All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Epigraphs | Summary


All the Light We Cannot See unfolds in numbered, named parts, beginning with Part Zero: 7 August 1944. The part names provide important information to orient the reader given the novel's frequent leaps back and forth in time. Each of these parts is further divided into named sections.


The novel opens with two epigraphs, or short quotations setting the stage for the story to come. The first is a quote from English historian Philip Beck, author of The Burning of Saint-Malo, describing the catastrophic destruction of the city in World War II. The second is from a 1933 speech by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. It attributes the Nazis' ability to "take power [and] use it in the ways we have" to the radio.


The epigraphs signal the critical importance of a place and an object to the novel. Saint-Malo is where all the disparate plot threads will come together. The radio plays a key part in the story as a simultaneous inspiration for Werner Pfennig's love of science, vehicle for Nazi propaganda, and voice of the French resistance. It illustrates the way in which science can be used for good or ill, depending on the hands that manipulate it.

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