All the Light We Cannot See: The Costs of War

Anthony Doerr’s remarkable novel, “All the Light We Cannot See,” is a literary piece that moves briskly, efficiently, and beautifully in precise and pristine sentences. Every sentence is a lyrical poetry that the author carefully structured. The novel is a work of historical fiction opening with two memoirs of two different children in the opposite sides of World War Two. This literature tackles the grand themes of war, fate and free will, the sacrifices of parents, physical blindness versus spiritual blindness, fear, control versus power, the power of knowledge, and the possibilities of magic and legend. The most prominent theme of the novel highlights war. Doerr’s work of fiction uses physical symbols to showcase the effects of war on people, of resistance to oppression, and the effort of citizens trying to maintain normality, creating a whole better understanding for readers about the outcomes of war. The author uses three symbols in the novel that are closely tied to the main characters, and these symbols will help to portray the author’s view on war through a new perspective to surface hidden stories of World War II.

The first symbol that the author uses to explain the results of war is a small model of the town of Saint-Malo built by Marie-Laure’s father, Monsieur LeBlanc; elucidating the effects of war to cities and to the people. At the beginning of the novel, it is described how the model city of Paris and Saint-Malo town that Monsieur Leblanc created are accurate by proportions and placing of the buildings. The model of Saint-Malo is described by Marie-Laure in detail “Her fingers pass the shipbuilder’s shed on the rue de Chartres, pass Madame Ruelle’s bakery on the rue Robert Surcouf. In her imagination she hears the bakers sliding about the on the flour-slicked floor… baking loaves in the same four-hundred-year-old oven that Monsieur Ruelle’s great-great-grandfather used. Her fingers pass the cathedral steps – here an old man clips roses in a garden; here beside the library, Crazy Hubert Bazin murmurs to himself as he peers with his one eye into an empty wine bottle…” (Doerr, 243). Unlike the model, the streets of the real town is bustling with people living their daily lives, like the people Marie-Laure included in her narration. In the progress of World War II, occupied France is under direct Nazi German control, the streets of Saint-Malo mimics the streets of the model; growing more desolate as citizens attempts to escape the wrath of Nazi Germans by staying inside their houses. Civilians in Europe had war on their doorstep with bombings and killings, “…the siege of Saint-Malo, the shelling lulls, as though all the artillerymen abruptly fell asleep at their guns. Trees burn, car burns, houses burn. German soldiers drink in their blockhouses. A priest in the college cellar scatters holy water on the walls” (Doerr, 375). Some were put into camps; Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, and anyone else the Nazis felt posed a threat to the creation of the master race were put in concentration camps and many millions were killed. War did not only happen in the frontlines against heavy infantry, but also the common people in the home front.

France plunged into a dark age, occupied by Nazi Germans with the terrible implications bombing raids, executions, deportations, murders and famine. Slowly the resistance took shape and began to react. The author uses two different objects, a wardrobe and a radio, and connects both of them to create a symbol of the resistance to oppression. After the Nazi Germany has occupied France, radios were being outlawed in the whole country, yet some kept illegal radios showing resistance to oppression. Keeping these illegal radios would allow them to communicate with the allies in hopes of defeating the Nazis, “When Marie-Laure comes through the front door with the bread, when he’s opening the tiny scroll in his fingers, lowering his mouth to the microphone, he feels unshakable; he feels alive. 56778. 21. 4567. 1094. 467813. Then the time and frequency for the next broadcast. They been at it for several months, new slips of paper arriving inside a loaf of bread every few days…” (Doerr, 331-332). Etienne a member of the resistance creates an effort to contribute to the war effort to take back their freedom; giving information to the Allied forces in the period of the Normandy Landings of D-Day. The wardrobe on the 6th floor of Etienne’s house would become a doorway to secrets, outside of the wardrobe, is an average storage space with nothing suspicious or out of the ordinary, however behind this piece of furniture hides the secret: an illegal radio. This wardrobe emphasizes how people stay strong and resist in times of oppression and how even the most unlikely people can make a big difference during hard times. The radio plays a big part in both Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives, as this is the way they meet each other, symbolizing the connection of people all over the world. The book Marie-Laure reads throughout most of the novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, is mentioned many times. Marie-Laure is seen reading phrases from it as years passed on, through good and bad times. It is not the book that would be a symbol, but her actions of reading a book becomes a symbol that even in the duration of the Second World War, citizens creates an effort to try living a regular life every day. Marie-Laure reads as if she is living a normal life with her father. After Werner introduces himself to Marie-Laure, he comments on how brave she was, she then replies “… I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father lefts, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery, I have no choice. I wake up and live my life” (Doerr, 469), and she is left with her uncle, and later, when her uncle is taken away and she is left alone in the house to fend for herself. In the most difficult time, she reads the book into her great-uncle’s radio to comfort herself for all those experiences in the hardships of war, she reads to comfort and keep her mind off the terror that is happening all around her. In the course of the Second World War, people in the home front continues to live a regular life, shut in their homes as friends, families, and anyone around them disappear, and their way of living changing.

