Summary and Analysis
PART ONE: 1934 “Light” to “The Principles of Mechanics”
After struggling week after week to navigate her neighborhood based on her father’s model, Marie-Laure finally succeeds in making her way home without help. Each year on her birthday, her father gives her books written in Braille and wooden puzzle boxes with candy hidden inside. Marie-Laure hears more rumors about the diamond called the Sea of Flames, and she worries that her father’s job as a locksmith at the museum might have caused him to go near it and bring disaster on them.
Werner begins to feel Hitler’s influence in his daily life. Other boys at the orphanage are joining the Hitler Youth, and he learns that once he turns 15 he will be sent to work in the coal mines. Werner escapes from this dismal world by listening to the radio with Jutta. Together they discover a station on which a Frenchman broadcasts science lessons. A German government minister visiting the children’s home catches Werner reading a book about mechanics and confiscates it because the author is Jewish.
Werner’s slowly mounting fear of the circumstances around him accurately represents the German experience leading up to WWII. Hitler’s rise to power wasn’t sudden or dramatic; it was marked by slow, subtle shifts. (Madame Manec will later compare this slow onset of oppression to a frog being boiled to death, the frog not noticing the change in heat because it happens slowly.) Radio propaganda and Hitler Youth programs were early warning signs of Hitler’s totalitarian leadership, and these were soon followed by the censorship of potentially “subversive” (especially Jewish) writing and radio broadcasts.
With the world changing so drastically (albeit slowly) around them, Werner and Marie-Laure find themselves increasingly taking comfort in the imagined “worlds within worlds” of radio and literature. For Marie-Laure, her Braille books, most of which are written by French adventure writer Jules Verne, offer her a way of vicariously experiencing the visual and adventurous world so foreign to her own experience. For Werner, the lessons of the French-speaking “professor” on the radio appeal to his endless curiosity about the world. The Nazis have discouraged this curiosity by taking away his books and telling him his future will be to work in a coal mine. Both children use their “worlds within worlds” to imagine the future they want rather than the future their place in global history has predetermined.