All the Light We Cannot See | Study Guide

Anthony Doerr

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All the Light We Cannot See | Part 4 : 8 August 1944 | Summary



The Fort of La Cité

From the peninsular fortress just outside Saint-Malo, Sergeant Major von Rumpel views the bombed and burning city. He is looking for one house in particular: Number 4 rue Vauborel. He finds it still intact. Once the fires have burned out, German troops will reoccupy Saint-Malo. Then he will go in.

Von Rumpel is now a very sick man. Cancer has spread through his body like a "black vine" waiting to "chok[e] off his heart."

Atelier de Réparation

In the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, Werner assesses the damage to the radio equipment. It appears hopeless. Meanwhile, Volkheimer makes a valiant effort to dig out the mass of rubble blocking the staircase, but to no avail. Bernd the engineer is alive but horribly wounded.

Overhead, 10 tons of carbonized hotel and an untold amount of unexploded ordnance (ammunition) wait to crush the three men. Fire should have sucked all the oxygen from the cellar, but it has not. Werner wonders if their lives are being spared now because they have some greater price to pay for all they have done in the name of the Reich. Perhaps this is "a chamber in which to make reparations" or atelier de réparation, he thinks.

Two Cans

Marie-Laure wakes up in the cellar, the little model house in her pocket. All is quiet. She cannot tell if the house above has burned down while she slept, if the town has been liberated, if Etienne is alive or dead, or if the Germans still hold the town and are going door to door, executing whomever they please. Searching the cellar, she finds two cans of food, though what they contain she cannot tell. She hopes they are Madame Manec's preserved peaches. Then she sits down to wait.

To keep her mind off her bladder, Marie-Laure thinks about the time her father took her to the Panthéon in Paris. Here, he introduced her to Foucault's pendulum, which demonstrates Earth's rotation. Her father explained that Foucault's pendulum would never stop. "After she had forgotten about it, and lived her entire life, and died," it would continue swinging as the Earth rotated.

Number 4 rue Vauborel

Ashes cover Saint-Malo like snow. Sergeant Major von Rumpel makes his way through the blasted, burned-out city. At last he stands before the tall, slender house of Etienne LeBlanc. The windows of the façade are blown out, but that is all. Von Rumpel expects to find the diamond here. He reflects that sometimes "the eye of a hurricane is the safest place to be."

What They Have

Still trapped in the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, the men take stock of what they have: three rations of food, two half-empty canteens of water, two stick grenades, and Volkheimer's rifle. Bernd is dying, and Werner is ready to give up. But Volkheimer "wants to make an argument that life is worth living." He shows Werner two bent screwdrivers and a box of fuses he has found. He wants Werner to somehow use them to fix the radio. It's what they have. "Think of your sister," he mouths to Werner.

Trip Wire

Marie-Laure's bladder will not allow her to wait in the cellar any longer. Slowly, cautiously, she exits and makes her way to Madame Manec's tiny apartment, where there is a bedpan. She wonders what time it is.

Then, unsteady with hunger, she decides to open one of the cans of food, and locates a paring knife and brick in the tumult of the kitchen. Before eating she goes up to the third-floor bathroom, where water has been stored in the tub. She drinks as much as she can, knowing she will feel full more quickly if she does this first.

Finally, sitting on the third-floor landing, she prepares to pry open the can. At that moment a trip wire behind her jerks, a bell rings, and she knows someone has entered the house.


In Part 4 Saint-Malo is being bombed to rubble. Connections between people and the outside world have been severed, and communication has broken down. In addition, the forces of destiny and choice appear to be working in tandem, while the power of the Sea of Flames to spread fortune and misfortune seems more than a legend. And more layers are added to the characters of von Rumpel, Werner, and Volkheimer.

In the cellar of the Hotel of Bees, the radio is smashed, leaving the three men cut off from the outside world and hope of rescue. Werner is still unable to hear. In house Number 4 rue Vauborel, Marie-Laure is similarly alone, cut off from anyone who can help her. Even so, she possesses symbolic connections to her great-uncle, Madame Manec, and father in the forms of Etienne's coat, the two cans of food, and the model house carved by her father. These suggest that Marie-Laure is being watched over somehow.

Nevertheless, Marie-Laure cannot help but think of Foucalt's pendulum, which demonstrates and tracks the endless rotation of the Earth. In Marie-Laure's mind it represents the indifferent forces in the world that go on and on, careless of humans and their lives. The pendulum suggests inevitability, fate. The reader is reminded of Dr. Geffard's long-ago assessment of humankind: "Nearly every species that has ever lived has gone extinct ... No reason to think we humans will be any different!'

However, it is not a fatalistic attitude but resourcefulness that helps Marie-Laure locate food and tools for opening the cans. It prompts her to tamp down her hunger with water before eating. Back in the cellar at the Hotel of Bees, the reader is reminded that Werner is equally resourceful when Volkheimer presents him with two bent screwdrivers and fuses for fixing the radio. This introduces a ray of hope into their desperate situation.

At this point in the novel, destiny seems to be playing a powerful role in Werner's life. To escape a future in Zollverein's mines, Werner put himself in the hands of the Nazis. But as fate would have it, he is now buried alive, just as he might have been before. Trapped in the cellar of the hotel, he is suffering pangs of conscience and, for the first time in a while, he has nothing to do but think. He comes to the conclusion that he and his comrades are not yet dead because they are destined to pay for their past, for the choices they have made. They are entombed in a chamber "in which to make reparations." The reader does not yet know the details of their crimes. These are pieces to the puzzle that have yet to be revealed. However, Werner's train of thought suggests that destiny and choice may not oppose one another, but may work together to shape lives and events.

This idea relates to another driving force in the novel: the Sea of Flames. It is a symbol of unseen, irrational forces in the world, and events in the story suggest these forces are real. The stone is no longer in Daniel's hands, and misfortune has befallen him. On the other hand, Marie-Laure, who now possesses the stone, has come unscathed through the bombing while her great-uncle Etienne has disappeared. Like an enchanted house, Number 4 rue Vauborel still stands as if in "the eye of a hurricane," as von Rumpel imagines it.

Von Rumpel's presence in Saint-Malo was foreshadowed in Part 3. However, how he will affect or already has affected the lives of Daniel, Marie-Laure, Etienne, and Werner remains to be seen. What is clear is that von Rumpel is now working for himself. As he waits for the smoke to clear so he can enter the citadel, he does not ponder securing the Sea of Flames for the glory of the Reich. He thinks about the cancer growing in him like a black vine. This suggests that, in desperation, he seeks the diamond for its curative powers. He is ready to risk violating orders and duty to obtain it.

Part 4 deepens the complexity of Volkheimer's characterization. Werner labels Volkheimer "the blade of the Reich," suggesting that the staff sergeant has much blood on his hands. Yet he continues to treat the dreadfully wounded Bernd gently, with compassion. Unlike Werner, the staff sergeant is not ready to die to pay for past crimes. He frantically attacks the mound of debris blocking the stairway exit. But for the first time, his brute strength cannot overcome an obstacle, and he turns to Werner for help. He reveals a childlike trust in Werner's genius to fix the radio when he brings him odds and ends scrounged from the debris. And when he says to Werner, "Your sister ... Think of your sister," he appears to understand the boy well and knows what will stir him to try.

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