’s father has just learned that the people of Saint-Malo must surrender their radios immediately—anyone who refuses will be arrested. Marie-Laure wonders what will happen to Etienne’s radios. Etienne... (full context)
Three (June 1940): The Wardrobe
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...the sky. One day, Marie-Laure visits Etienne in his room and asks him about his radios. Etienne reveals that while he’s surrendered all his other radios, the broadcasting system in his... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Nadel im Heuhaufen
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...is sent to hide somewhere in the large field outside the National Institute, broadcasting via radio. Working quickly, Werner uses their receiver to locate Volkheimer in the darkness. Hauptmann watches Werner... (full context)
Five (January 1941): You Have Other Friends
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...with his sister, years ago. He imagines how sad Jutta was when he destroyed their radio. Werner tries to reconcile with Frederick, but Frederick ignores him. (full context)
Five (January 1941): Intoxicated
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...working in the laboratory when he remembers something the Frenchman told him years ago via radio: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” (full context)
Five (January 1941): Alive Before You Die
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...stand strong. Manec proposes that Etienne transmit secret messages via one of the resistance group’s radios. Etienne refuses, and tells Manec to leave him alone. (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): Someone in the House
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...from the kitchen. Marie-Laure decides to run to the sixth floor and hide in the radio room behind the wardrobe. She crawls through the wardrobe, open the secret panel on the... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): The Death of Walter Bernd
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
As Bernd’s voice fades away, Werner decides to work on the radio beside him. The transceiver is crushed, but he tries to repair it anyway. He remembers... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): Making the Radio
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner tries to repair his radio. He experiments with the wires inside, and tries to press the earphone in more rightly.... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): In the Attic
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Marie-Laure feels around the radio room. She notices Etienne’s old records, and his recording machine. She goes over what she... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): The Wardrobe
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...gets an electric saw from his cellar, and uses it to make modifications to the radio room on the sixth floor of the house. Then he tells Marie-Laure what he’s been... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): East
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...that Werner is 18, and mocks him for being puny. Nevertheless, he shows Werner his radio equipment and tells him that he’ll be in charge of all of it. At the... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): One Ordinary Loaf
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...on the back of the wardrobe on the sixth floor—this allows him to enter the radio room whenever he needs to do so. (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
In the radio room, Etienne reads off the numbers on the scroll, and tells Marie-Laure that the information... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Fall
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
Etienne and Marie-Laure continue undermining the Germans by sending secret messages via the radio. Etienne keeps watch over the exterior of his house, since he’s paranoid that soldiers or... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Etienne takes pleasure in his radio broadcasts. He even plays music after finishing a broadcast—Debussy, Ravel, Massenet, etc. Every night, Etienne... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Sunflowers
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...middle of the forest. Volkheimer leads the soldiers to attack the house—he tells Werner, the radio technician, to hang back. Werner hears loud shots, and then sees his fellow troops marching... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Hunting
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
It is January, 1943. Werner continues monitoring radio transmissions on the Russian front. Whenever he finds a new radio transmission, Volkheimer and the... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): White City
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...follows orders, even when the orders call for horrific behavior. Quietly, Volkheimer announces, “There’s no radio here.” Werner and the other troops leave the house and drive away. (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): In the Attic
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
Marie-Laure hides in the radio room, desperate to eat something, and hoping that she won’t be found. Part of her... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Heads
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
Werner, still trapped under the hotel, tries to use his radio to call for help. He can hear only static on the receiver. He turns and... (full context)
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner contemplates using the electrical wire in Volkheimer’s light to repair the radio. This could give them another full day in which to hope for a nearby signal.... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Beams
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Under the hotel, Werner tries to fix his radio. As he works, Volkheimer mentions that his great-grandfather was a sawyer (person who saws timber)... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Transmitter
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Marie-Laure feels her way through the radio room, and finds the transmitter that Etienne had used to broadcast previously. She wonders if... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): Voice
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner has spent four days beneath the Hotel of Bees. He fiddles with his radio. Suddenly, he hears a voice—the voice is saying, “At three in the morning I was... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Edge of the World
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...Saint-Malo). The colonel explains that there is a terrorist group that sends music over the radio. Werner and his peers are going to France to investigate further. Volkheimer nods and says,... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Hunting (Again)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
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The soldiers search across the coast of France for evidence of a radio broadcast. Werner and Bernd are sent to the Hotel of Bees, where they spend long... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): “Claire de Lune”
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Werner and the soldiers search through Saint-Malo for the radio signal. One night, while it’s raining, Werner hears an enemy signal, making a broadcast about... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Antenna
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
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...the Hotel of Bees, including Werner, Volkheimer, and Bernd. Werner continues to listen to the radio broadcast he remembers from his youth, and never mentions this to his superiors. Although the... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Grotto
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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Every afternoon, Etienne makes a radio broadcast, and every evening, Marie-Laure reads to Etienne from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. One... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): The Girl
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...the front. Volkheimer sends Neumann One and Neumann Two—Werner needs to stay and operate the radio. The Neumanns are terrified of being sent to fight on the front lines, but Volkheimer... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Little House
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
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...allowed to go outside. Etienne will pick up the loaves as well as making the radio broadcasts. (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Entombed
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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Confined to the radio room, Marie-Laure broadcasts her readings of Jules Verne. On the other side of the city,... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Music #1
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Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Marie-Laure has now spent five days in the radio room. She takes a record, and plays it. She imagines dying here in the radio... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Music #2
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...night in Saint-Malo. Werner sleeps beneath the hotel—only Volkheimer is awake. He fiddles with the radio, trying to find a clear station. Suddenly, he hears the sound of piano music. He... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Out
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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...Saint-Malo. Werner senses that Volkheimer wants him to go to protect the girl in the radio building. Werner turns and runs to Etienne’s house. (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Wardrobe
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
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...Rumpel has walked up to the sixth floor, where he hears the sound of the radio. He opens the wardrobe and pushes through it, using a candle as a source of... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Are You There?
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
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...whispers, in clumsy French, that he doesn’t want to kill her—he’s been listening to her radio broadcast, and loves the piano music. (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Second Can
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
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...Werner explains to Marie-Laure that as a child, he and his sister listened to the radio broadcast. Marie-Laure explains that this was her grandfather’s voice. She adds that she’s very hungry,... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Birds of America
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Marie-Laure shows Werner the radio room: there are phonographs and records, including the records that Werner loved so dearly as... (full context)
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...knows why the man snuck into her house—Werner suggests that it was because of the radio. (full context)