All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See


Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See: 3. Blackbirds Summary & Analysis

Werner has settled into a comfortable routine at the National Institute: he learns phrenology (a pseudoscience concerned with how skull shape affects mental faculty), engineering, and rifle training, and he also participates in military drills. Ernst is dismissed from the academy for his weakness, and slowly other boys follow him. Werner savors his evenings with Dr. Hauptmann, who tells him about relativity, quantum mechanics, and other cutting-edge science. Werner thinks of the letters Jutta has been sending him—mostly casual, and “full of banalities.”
It’s worth noting that Dr. Hauptmann’s interest in relativity would probably be perceived as subversive in Fascist Germany—Einstein, the developer of the Theory of Relativity, was a Jew, and thus the entire science of relativity was called into question. (There’s a famous story that a group of Nazi scientists published a book called, “100 Reasons Einstein is Wrong.” Einstein wittily replied, “Why 100 reasons? If I’m wrong, one would be enough.”)
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Werner considers his teachers. There is Volkheimer, “the giant,” who is an older teenager and an assistant to the professors. Although he has a reputation for being an intimidating boy, Werner knows that Volkheimer secretly loves classical music, and savors the work of Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi. In the evenings, Hauptmann puts Werner to work on a transceiver. Werner asks repeatedly what this device is for, but Hauptmann’s answer is always the same: just think about the science, not the practical purpose. Werner, who’s stayed close friends with Frederick, notices that Frederick is falling behind in his studies and his training. Werner helps Frederick study for exams and improve his marksmanship. Frederick, for his part, seems to obsess over the flight patterns of birds, especially birds that fly south in the winter.
Here, we meet a character we’ve already seen, Frank Volkheimer. Volkheimer seems to exemplify the ideal Fascist soldier—big, intimidating, and fearless. But Werner recognizes that even Volkheimer has a sensitive side, albeit one that he hides from others. It’s telling that Volkheimer listens to Vivaldi, a non-German composer—it suggests that he’s not as loyal a Nazi as he seems. While initially the novel seemed to present a simple conflict between fate and free will, in Werner’s storyline Doerr now throws the idea of “duty” in to complicate the mix. On his own, Werner wouldn’t want to actively be aiding the Nazi cause, but his sense of duty to his country and benefactors acts like a force as inexorable as fate (or a diamond’s curse).
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