Werner enters Etienne’s house, armed with a rifle. He climbs up the stairs, looking for any signs of life. On the sixth floor, he’s astounded to find a German officer in field dress: a sergeant major (von Rumpel). The sergeant major, who seems a little drunk, mutters, “Don’t mix morphine and wine.” Werner looks around, and is terrified to see that the curtain near the sergeant major is on fire. The sergeant major calmly says, “We came for something, you and I. But only one of us can have it.” With this, the man draws a pistol and aims it at Werner’s chest. (Werner’s rifle remains pointed at the ground.) Suddenly, there’s a sound of clattering. The sergeant major turns to find the source of the sound, and in this split-second, Werner draws his gun.
This is a riveting scene, and no small part of its emotional impact comes from dramatic irony. As readers, we know who Werner is—we’ve been watching him for most of his life. We also know who von Rumpel is, relatively speaking. The imbalance between our knowledge of the characters and their knowledge of each other is so enormous that we have to draw the obvious conclusion: the fight between von Rumpel and Werner is a failure of understanding—a failure to understand another person’s motivation and character. Werner assumes von Rumpel is there to kill Marie-Laure, while von Rumpel thinks Werner is there to get the Sea of Flames.