Summary and Analysis
PART FIVE: January 1941 “January Recess” to “Plage du Môle”
During a week-long recess from school, Werner goes home with Frederick to Berlin. Frederick’s family is wealthy, and Werner experiences luxury he has never known. Instead of enjoying it, though, he finds it troubling and oppressive. When Werner and Frederick return to Schulpforta, the cadets are awakened in the middle of the night to punish a foreign prisoner. The prisoner is tied to a stake in the snow, and each cadet, including Werner, throws a bucket of cold water on him as he slowly freezes to death. When Frederick’s turn comes, he refuses to throw the water, pouring out three buckets at his feet instead.
After not hearing from her father for weeks, Marie-Laure finally learns from the museum that he never arrived in Paris. Angrily, she shuts herself away from the world. To give her hope, Madame Manec goes against her father’s wishes and takes her outside to the beach. Marie-Laure has never experienced the ocean before, and it enthralls her.
A brief glimpse into the Nazis’ mistreatment of Jews occurs when Werner and Frederick meet Frederick’s neighbor Frau Schwartzenberger, a woman with a yellow Star of David stitched onto her coat to indicate her Semitic heritage. Werner later hears Frederick’s mother telling her friends about “the Schwartzenberger crone” who will be “gone by year’s end.” This attitude troubles Werner, who is reminded of Rödel’s assault on Frederick. Werner instinctively senses that Frau Schwartzenberger, like Frederick, is hated for being different.
One of the questions raised in this section is Frederick’s level of agency, the degree to which he has control over his destiny. In Berlin, Werner learns that Frederick is driven by a fierce sense of duty when he refuses Werner’s suggestion not to return to Schulpforta. “Your problem,” he tells Werner, “is that you still believe you own your life.” Although Frederick claims to be acting out of duty, he is willing to refuse the commandant’s order to throw water on the prisoner. He exercises agency even as he denies it.
Marie-Laure’s fascination for worlds within worlds plays out during her trip to the beach. She realizes that the ocean is outside the orderly world represented by her father’s model: Reality is both more vivid and more expansive than the artificial reality she has experienced inside Etienne’s house.