Can War Affect Humanity? in Book All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

It is very difficult to explain the tragedies of WWII to someone who didn’t experience it. Anthony Doerr does a phenomenal job using the characters Marie-Laure and Werner to show how difficult life was during war. Marie-Laure, a young blind girl forced to move from her home with her papa (father) to France due to the Nazi uprising; Werner, who is an orphan in Germany with his sister Jutta. Werner soon in the novel will be forced into the Nazi army.

Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See despite the problems that arise for each character does the job of making you understand the struggles of war against humanity. Doerr uses Marie-Laure and Werner as archetypes to exemplify how war affects humanity. Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See is an emotionally written story to exemplify through the characters Marie Laure and Warner the tragedies of WWII. Doerr using two children with their own problems makes the story even more emotionally challenging to read.

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You’ve heard stories about Anne Frank and such, but this is just more of a story to add two more of thousands swallowed up in a conflict they had nothing to do with.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind girl who is living with her widowed master locksmith at the Museum do Natural History in Paris is shy, courageous and resourceful. Marie has learned how to navigate through all of her surroundings with a wooden-scale model made by her papa. When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, Marie and her father fled to Saint-Malo to live with Marie’s Uncle Etienne.

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Soon enough Marie’s father is arrested by Germans and disappears leaving Marie Laure alone with her Uncle and his housekeeper. Marie’s blindness does not stop her from being adventurous and courageous though, “A lack of sight, however, never stops Marie-Laure from appreciating and exploring the world around her. In fact, Marie-Laure undergoes an important realization through her relationship with Etienne.” (Lammata, 1 “the theme”). She realizes from her growing relationship with Etienne that, “a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark” (Doerr 160). Marie applies this realization to her life, which helps her ultimately get through her problems and struggles.

In Germany, there is Werner Pfenning an orphan with a given gift of understanding circuitry. Werner and his sister Jutta find a broken shortwave radio behind the orphanage they live in. Werner hears one day after repairing the radio a Frenchman saying, “ What do we call visible light? We call it color. But.. really, children, mathematically, all of Light is invisible.” (Doerr 63) this intrigued Werner and gives a glimpse on how the radio is important to him. The radio is his touch to the outside world, and it exemplifies his passion for science and soon his gift for radio mechanics earn him a place at a nightmarish training school for the Nazi military elite. Werner obeys what he learns in the special school that he should “eat” country and “obey” nation. After graduation from the taking school he moves on to Wehrmacht where he finds senders of the illegal radio transmissions.

Werner is disgusted when he finds what happens to those who are on the other side of the radio signal, “Inside the closet is not a radio but a child sitting on her bottom with a bullet through her head.” (Doerr 368). This was Werner’s turning point of thought, disregarding all he has learned from being practically brainwashed by the Nazi’s he is haunted by the words of the Frenchman’s broadcasts. This made him remember a time where science was something of wonder and not death. Marie and Werner don’t actually cross paths until 1944 when the Allied forces land on Normandy and Werner’s unit is dispatched to Saint-Malo to trace and try to destroy the sender of mysterious intelligence broadcast.

Marie is used as an archetype in a sense to show innocence in the story, “She lives to see the century turn. She lives still” (Doerr 527). Despite throughout the book all of her challenges, the loss of her father and especially her blindness Marie is able to push past her sadness and grief to continue on with life. An important aspect of All The Light We Cannot See is how much power humans actually have to choose their own destinies and how our lives are predetermined by the surroundings around us. For instance, when Werner tells Marie that she has been brave throughout their journey and she responds by saying, “I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”

Werner answers saying, “not in years. But today. Today maybe I did.” (Doerr 469). This quote alone emphasizes that Marie has been fighting for the resistance, refusing to take the easy way out of life. You can clearly see all of the problems that are risen to the surface from her traumatic life. Marie-Laure is a heroic person in the story, despite the fact that it seems as though her life isn’t as rough as Werner’s. She goes through many internal struggles but does a job of hiding them with the innocent and courageous look Doerr gives her.

Werner Pfennig is used as an archetype in a sense to show an exploring and loving character. Werner from the beginning of his description is a unique person. He loves science and does as he is told but also is very opinionated in thought. “What it would be like to spend ten years in this y’all narrow house, shuttered from the world, studying its secrets and reading its volumes and looking at this girl.” (Doerr 472) This shows when Werner’s character changed from being inherently scientific to the so called “lover” side after he encounters Marie.

It is important to note that Marie changed Werner for the better. Even though he was already essentially a “good” person, he was almost confused with what was “good” and “bad”. Marie showed him the light that they couldn't see, she showed him the Light the Frenchman was referring to in the radio broadcast the Werner couldn’t figure out. You also see how much love Werner had for Marie when Werner killed von Rumpel. Werner killed him because he was going to kill Marie, and Werner didn’t want her innocent soul to die. “Werner lunges for Volkheimer”s rifle. All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” Werner’s character seems to do wrong throughout the book, but really does most of his actions are out of pure love.

Updated: Aug 17, 2022
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Can War Affect Humanity? in Book All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. (2022, Mar 31). Retrieved from

Can War Affect Humanity? in Book All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr essay
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