As far as World War II novels go, “All the Light You Can See” follows the desolation and barbarism of war, but the language feels startlingly fresh. Following Werner and Marie-Laure, two young people forced to make almost impossibly difficult choices, one fighting for the Nazis, the other for the French Resistance in World War II. The author masterfully allows readers to see the world through the eyes of a blind girl, writing rich details filling all the five senses simultaneously in ways readers can visualize it. Marie Laure must come to terms with the loss of her eyesight in the midst of the beginning of World War II, books allow her to see beyond the visible world: She reads the braille versions of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. While Werner sees the chance to train at a military academy under the Nazis as an opportunity to escape his difficult life for his sister Jutta. This circumstance, and countless others, shed light on the hidden horrors of the darkest time in history. All wars comes with pain, despair, and senseless despair. War has never solved anything, it creates financial problems for all the parties involved, creates sadness, resentment, and most devastatingly: people die. Death rips families apart, destroys bonds, terminates love, and slays the very inception of happiness. All of which situations could have been solved much less violently, and less destructive.

Symbolism and Personal Significance in All the Light We Cannot See

Historians, philosophers, and writers alike can attest to the human struggle to follow a certain moral code; history shows a constant rift between what humans claim they should do and what they actually do. If this rift did not exist, many a crises and war could be averted, but humanity would not be its beautifully flawed self. In the novel All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr is raved over for “masterfully and knowledgeably re-creat[ing] the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers” (Hooper 23). However, the use of literary devices in the novel reflects a message deeper than that of just another war-time story. Doerr utilizes the war setting as a means of further exploring the nature of humanity in a distinct context. He does not define the characters by war; he defines the characters and gives them a war to respond to. The novel is different from other war stories, in that its focus is on the independent choices of the characters, the reasoning behind these choices, and the means by which these choices intertwine the lives of the characters. That being said, Doerr shares his understanding of the nature of humanity with the reader in his utilization of literary devices used in context of reader-response theory. More specifically, Doerr does this with his use of symbolism. By using symbolism throughout the novel, Doerr gives the reader connections between characters, which then allows the reader to clearly compare and contrast the plight of the characters in reference to the symbol. Also, the use of symbolism lets the reader critically consider universal concepts in different contexts, which initiates critical thinking in the reader without the explicit use of theory (Richter 962-963). In his novel All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr uses the key symbols of the blindness, the maze, and the radio to compare and contrast the two main characters and to reflect this theme that in troubling times humanity should pursue love.

Blindness, ironically, leads the character Werner to spiritual enlightenment, which occurs when he is stuck underground in the Hotel of Bees. When Werner is in total darkness, essentially blind, he is surprised to find that “Sometimes, in the darkness, Werner thinks the cellar may have its own faint light… After a while, he is learning, even total darkness is not quite darkness; more than once he thinks he can see his spread fingers when he passes them in front of his eyes” (Doerr 211). Despite being in total darkness, Werner is able to “see” the room based on his spatial memory. This foreshadows the moral insight Werner will gain, for during his grimmest hours with nothing to distract him from his conscience, Werner decides his next plan of action based on what he knows to be right. Before this experience, Werner has acted against his better judgment. He is a manifestation of the Faust legend, listening to those who claim “We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are” (Doerr 84). It is this attitude which prevails among the wealthy and the Nazi leaders. It is this attitude which turns a nation of humans with ability to show compassion into a land of death and persecution. At the Nazi school facility Werner trains at, Werner feels like he “is succeeding… [and] being loyal… being what everybody agrees is good” yet “every time he wakes and buttons his tunic, he feels like he is betraying something” (Doerr 250). Werner rejects the cry of his innermost soul: “is this not wrong?”, because the people around him are saying that “what [Nazi Germany represents] is an ordering… [of] chaos.. [and] the evolution of the species…. the… greatest project human beings have ever embarked upon” (Doerr 194, 240). This false promise of order, protection, and success blinds Werner to all other pursuits, including the pursuit of love. It is not that Werner truly believes the lies he is told; it is that Werner chooses to believe these things because to say otherwise would make his life more difficult and take his potential for success. But now that Werner is surrounded by darkness, he sees the darkness in himself, and “his ambition and shame [become] one and the same” (Doerr 450). When Werner’s physical eyes are rendered useless in the dark, Werner opens his introspective eyes to see past the twisted propaganda he has pretended to believe, and looks at the reality of himself and his situation. He sees that while his friend “Frederick said we don’t have choices, don’t own our lives… in the end it was Werner who pretended there were no choices” (Doerr 407).

