Summary and Analysis
PART FIVE: January 1941 “Old Ladies’ Resistance Club” to “Alive Before You Die”
Madame Manec and her friends begin working mischief against the Germans. A resistance fighter named Hubert Bazin leads Marie-Laure to a locked grotto (natural cave) full of snails and gives a key to the gate to her. Later, Madame Manec and Marie-Laure meet a resistance fighter who tells Madame Manec what kinds of information will be valuable to the Allies. After this meeting, Madame Manec asks Etienne to help her resistance effort by using his radio transmitter. Etienne refuses.
Frederick disappears one morning, and Werner goes to the infirmary looking for him. He finds an empty bed covered in blood; a nurse tells him Frederick has been transferred for surgery and isn’t coming back. Werner stops writing Jutta because the memories are too painful. She sends him his childhood notebook to remind him of the person he used to be.
Von Rumpel gets a medical exam, and the doctor tells him a biopsy is necessary due to his groin and lymph nodes swelling.
While Werner is wrestling with his feelings of helplessness at Schulpforta, he remembers one of the lines from the French professor’s radio shows from his youth: “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” This call to awareness and action is an important theme in both Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s worlds. Werner notices that the boys around him all seem intoxicated with exercise and mindless obedience. The commandant lectures them that “minds are not to be trusted.” This message is the opposite of what Werner learned as an inquisitive child, what he and Jutta used to hold most dear.
Meanwhile, Madame Manec demonstrates what it can be like to fight against an oppressive system and feel alive. She tells Marie-Laure that resisting the Germans makes her feel young again. When Etienne refuses to help the resistance effort because it is too dangerous, Madame Manec asks him, “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” She embodies the idea that although seizing the opportunity to make personal decisions in the face of the German occupation is a risk, it is a worthwhile one.