Because Marie-Laure is blind, her father, Daniel LeBlanc, builds elaborate models of the cities where she lives—first Paris, then Saint-Malo—to give her a way of training herself to navigate through the city without consulting street signs or using her eyesight at all. In one sense, these models are symbolic of the powerful, intimate love between Marie-Laure and Daniel, but in a broader sense, the city models symbolize humans’ attempts to reduce the big, complicated world to a set of predictable laws. We can see this theme again and again in the novel—Werner thinks that he has things “figured out” because he studies physics; Marie-Laure thinks that her faith in her father’s love will eventually be rewarded by his return; von Rumpel thinks that he can cure his cancer by finding the Sea of Flames, etc. But in the end, Doerr makes it painfully clear that no amount of intelligence and studiousness can help people survive the world’s unpredictability. By the end of the novel, Marie-Laure’s beautiful, “reasonable” model of Saint-Malo is still intact, but now useless, as the city itself is in ruins, bombed by Allied airplanes.
The Models of Paris and Saint-Malo Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See
Marie-Laure twists the chimney of the miniature house ninety degrees. Then she slides off three wooden panels that make up its roof, and turns it over. A stone drops into her palm. It’s cold. The size of a pigeon’s egg. The shape of a teardrop. Marie-Laure clutches the tiny house in one hand and the stone in the other. The room feels flimsy, tenuous. Giant fingertips seem about to punch through its walls. “Papa?” she whispers.