Frederick, who claims to be passive in life, is in reality one of the few brave individuals to stand up to the crowd and pursue his convicted love for all humans, facing the consequences dutifully. Frederick, who when demanded to throw the freezing water on the dying Soviet prisoner looks straight ahead as “ The night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head,” and “ pours the water onto the ground,” stating “I will not” (Doerr 229). Because of this action, this refusal to comply with the cruelty of the school and the blind obedience demanded of him, Frederick is physically abused by his classmates to the point of neurological damage, and is sent home from the Nazi training school. Once Werner becomes desperate enough to open up his heart and allow himself to be enlightened in the bombed hotel basement, as well as fully realize his own conviction, “It is as if he has been drowning for as long as he can remember and somebody has fetched him up for air” (Doerr 406). This relief is Werner’s conscience, which had been repressed before this time of reflection, but in this time is finally heard and accepted. Frederick, who pursues love, ends up physically crippled but pure in heart. Werner, in contrast, pursues personal gain and convenience. As a result, he loses his sense of self and damages the relationship between himself and his beloved sister Jutta, the only person who challenges Werner’s unruly ambition. After the epiphany in the darkness, when he finally follows Jutta’s advice to follow his heart and ends up falling in love with Marie-Laure, the first thing he thinks is “Jutta… I finally listened” (Doerr 475). Had Werner listened to Jutta and pursued his soul’s calling earlier, he would not have needed to be brought into all-enveloping darkness to see the light and love within himself.

In contrast with Werner’s, Marie-Laure’s blindness is representative of her keen moral insight. She describes it: “What is blindness? Where there should be a wall, her hands find nothing. Where there should be nothing, a table leg gouges her shin. Cars growl in the streets; leaves whisper in the sky; blood rustles through her inner ears” (Doerr 27). Here, initially, the description of blindness meets the readers understanding. It is unmet expectations. It is the fear of the unknown, fully capsized. However, the end of the description takes an unexpected turn. It discusses Marie-Laure’s gifts within the blindness. Her hearing improves, so she is able to focus it in such a way that she can understand the world through the little movements her ears pick up. This parallels her ability to act within her views of morality, for she is able to focus on such views and act in consideration of these beliefs, instead of in spite of them, in contrast to Werner. This follows the universal idea that “when blindness pops up in a story… the author wants to emphasize other levels of sight and blindness beyond the physical” (Foster 202). Marie-Laure’s sense of morality is apparent with her willingness to assist the French resistance and her protection of the stone, not because she cherishes its high dollar value but because she wants to be rid of it. Her intuitive insight sees that the stone has the power to morph men into monsters, and she hopes “that Papa hasn’t been anywhere near it” (Doerr 52). Marie-Laure’s moral compass is undeniable. However, Marie-Laure’s blindness would not have helped her develop into the convicted person she became, without the help of Marie-Laure’s father’s love. Her father, who “says he will never leave her, not in a million years”; who claims “You can do this, Marie” even when she feels “she cannot”, is her anchor and means of exploring the world despite her fear (Doerr 31, 37). Because Marie-Laure has her father’s support when dealing with the blindness, she has the courage to cope with the struggles of being blind and so pursues life with bravery. The love between her and her father gives Marie-Laure the courage to live in the light, despite being blind.

Another significant symbol is the maze, which essentially represents the troubles Marie-Laure faces, especially the blindness which makes her whole life like a maze. Marie-Laure listens to her logic when faced with a problem, because she is experienced in dealing with mazes. When she is diagnosed with “Congenital cataracts. Bilateral. Irreparable,” the “Spaces she once knew as familiar… [became] labyrinths bristling with hazards” (Doerr 27). She is forced to regard the objects around herself differently, and move around these objects using the new skills she develops. Her father teaches her to “walk the paths of logic. Every outcome has its cause, and every predicament has its solution. Every lock its key” (Doerr 111). Marie-Laure’s blindness trains her to approach the unknowable with sensibility, and her father’s love empowers her to handle the blindness. However, when Marie-Laure is faced with the imprisonment of her father, the love she once depended on is taken and she lapses into a depression, in which “everything in the house scares her… she is angry… [and] every second it feels as if her father slips farther away” (Doerr 226). She has lost direction and no longer has the motivation to face her problems. It is not until she goes to see “the ocean! Right in front of her!” and “the labyrinth of Saint-Malo has opened onto a portal of sound larger than anything she has ever experienced,” that Marie-Laure is able to face the maze again (Doerr 231). She falls in love with the awe-inspiring ocean, and finds within this love a passion for the beauty of the outside world she once considered too overwhelming to face. With this newfound motivation, she can emotionally process the loss of her father and choose her next steps in life with the logic she had been taught. It is with this renewed love and passion that Marie-Laure learns to face her blindness and her problems once more.

