Summary and Analysis
PART THREE: June 1940 “The Wardrobe” to “The Arrest of the Locksmith”
Etienne emerges from his room and learns about the confiscation of the radios. Marie-Laure explains her choice regarding the radio still in the attic. Initially, he wants to surrender it to the Germans, but Marie-Laure convinces him it is too late. Paranoid that Nazis might search the house and find the radio, they move a large wardrobe in front of the door to the attic.
Marie-Laure’s father receives a summons from the museum to return to Paris. He finishes the model of Saint-Malo and hides the Sea of Flames diamond inside, leaving it with Marie-Laure. On his way to Paris, he is arrested. After the police interrogate him, they send him to a prison camp in Germany.
Werner continues studying under Dr. Hauptmann and becoming closer friends with Frederick. During a training exercise, a boy named Helmut Rödel says that Frederick is the weakest among them. The boys chase Frederick, and Rödel catches him. The commandant orders Rödel to beat Frederick brutally with a hose. Werner watches helplessly.
While studying with Hauptmann, Werner asks why the math problems he is solving are important. Hauptmann answers, “It’s only numbers, cadet…Pure math. You have to accustom yourself to thinking that way.” This reasoning seems innocent enough to Werner, but it will become much more ominous later, when Werner learns that these numbers can be used to calculate the locations of radio broadcasts and soldiers kill the people who operate them. Hauptmann’s encouragement to think of the process as “only numbers” is a way of dehumanizing his enemies.
The troubling state of morality in Werner’s world is explored even more fully as Werner watches Frederick get beaten. As a bystander, Werner feels complicit in Frederick’s beating. He tries to escape the feeling by thinking of home, but the images of home only remind him that what he is watching seems wrong. He struggles to understand how his environment can make something so brutal—Frederick’s beating—seem normal.
Werner becomes symbolic here of the many German citizens during WWII who were troubled by their nation’s actions but didn’t know how to respond and instead simply stood by, allowing atrocities to occur. Werner’s character demonstrates how this can happen to any human being.