Summary and Analysis
In 1939, in her home in Carriveau, France, Vianne watches her husband, Antoine, and her daughter, Sophie, get ready for a picnic. She thinks back to her own childhood: the death of her mother when she was 14, the emotional absence of her father, and the neediness and constant tears of her her 4-year-old sister, Isabelle. With such a tumultuous family life, Vianne felt Antoine had offered her an escape.
After a blissful picnic, Antoine raises the subject of war with his wife. Vianne tries to ignore it, telling Antoine, “You are here to protect us.” That evening, Sophie observes that her father didn’t laugh at any of her stories that day, declaring that something must be wrong with him. Once Sophie is asleep, Antoine tells Vianne that he is being conscripted into the military and sent to fight the Germans.
Vianne’s repeated flashbacks to her childhood create the sense that history may repeat itself with Vianne’s daughter, Sophie. When Sophie asks Vianne if war is coming, Vianne tells her daughter not to be afraid, but Vianne remembers her own mother reassuring her before her father went to war. The tragedy of Vianne’s own childhood as a result of World War I makes her even more afraid that this tragedy will repeat itself for her family as a result of World War II.
The beautiful sensory details in the chapter heighten this sense of fear. The fear of war makes the tastes and sights and smells that Vianne enjoys more poignant; Vianne may lose the ability to replicate these particular sensations if war comes.
While Vianne’s refusal to acknowledge the onset of war might seem unreasonable, most of Europe was slow to acknowledge that Hitler’s aggression would lead to war. In this sense, Vianne’s desire to turn a blind eye to the arrival of war makes her representative of the world around her.