Summary and Analysis
PART THREE: June 1940 “Time of the Ostriches” to “Museum”
Marie-Laure’s father works urgently on a model of Saint-Malo for Marie-Laure as conditions intensify in the city. French citizens are ordered to surrender their radios; because Etienne stays shut up in his room, Madame Manec and Marie-Laure’s father gather the house’s many radios and turn them over to the authorities. However, they don’t know about the radio in the attic, and Marie-Laure chooses not to tell them.
During physical training at Schulpforta, a commandant asks one of the boys which member of their group is weakest. The boy who is chosen is given a head start running before the others chase him. He isn’t caught, but Werner senses that if he were, something horrible would happen to the boy.
Von Rumpel goes to the Museum of Natural History and demands the Sea of Flames diamond. Although the museum officials claim not to know what he is talking about, von Rumpel persists, threatening their families. They relent and lead him to the safe where a replica of the diamond is stored.
As life in Saint-Malo and all of France worsens under German occupation, the French do their best to ignore the situation. Madame Manec and her friends call this phenomenon “the time of ostriches,” referencing ostriches’ practice of burying their heads in sand. Throughout the world, this unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of German oppression was common. Other nations essentially aided Hitler’s rise to power, turning a blind eye to Nazi oppression.
The confiscation of radios in Saint-Malo is one such demonstration of German oppression. Significantly, this oppression is the first moment that Marie-Laure exhibits a degree of individual agency, making the choice of conscious resistance instead of simply being swept along by the world around her. Even though her decision not to tell her father and Madame Manec about the radio in the attic is a decision of inaction rather than of action, nonetheless it signals the first time she has taken her fate into her own hands.
For Werner, the training exercise with the weakest runner, which will be repeated and become more important later in the novel, increases his sense of impending doom. Werner feels the tension between whom he truly is and whom the Nazis expect him to be: He pities the weak runner, but he also wonders if part of him wants the boy to be caught and punished.