Summary and Analysis
Food becomes scarce, and eventually Nazis occupy Carriveau. Isabelle, who is outspoken in her hatred of the Germans, hides all of her family’s valuables in the cellar beneath the barn. On the radio, she hears a broadcast from a man named Général de Gaulle, who argues that even though the French government has surrendered, the French resistance movement must continue.
The invading Nazis call a town meeting, announcing that everyone must turn over their radios and that the French soldiers (including Vianne’s and Rachel’s husbands) are being held prisoner in Germany. That day, a German captain named Wolfgang Beck arrives at Vianne’s house and declares that he will be living there. Isabelle is furious and vocally opposes the plan, but Vianne begs her sister to stay quiet.
One reason the Nazi invaders were so quick to confiscate people’s radios during their French occupation was that radio provided the easiest method for marshalling a coordinated resistance effort. Hearing Général de Gaulle’s broadcast inspires Isabelle to direct her fury against the Germans toward a larger movement instead of merely fighting ineffectually on her own.
The conflict between Isabelle and Vianne about how to respond to the German occupation of Carriveau, and especially to Beck’s occupation of their home, reveals their different perspectives on what matters most. Isabelle places her ideals first, preferring to risk her life rather than to surrender to German authority. Vianne’s highest priority is the safety of herself and her family, and she is willing to make increasingly costly sacrifices to remain safe. However, as Rachel observes, the Germans may keep demanding more and more until their demands become intolerable. In this sense, Vianne symbolizes much of Europe, which started out by making concessions to Hitler while his demands became increasingly intolerable.