The symbol of the maze shows up in the life of Werner, in that Germany is described as an “ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine” with factories and businesses and streets filled with worker ant people (Doerr 69). Essentially, it is conveyed as maze-like. For example, in Saint-Malo, “people whisper, the Germans have renovated two kilometers of subterranean corridors under the medieval walls; they have built new defenses, new conduits, new escape routes, underground complexes of bewildering complexity” (Doerr 10). The Germans have turned their own home into a foreign and intimidating land, a menacing labyrinth. Most of the fear of Germany is because of its intimidating military, which fights in seemingly unfaltering unity with the attitude that “Everything is glory and country and competition and sacrifice” (Doerr 62). Werner is lost in all of this nationalism; he is lost in the maze of Germany which sings out blasphemy as if it is pure truth and defines purity as a list of required genetics. Germany, which orders it soldiers, “Do not trust your minds” because they are “always drifting towards ambiguity, toward questions, when what you really need is certainty. Purpose. Clarity” (Doerr 264). Germany perpetuates the maze, because in contrast to Marie-Claire’s pursuit of reason, it calls for a complete disregard of thinking processes in lieu of uncompromising patriotism. In order to deal with this maze, Werner also finds love, both within the sea and within Marie-Claire. When Werner describes the sea, he says “It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties” (Doerr 405). Here Doerr directly compares Werner and Marie-Laure, for they are on two opposing paths yet find the same force of nature appealing. It is dramatic irony, in that the reader can see the unity of passion between the characters before the characters themselves realize their love. This dramatic irony foreshadows Werner’s eventual focus on Marie-Laure as the motivation to act on his inner heart of compassion. Werner describes first seeing Marie-Laure in the same manner: “Why are Werner’s hands shaking? Why can’t he catch his breath?… This, he thinks, is the pure they were always lecturing about at Schulpforta” (Doerr 413). In both of these cases, Werner stops participating in the work which he truly believes is wrong, because he has seen something which he loves. He is so overwhelmed with emotion in seeing his heart’s desire, he cannot pretend his heart desires anything else. This is the way in which Werner is freed from the maze.

Elsewhere, the radio is a symbol of hope for Werner. When he first listens to the radio, the world around Werner “looks the same as it always has… Yet now there is music. As if, inside Werner’s head, an infinitesimal orchestra has stirred to life” (Doerr 33). Although Werner is stuck in an orphan’s home, destined to work in the dangerous coal mine which orphaned him, the radio is a means of escaping this hopeless reality and dreaming of a different future. In fact, Doerr establishes Werner’s morality with the radio, because “Werner’s favorite [radio program] is one about light: eclipses and sundials, auroras and wavelengths.” The radio speaker teaches, “What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible” (Doerr 53). This program is metaphorical and shows the equality of all humanity in seeing light, that in technicality all are blind because light exists both infinitely and not at all. Werner’s appreciation of this program reveals his moral beliefs in the value of light and the equality of all human beings. This emphasizes the height of corruption which occurs as this quest to escape the fate of the coal mines consumes Werner, and “in his nightmares, he walks the tunnels of the mines. The ceiling is smooth and black; slabs of it descend over him as he treads” (Doerr 68-69). This fear of being trapped perverts him.

Instead of hoping for love, Werner places his hopes in his future success and the possible luxuries his talents give him access to. Here lies the risk of hope; that humanity may hope in a force of corruption. In this case, the radio which “ties a million ears to a single mouth” plays “out of loudspeakers all around Zollverein, the staccato voice of the Reich”, which “grows like some imperturbable tree; its subjects lean towards its branches as if toward the lips of God” (Doerr 63). Werner’s misplaced hope is only a reflection of all of Germany, which hopes in Hitler, losing sight of morals while in pursuit of prosperity. It is not until later, at the Hotel of Bees, that Werner uses the radio for the right reasons and finds another source to discover hope in. Werner is stuck, and “the radio is hopeless. He wants to close his eyes, forget, give up… But Volkheimer wants to make an argument that life is worth living” (Doerr 211). Werner’s friend and military partner Volkheimer is the love which pushes Werner to finish his last act in pursuit of hope. Because Volkheimer believes Werner’s life is worth living out, Werner is given the strength to continue despite the overwhelming evidence proving his situation to be hopeless. In this same place of blindness, Werner not only reaches enlightenment, but also finds the love he wants to hope in, replacing the ambition which once blinded his judgment. In one last act of desperation, Werner attempts to fix the radio and succeeds, hearing Marie-Laure’s voice on the radio calling for help. Even though Werner’s job is to kill all who broadcast rebellious radio waves, Werner thinks back to his last moment of darkness in which he accidentally kills a young girl while raiding an apartment complex in search for a radio. Because of this occurrence, Werner is more aware of the impact of his actions and wary of violence. He knows his own heart is not complacent with murder, even if it means losing luxury or a successful future. Out of this previous time of poorly placed hope, Werner gains the wisdom to hope in love. He uses the radio to figure out where Marie-Laure is hiding and then saves her from imminent death. Because Werner has renewed his soul, instead of choosing to kill Marie-Laure like his job demands him to, Werner uses the radio to pursue his love for Marie-Laure.

