Summary and Analysis Chapter 20



Isabelle returns to France much more easily than she left it, catching a train for Paris. On her return, she thinks that Gaëtan is following her, but he doesn’t reveal himself. She meets with a new group of Allied airmen seeking to escape.

With no source of income, Vianne and Sophie are cold and hungry during the winter while Beck is away. Vianne sells her mother’s pearls, starving herself to feed Sophie. One day after church, she faints from hunger. Beck returns from his long absence just in time to carry her home and tend to her recovery, persuading her to eat again. Rachel learns that she and her daughter, Sarah, must wear yellow stars on their clothing to show that they are Jewish.


What happens when an act that seems selfless and noble turns out to be less helpful than a seemingly selfish one? Vianne and Sophie face this paradox. Vianne has been starving herself so Sophie can have more food, but both Rachel and Beck point out  that her death would only hurt Sophie more. Vianne must “selfishly” care for herself in order to care for Sophie. Later, Sophie volunteers to wear a yellow star as a sign of solidarity with her friend Sarah. Such an act of love, however, would only draw more attention to both of them; thus, Sophie must “selfishly” let her friend wear the star alone.

Vianne’s sense of guilt as she accepts Beck’s assistance and food raises again the question of complicity: By allowing Beck to help her, does Vianne become, in some sense, responsible for what the Nazis have done? Her response to the food he offers—the scent “seduce[s]” her—also suggests her growing sexual attraction to Beck, which only deepens her sense of guilt.

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