Summary and Analysis
PART ONE: 1934 “Rumors” to “Making Socks”
Rumors of Germany’s invading France become reality, and Marie-Laure and her father prepare to evacuate Paris. Marie-Laure is afraid to leave everything she has known, all the more afraid because a group of boys tauntingly tell her that the Germans will rape her if they catch her.
Werner joins the Hitler Youth, which is now mandatory for German children. His mechanical skill is improving, and he gains a reputation in his neighborhood as a radio repairman. Despite his dreams of greatness, he is now 14 years old and knows he will be sent to the coal mines in a year, regardless of his talent. The Nazi government makes it illegal to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, but Jutta continues to do so using Werner’s radio. One night Werner catches Jutta listening to the radio, and they learn that German airplanes are bombing Paris.
As war approaches, the question of individual choices becomes more important than ever: What power do these children have to make their own choices given their place in history? Leaving Paris is not Marie-Laure’s decision but her father’s, and even that decision seems forced on him by circumstances outside of his control. Meanwhile, Werner’s “choice” to join the Hitler Youth and his “choice” to listen to German propaganda instead of foreign radio broadcasts are not really choices because they are forced on him by the government.
Although both Werner and Marie-Laure seem to be evidence that people’s actions are completely predetermined by their circumstances, Jutta complicates this understanding. Jutta shares her brother’s inquisitiveness, but instead of asking questions about science, she challenges the way the world is run. She doesn’t trust what the government says, and she dares to violate the ban on listening to foreign radio broadcasts. She is proof that it’s possible to be an independent thinker in Nazi Germany. Despite her independence, though, she is in many ways just as much a captive of the system as her brother. Her independent spirit can’t stop the Reich from acting on her behalf, and she seems to feel guilty for being German when she tells her brother that “our” airplanes are bombing Paris.