The radio also represents hope to Marie-Laure. Marie-Laure and her uncle help with the French resistance against Germany by using their radio to transmit secret messages to all who listen. This action is a manifestation of the choice made in their argument: “‘Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.’… ‘How do you fight a system?’ ‘You try’” (Doerr 269). The radio is a means of fighting the system, and therefore a fight for hope. While the Germans take most of her uncle’s radios, Etienne keeps his biggest, most-beloved radio secretly in the attic. Etienne holds to his radio because it is one of the few objects which give him purpose and life, especially in light of his post-traumatic stress disorder and his tendency to see “things that are not there,” which force him to stay indoors (Doerr 122). The radio is the last true reminder of who Etienne is and what he can offer the world, and “when Marie-Laure comes through the front door with the bread, when he’s opening the tiny scroll in his fingers, lowering his mouth to the microphone, he feels unshakeable; he feels alive” (Doerr 331). The radio is Marie-Laure’s salvation. When she is stuck in her attic, hiding from a mad Sergeant, and cannot do anything else, she calls for help on the radio in the desperate hope that someone will hear her, “she keeps saying, ‘Help me.’ She begs her father, her great-uncle. She says, ‘He is here. He will kill me” (Doerr 442). At the climax of danger, Werner saves her. Marie-Laure puts her hope in the object her uncle treasures and in the compassion of a stranger, and is rescued. Because of Marie-Laure’s hope in humanity, that someone might be willing to show love, she is liberated.

It is not romantic love which saves Werner and Marie-Laure. Soon after they meet, they are separated: Marie-Laure to be brought back to her uncle and Werner to surrender to the French and American militaries. Doerr purposely points this out, with making Werner’s fear that of working in a coal mine and Marie-Laure’s fear that of losing her loved ones to the curse of the diamond. The coal and the diamond seem related- many mistakenly think that coal is used to make diamonds. However, it is a false assumption, just like the assumption many readers would make that this novel is focused on the romance between the two. No, Werner and Marie-Laure are saved by a different love. This is the love which is so mind-shattering, it makes the sweet-tempered Marie-Laure angry “At everything and everyone,” questioning “Who knew love could kill you?” (Doerr 226). This is the love which propels life forward, which makes hope valuable, which gives humanity direction. This is the core of Doerr’s novel, the message he wants to send that life is worth living whole-heartedly. It is not a love made up of fairytale endings. Werner dies soon after leaving Marie-Laure, as he half-consciously follows the sound of Claire de la Lune, which he first heard on the radio, and walks into a land mine. It is suicide, and Werner dies wondering “what future remains? The road ahead is blank, and the lines of his thoughts incline inward”, thinking of “Marie-Laure… the pressure of his hand against the webbing between her fingers” (Doerr 480, 481). Like Frederick, following his heart did not save Werner from an unfortunate end. But Werner dies a free soul, “a kite, a balloon”, a person who in his last few days finds light and love and his true self (Doerr 482). This is the love which, Doerr argues, makes life worth living. Because of this love, Marie-Laure is free to explore the “mazes there are in this world. The branches of trees, the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals, the streets her father re-created in his models… None more complicated than the human brain, Etienne would say, what maybe the most complex object in existence, one wet kilogram within which the universe spins” (Doerr 453). Marie-Laure, at least, is able to follow her love of the beauty in the world, and revel in its wonder. Through the characters of Werner and Marie-Laure, Anthony Doerr shows the only trustworthy method of coping with the maze of life is hoping in love.

The Light We Must See

Through All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr creates a world in which two invariably different individuals connect to one another by way of fate and personal faults. Werner’s shortcomings – or his inability to visualize his hope – are aligned with Marie-Laure’s lack of sight. Werner and Marie-Laure are forced – in their own realities and together, upon meeting one another – to understand that the world is far from good. That does not, however, mean they can submit to the bad (Nazism, for Werner; sadness, for Marie-Laure). They come to the realization that one must, “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (Doerr, 310), adding a tragic dash of situational irony in light of Marie-Laure’s lack of ability to, physically, do precisely that. All The Light We Cannot See, through this connection, becomes a search for light in the tunnel of life, and the presence or lack of sight in the novel provide symbols for hope and the obstacles individuals encounter during that search.

