On the night of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, Sarah locks Michel into the secret cupboard in their bedroom to hide him from the French police. Not understanding the stakes of the roundup, Sarah vows to return for her brother. She pockets the key and keeps it with her not just for the remainder of the war, but for the rest of her life. The key represents not only Sarah’s deep love for her brother but also her debilitating grief over his death. In her journal, Sarah writes that the key is the only physical reminder she has of her brother aside from his grave. On a larger scale, the key also illustrates the way in which physical objects serve as vessels for history. Julia articulates this when she sees the key for the first time. William brings it with him to Julia’s apartment, and later, as she translates Sarah’s journal for William, Julia notes, “The brass key lay between us on the table, a silent witness of the past, of Michel’s death.” The key thus illustrates how history is inscribed not only in places or in people’s stories, but also in everyday objects.
The Key Quotes in Sarah’s Key
Her father looked down at her. He said her name again, very softly. His eyes were still wet, his eyelashes spiked with tears. He put his hand on the back of her neck.
“Be brave, my sweet love. Be brave, as brave as you can.”
She could not cry. Her fear was so great it seemed to engulf everything else, it seemed to suck up every single emotion within her, like a monstrous, powerful vacuum.
I cannot bear the weight of my past.
Yet I cannot throw away the key to your cupboard.
It is the only concrete thing that links me to you, apart from your grave.