All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Part 2 : 8 August 1944 | Summary




The fortress city of Saint-Malo shatters, crumbles, and erupts in flames as the bombers finish their work, peel away, and regroup over the Channel. Explosions on the rue de la Crosse lift the Hotel of Bees in a spiral of flame. It rains in pieces back to earth.

Number 4 rue Vauborel

Curled into a ball beneath her bed, Marie-Laure calls out for Papa. Clutched in her left fist is the blue stone, and in her right, the model house. To her the bombing feels as if a colossal tree in the middle of Saint-Malo is being pulled up by the hand of God. Its vast network of roots that spread beneath the city is coming up, too, dragging along great heaps and clumps of granite. Then as the world settles, Marie-Laure smells smoke and knows something huge is burning beyond the shutters of her window; perhaps the entire town. She tries to calm herself with the thought that this is not reality.

Hotel of Bees

The hotel has been hit, and when Werner recovers from the shock of it, he is in absolute darkness. A roaring sound deafens his ears, and the side of his face is wet. He is on his knees and cannot stand because the ceiling has come down. He cannot find his field light and has no idea where his two companions—Bernd and Frank Volkheimer—may be. He shouts into the darkness, "Are we dead? Have we died?"

Down Six Flights

As the sound of the bombers fades away, the whistle and crash of artillery shells begins. One lands very near Number 4 rue Vauborel, and Marie-Laure knows she must get downstairs. In stocking feet—she cannot find her shoes—she starts down the stairwell, stopping on the third floor to drink her fill from a bathtub that has been filled with water. In the center of the first-floor kitchen, a trap door in the floor leads to a damp cellar. Marie-Laure grabs a half-loaf of bread from the cupboard, checks that she has the model house and its treasure safely tucked in her dress pocket, and starts down the cellar ladder, shutting the trap door after her.


In the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, Werner sees a light moving over the rubble. It is Volkheimer searching for his companions. His field light finds a mound of brick, mortar, and plaster that had been the staircase. Lifting aside chunk after chunk, he uncovers Bernd. After carrying the engineer to a still-upright armchair, Volkheimer searches for and finds Werner. The boy tells him they must find another way out. Still unable to hear, Werner reads the staff sergeant's lips: There is no other way out.


Part 2 picks up and moves along the storylines of Marie-Laure and Werner in Saint-Malo that began in Part Zero. The reader returns to the bombing of the city on August 8, 1944. The citadel that has withstood onslaughts for hundreds of years is in danger of being obliterated. This conjures up the words of the aging mollusk expert Dr. Geffard, who tells Marie-Laure in Part 1's "Rumors" section, "Nearly every species that has ever lived has gone extinct, Laurette. No reason to think we humans will be any different!" The Hotel of Bees is lifted and rains down to earth in pieces. Marie-Laure imagines the whole city being torn apart by the hand of God. Once again she cries out for her father, and the reader wonders where he is. Reflecting the motifs of lies as a form of self-protection, Marie-Laure tells herself that what is happening is not real.

In the cellar, Werner regains consciousness following the blast that leveled the Hotel of Bees. The cellar ceiling has caved in and he is unable to sit up, sharply reminding the reader of Werner's fear of the mines and being trapped. He is physically reliving his experience in Zollverein when the official from the Labor Ministry visits the orphanage. The man looks at the children as fodder for the mines. In his presence, Werner felt the ceiling of the room slip lower and the walls constrict. Not only is Werner trapped, but he cannot hear, and for a while he is surrounded by absolute blackness. Thus cut off from the others, he is as alone and sightless as Marie-Laure.

Marie-Laure demonstrates her bravery and presence of mind when she flees to the cellar. Her decision advances the theme of destiny in opposition to choices. Rather than giving in to fear and a fatalistic view that she is doomed, she summons her skills for navigating in darkness and finds her way to safety. This contrasts with Werner's situation in the cellar of the Hotel of Bees.

When Volkheimer locates Werner in the rubble, he says they are trapped with no way out. The reader is left with a cliffhanger that also supports the theme about destiny. Readers wonder: Has fate spared the two soldiers' lives only to let them die slowly from lack of food, water, and air? Or is there something they can do to save themselves and cheat fate?

Finally, in the vignette "Trapped," the character of Volkheimer begins to come into focus. The ease with which he moves the body of Bernd—as if he is "a child in the staff sergeant's arms"—provides a sense of the German man's size and strength. Yet he handles the wounded man gently. He is genuinely concerned for Werner's welfare and takes care when he touches the blood on Werner's cheek. There is humanity in this portrayal that, as Volkheimer's story spins out, will be at odds with his cold detachment in performance of his military duties.

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