The obstacles Marie-Laure and Werner encounter aim to dissuade them from seeing (physically and metaphorically), but they are ultimately able to overcome those obstacles by acknowledging the errors of their ways and opening their eyes to hope – to light – in life. Marie-Laure’s abilities are obviously hindered by her physical blindness, but her obstacles stand deeper; they begin as a battle against hopelessness and evolve to a battle against the evil of the Nazi cause, a battle for her life. Marie-Laure’s Father instills in her a deep self-sufficiency and intelligence that allows her hope – her light, her sight – to grow, as he works with her to see the city (through his models) in spite of her disability. Her father’s diligent and careful teachings are what gives Marie-Laure the moral standard and courage to help her uncle and what allows Marie-Laure’s hope to thrive. Werner, in his parallel, is forced to work in a Hitler Youth programme on behalf of the Nazi cause. He must turn passion for science and radio that he once used to find music and the philosophical words of a Frenchman – he once used for good – into a tool to find and eliminate those against the Nazi cause. He must to facilitate the deaths of people who want only the same basic humanities he craved as a young, orphan boy; safety, happiness, care. His duty to the Nazi cause and fear of potential repercussions – if he were to demur – destroy his moral and hurt his integrity, stealing his light, and clouding his sight of hope. It is through fulfilling his baneful duties that Werner discovers Marie-Laure; Marie-Laure’s Uncle Etienne had radio broadcasts in the interest of the ‘rebel cause’. (Uncle Etienne, in a perfectly wholesome literary circle, is the same Frenchman who Werner had listened to on his radio and idolized as a child.) Werner, in meeting Marie-Laure – in seeing her for the first time – is reminded of the Werner he wants to be; the Werner who Jutta, his sister, begged him to remain; the Werner he knew he was, at heart. He decides he will not stand by and assist in the murder of undeserving people for the sake of a supposed cause. Werner saves Marie-Laure and Etienne, crediting Marie-Laure as the catalyst that brings light back to him, letting him open his eyes and allowing him to see his hope.

Werner comes to understand the reality he could have had, instead of the misery he endured with the Nazis, before meeting Marie-Laure, and is able to continue the rest of his life for the betterment of his moral stability and correction of his malfeasance; he needed a blind woman to help him see. He finally stands up for who he is and what he believes by helping Marie-Laure in the way he could not help himself or Jutta growing up, and how he could not help the people whose deaths he caused: by protecting her. As he briefly tells Jutta in the latter half of the book, he is a changed man, he knows he must stand up to Von Rumpel and the cause, he sees now. The time Werner and Marie-Laure share is not long, but nevertheless allows them to harbor a deep care for each other; Werner ultimately loses his life protecting her – as he took the stone which, provided a fantastical scapegoat for Marie-Laure’s misfortunes – in doing so, running from his Nazi obligations, and protecting himself.

The biggest troubles of Werner and Marie-Laure stem from their inability to see hope, from their closed eyes. Marie-Laure’s main personal struggles surface in the primary half of the book, as she learns to cope with her developing blindness, the loss of her father, the rise of Nazism, and her spatial ignorance upon leaving Paris. She is tempted, by hopelessness, to simply give up. But through the care and keeping of her father, Marie-Laure is able to develop her own persuasion of sight – to bear witness to the good in life, like the music and literature she broadcasts – which compensates her literal infirmity to visualize. She uses her sight to help the rebel cause in tandem with Etienne, and instill faith and hope (her own forms of sight) in characters like Madame Manec. Werner, in a similarly formatted escapade, begins as an orphaned underdog, eventually having the one thing he loves (science – his radio) used against him. In the wake of carrying out what the Nazi cause labels ‘duties’ – and Werner deems immoral, evil acts – Werner loses the sight that Marie-Laure possesses; the ability to see hope and light. He needs a task, the task of protecting Marie-Laure, to reiterate his personal beliefs and allow him to come into the visible, hopeful light, before he loses his life. Marie-Laure is able to overcome her blindness with moral vision, and Werner is able to move past his own blindness – hopelessness – thanks to Marie-Laure’s sight.

Childhood in All the Light We Cannot See: A Defining Moment

The chain of dependency is innate within human society. As children develop, their attitudes and behaviors are modeled after their parents. This mutual growth has sustained the relationship between a child and his or her parent. In All the Light We Cannot See (hereinafter referred to as “the Novel”), the influence of having and lacking parents is evident in the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, respectively. Despite the absence of Werner’s biological parents, the fundamental needs for love and care are upheld by the caregiver of the orphanage, Frau Elena. As proposed by David Suzuki in “Hidden Lessons” (hereinafter referred to as “the Essay”), the natural bond between a child and his or her parent surpasses the integrated relationship between society and its environment. As demonstrated in the Novel, the role of a parent is not bounded by blood; rather, the relationship is nurtured through time and substantive interactions. This bond is evidently present in the development of modern adolescents. Despite the independence that children acquire through age, the Novel and the Essay emphasize on the lasting effects that children experience through the relationship with their parents.

