Marie-Laure has a long life—she lives into the 21st century. One Saturday in early March, her grandson Michel walks her through Paris. Michel is 12 years old, and loves playing violent video games, something Marie-Laure finds hard to understand. As Marie-Laure and Michel walk through the streets, Michel asks Marie-Laure what she got for her 12th birthday—she replies that she got a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Michel tells Marie-Laure that his mother (Marie-Laure’s daughter Hélène) has read this book to him.
Although the Frederick storyline emphasizes how art and communication are limited in their ability to nurture connection between people, they can still be powerful forces in their own right. Here, we see that Daniel LeBlanc’s memory lives on in his descendants. He’s passed on, via Marie-Laure, his fondness for reading and creative thinking, just as Marie-Laure will pass on these things to her descendants when she dies.
As Marie-Laure walks with Michel, she wonders about the city of Paris. Here in the 21st century the city is always busy: people make calls on their cell phones, and babble about simple, unimportant things. With so many people walking the streets, Marie-Laure wonders if it’s possible that souls could walk the streets as well: the souls of Etienne, Madame Manec, Werner Pfennig, and even Marie-Laure’s father. Perhaps their souls are walking the streets, but the living just don’t know it.
Doerr ends his novel on a note of “optimistic hopelessness.” Although it’s impossible to truly connect to all the people one loves most—because some of them are dead, or otherwise unreachable—it is possible to feel their spirit in other, more metaphorical ways. Marie-Laure may not be able to hold a conversation with her father, but she can pass on his passions to her children and grandchildren. The same is true of Werner—his physical time with Marie-Laure was very brief, but he is still present in her heart and imagination, and so in some way their connection lives on.
Abruptly, Marie-Laure finds that she and Michel have completed their walk and returned to her house. She bids goodbye to her grandson, kisses him on the cheek, and says she’ll see him next week. With this, Michel walks off. Marie-Laure listens to the sound of Michel’s footsteps fading away, until she can no longer hear him at all.
The final image of All the Light We Cannot See is that of a child’s footsteps fading into oblivion. This is an apt metaphor for the relationships in this novel: they’re wonderful while they last, but they can’t last forever. If there’s a way to live the “good life” in such a world, it requires that people savor the happiness in their lives while they have it. All human connection is fleeting—like youth, happiness, and even life itself—but that doesn’t make it any less important.