All the Light We Cannot See Themes

Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

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All the Light We Cannot See Themes


Many characters experience both literal and psychological entrapment in this novel. In one narrative arc, Werner is trapped in a basement by rubble after the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo. On a symbolic level, Marie-Laure is entrapped by her blindness and von Rumpel is trapped in his dying body. On a psychological level, Etienne is trapped by his agoraphobia, caused by the trauma of war; and Werner is trapped in his role first as a student at Schulpforta and later as a Wehrmacht soldier. Throughout the novel, Werner views the world in terms of people’s assigned roles and their imprisonment in them.

Each character fights his entrapment, and some are more successful than others at escaping or overcoming their traps. For example, Werner finally escapes the Reich at the end of the novel, when he decides not to report Etienne’s radio broadcasts and kills von Rumpel to save Marie-Laure. He falls in love with Marie-Laure, and through their meeting, the meaning of his life is transformed. Though Marie-Laure does not return his love, she is grateful to Werner and redeems his humanity by sharing the last of her food with him and by trusting him with the key to the grotto. Ultimately, she trusts him with a prize of incalculable value: the Sea of Flames.

Light versus Darkness

Throughout the novel, Doerr uses light, particularly moonlight, as an image of hope and escape from troubled circumstances. For example, Werner wanders toward the moon as he hallucinates at the end of his life; he escapes a tortured existence by stepping onto a land mine while walking, free, in the moonlight.

Significantly, the title of the novel refers to the fact that, mathematically, all light is invisible. Symbolically, light becomes a unifying force, revealing the sometimes hidden ties between all things and all people, even in times of war.

Light is also a weapon against darkness on many levels, particularly the light of the natural world—the moon and stars at night, the light upon the sea, and daylight itself—in lifting psychological darkness. For example, though Marie-Laure is blind, she experiences the sea as a kaleidoscope of light,…

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