In the Essay, Suzuki stresses the importance of behaving cautiously in front of children. Unconsciously, children are constantly modeling after “the unspoken, negative lessons [that parents] are conveying” (Suzuki 129). Similarly, Werner has prioritized his the importance of his own career due to the disappearance of his father. Through the fear of experiencing the same fate as his father, Werner is desperate to avoid the coal mines. This demonstrates that parental influence can be conveyed through direct and indirect interactions. It should be emphasized that the influence of his father persists beyond his physical presence. Partially, the relationship has been shaped by a reactionary progression. That is, the relationship develops based on how each party reacts to the other. Unfortunately, this issue is neglected in the Essay due to its emphasis on parental influence over mutual influence. Since Suzuki is targeting specifically young children and their parents, the Essay is not considerate of the independence that older children gain. Through the development of independence, their thoughts become more personal. Likewise, Werner may have grew up without his biological parents, but his limited experience with them creates a foundation for his mindset. As he becomes more independent, Werner adapts according to his relationship with his father rather than abandoning his past. The adaptive characteristic of a parent-child relationship has allowed for a mutual yet independent development for both parties.

Although Werner had lost his biological parents, the role has been fulfilled by Frau Elena after being sent to an orphanage. Throughout Werner’s life, he has always been inspired by the words of Frau Elena. Despite the lack of consanguinity, her influence on Werner is substantial. While Suzuki addresses mainly parents, he starts the Essay with the recognition of “a world [that is] conceived, shaped, and dominated by people” (Suzuki 127). This statement implies that human societies are driven through the interactions between individuals. Therefore, the group dynamic of humanity has given substantive qualities to every relationship that each individual partakes in. Due to the unique characteristics of these relationships, it is appropriate to consider Frau Elena to be a parent to Werner, because guardians and foster parents can adequately fulfill the fundamental role that a parent serves. As a matter of fact, Werner recognizes that Frau Elena is “as close to a mother as he will ever have” (Doerr 86). The emotional dependency that Werner feels is similar to the innate dependency that a child would feel with his or her biological parent. Ultimately, these physical and emotional dependencies create the influential effects that parents and guardians pertain.

Due to the immense influence that parents have, Suzuki reminds his readers to think conscientiously and act accordingly. In the Essay, there is an overt emphasis on being prudent and aware of the future consequences of their actions. However, the parents from the Novel seldom reflect on their actions. Marie-Laure’s father, Daniel, reflects on his choices only before his departure from her. In retrospect, there is always “a fear that he is no good as a father” (Doerr 188). Since it can be difficult to envision the errors of one’s actions, people are often deterred from acting beyond intuition. As Suzuki explains, the generational continuation of ignorance has threatened the environment and the potential survival of humanity. That is, the ideas of one generation can be easily passed onto the next if parents do not reflect on the merit of their own decisions. Due to conformity, the parent-child relationship for one family can be influenced by mainstream society. As demonstrated in the Novel, Daniel may be able to question his actions in retrospect, but there is still an uncertainty from the existing circumstances. Due to the war and his duty in protecting the Sea of Flames, Daniel is forced to abandon his duty of caring for Marie-Laure over the duty of his job. Nevertheless, Daniel still acknowledges his responsibility in protecting Marie-Laure by entrusting it to Etienne, her great-uncle. Similarly, this duty of care is promoted in the Essay as a means of reminding parents that environmental pollution “has violated their home” (Suzuki 129). By making environmental issues more personal, Suzuki is able to convey his arguments to his readers. One of the main concerns about climate change is the sustainability of future generations. Although it is difficult for parents to consistently be prudent of their actions, the underlying principle of protection has guided the decision-making in a parent-child relationship.

However, the principle of protection has conflicted with the many aspirations of each party. This is evident in the relationship between Werner and Frau Elena. While they want the best for each other, they still want to fulfill their personal dreams and commitments. The difference is that Frau Elena wishes to continue caring for Werner, yet he wishes to continue his studies. Interestingly, Werner’s aspirations have been strongly motivated by Frau Elena’s encouragement. In fact, Suzuki suggests that the natural aspirations of children can be completely altered through parental involvement. Although “all scientists were fascinated with nature as children,” many of them are changed by the “hidden lessons” that parents give (Suzuki 128 – 129). Likewise, the disappearance of Werner’s father has also influenced his aspirations. Rather than inspiring Werner, his father indirectly warns him of what to avoid. Due to the mutual yet independent characteristic of the parent-child relationship, each party has his or her own interpretation of the relationship and how to contribute to it. While Werner’s father is no longer with him, Werner still interprets his view of reality through the memories of their past relationship. Due to a mutual influence on each other, personal aspirations merge into common goals and vice versa. Although Frau Elena was reluctant to let Werner leave, it is ultimately agreed that it is the most beneficial toward Werner’s future. Again, the principle of protection gives priority to the long-term happiness of the child. The process of compromise has shaped the aspirations of each party while maintaining satisfaction between them. By finally acknowledging Werner as being self-sufficient, Frau Elena accepts that she has fulfilled her duty of care for Werner. Effectively, the adaptation of personal aspirations helps settle the relationship to a state of mutual happiness.

