The most obvious symbol in All the Light We Cannot See (so obvious it shows up in the title) is vision. From early on, Doerr encourages us to consider the different symbolic ramifications of sight and seeing, and all the different ways in which a person can be said to “see.” The protagonist, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, is blind, meaning that she’s incapable of literally seeing, and yet her intelligence, strong moral code, and integrity give her a kind of “sight” that allows her to see the German invasion of France for what it really is: a greedy, cruel endeavor that must be opposed at all costs. In contrast, the other protagonist of the novel, Werner Pfennig, has perfect vision (if he didn’t have it, he wouldn’t be admitted to the prestigious National Institute), but struggles to see through the propaganda of the Nazi Party. In general, Doerr associates vision with knowledge, and just as there are many kinds of vision, there are many kinds of knowledge: scientific, moral, ethical, practical, etc. In the end, Doerr suggests that no vision is perfect and true. In the grand scheme of things, all human beings are at least partly “blind,” in the sense that their knowledge of their beliefs, their loved ones, and their selves is always flawed and incomplete.
Vision 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.
She cannot say how many others are with him. Three or four, perhaps. His is the voice of a twelve or thirteen-year-old. She stands and hugs her huge book against her chest, and she can hear her cane roll along the edge of the bench and clatter to the ground. Someone else says, “They’ll probably take the blind girls before they take the gimps.” The first boy moans grotesquely. Marie-Laure raises her book as if to shield herself.