However, mutual happiness is not eternal, and when there is a loss thereof, a desire for status quo is created. Since Marie-Laure and Daniel were happy with their life in Paris, they are shocked by the fact that they are fleeing from it. During their time in Paris, Marie-Laure “presume[s] she would live with her father in Paris for the rest of her life”; thus, she does not aspire for anything more (Doerr 72). It is until they fled Paris that they aspire for a status quo in their life. This suggests that mutual happiness allows for personal happiness, and if removed, their personal aspirations become a demand for nostalgia. To the child, the relationship outlines an ideal standard of life. When Werner lost his father, he tries to convinces himself that eventually his “father might come shuffling out of the elevators” (Doerr 86). Mainly, Werner is trying to help his sister, Jutta, accepts that the unfortunate had happened. Both Werner and Jutta have trouble with accepting a reality without their biological family. Likewise, Marie-Laure is in despair from the disappearance of Daniel. In both situations, the loss of a parent has a negative effect on the child. However, an important stage of the parent-child relationship is accepting the reality of death. Although death is part of the cycle, it does not signify any loss in the value of the relationship nor the amount of influence that it has had on the child. Instead, these obstacles evoke each party to appreciate and to long for the pleasant memories from their relationship.

While Suzuki emphasizes on the negative influence of parental involvement, the Novel highlights the encouraging and inspirational influence that parents provide. As a matter of fact, Suzuki acknowledges that the “efforts to teach children to love and respect other life forms are priceless” (Suzuki 129). That is, negative behaviors can only be avoided and corrected through positive parental involvement. There is little doubt about the impact that parenting can have, but there is a strong debate about which parenting style is the most effective. Terms such as “helicopter” and “free-range” parenting are used to classify the level of parental involvement. Helicopter parenting is described as being over-protective; while, free-range parenting is described as being neglectful (Sauriol). Arguably, Marie-Laure is raised by an helicopter parent and Werner is raised by a free-range parent. According to Suzuki, it is not about the level of parental involvement; instead, it is the implications that are conveyed to the child. As stated by Sauriol, balance is the most important part in parenting. While Daniel is a protective father, Marie-Laure is more confident and independent than what is suggested by stereotypical media. Naturally, the question of parenting style is based on compromise between the child and his or her parent. In terms of Marie-Laure, it is natural for Daniel to be concerned due to her blindness. Likewise, Marie-Laure accepts and appreciates the level of care that is provided to her. In accordance to the principle of protection, all forms of parenting are in the best interest of the child. The question lies on whether the parent has an healthy interpretation of what is beneficial for the child.

Nevertheless, most modern families maintain a nurturing and pleasant parent-child relationship. In fact, modern adolescents are delaying their departure from the parental home. It implies that they have a stronger attachment and dependency than preceding generations. According to the 2011 Census of Population, 42.3% of those who are aged 20 to 29 remain or return to the parental home. In comparison, the statistics from 1991 and 1981 were 32.1% and 26.9%, respectively. This trend in modern society provides a mutual benefit to the parent and the child. That is, the child gains from the emotional and financial support that are provided by the parent; while, the parent gains from the contributions that are made to the household (Milan and Bohnert). Similar to the attitude of Marie-Laure, modern adolescents are more willing to live with their parents. It does not necessarily mean that modern adolescents are any less independent; rather, they are becoming more defined by their parent-child relationship.

Since parents are the primary agent of socialization, moral principles are learned from childhood through family interactions. During Werner’s moral dilemmas, he imagines “his mother and father … watching him through the rattling window to see what he would do” (Doerr 251). The implication is that personal morals are ultimately a manifestation of parental ideals. When Werner was attending the National Political Institute of Education, his personal morals persist despite the teachings from the school. This justifies the willingness to stay in the parental home, because children are already accustomed to the family in which they grew up in. Although parents may conform to society, children are primarily influenced by their parents instead of the society in general.

Throughout the lives of children, experience shapes the various aspects of their personalities. As warned by Suzuki, parental involvement may unconsciously tarnish the natural progression of their growth. However, the parent-child relationship is an essential part of every child’s life. Doerr effectively exhibits that the fundamental element of love is innate within humanity as the parent-child relationship transcends consanguinity. In modern society, the natural bond within families are ever growing as adolescents delay their transition into full independence. While children will grow to be discreet individuals, their personalities shall be a manifestation of the qualities that are modeled from the substantive interactions with their parents. As the issue of child development lies in the hands of parents, every moment is crucial to the potential of the future generations.

Works Cited

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel. New York: Scribner, 2014. Print.

Milan, Anne, and Nora Bohnert. “Living Arrangements of Young Adults Aged 20 to 29.” Statistics Canada. Canada.ca, 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 May 2016. .

Sauriol, Kerry. “What’s Between Helicopter and Free-Range Parenting? Common Sense.” CBC Parents. CBC/Radio-Canada, 30 May 2013. Web. 02 May 2016. .

Suzuki, David. “Hidden Lessons.” The Act of Writing: Canadian Essays for Composition. 6th ed. Conrad, Ronald. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2003. Print.