Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "All the Light We Cannot See Study Guide." Course Hero. 24 Feb. 2018. Web. 16 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, February 24). All the Light We Cannot See Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "All the Light We Cannot See Study Guide." February 24, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018.


Course Hero, "All the Light We Cannot See Study Guide," February 24, 2018, accessed November 16, 2018,

All the Light We Cannot See | Symbols



The radio symbolizes the power of a machine to do good or evil, depending on the hands that operate it.

In the novel, radio transmissions have the power to form invisible links between people and ideas. It becomes the source of beauty, wonder, and truth: beautiful music and science lessons. It is radio that first connects Werner with the French Professor and then with Marie-Laure. Without that link, nothing wonderful could happen in the novel. There would be no eye-opening revelations for Werner thanks to the Professor, no protection for Marie-Laure thanks to the Professor's connection to Werner, and no final salvation and redemption for Werner thanks to Marie-Laure. For Werner's sister, Jutta, the radio symbolizes a conduit for truth beyond the borders of Germany. To Etienne LeBlanc, his many radios symbolize his fragile relation with the outside world.

In Etienne's broadcasts of his dead brother's science lessons for children, the radio becomes a link to a voice from the past. These broadcasts memorialize Henri and keep his ideas alive. On a larger scale the radio represents all of the invisible stories of people that, as Marie-Laure imagines, might still "fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough."

The radio also provides opportunities to spread lies in the form of propaganda, and to destroy connections. As Werner hunts for resistance fighters via their transmissions, the understanding that he is using his beloved technology for a harmful purpose gnaws at his soul. He is especially haunted by the senseless murder of a mother and child in Vienna as a result of his work.

Sea of Flames

The Sea of Flames symbolizes the irrational elements in the world that challenge a rational worldview. It represents the antithesis of the guiding principles of logic and reason by which Daniel LeBlanc, Marie-Laure, and Nazi treasure hunter von Rumpel live.

The Sea of Flames is a fabulous diamond over which wars might have been fought. It carries a legendary curse: Its keeper will live forever, but misfortune will befall all those he loves. Events in the lives of Daniel, Marie-Laure, and von Rumpel seem to affirm the legend. As principal locksmith for the Paris museum where the stone is kept, Daniel holds the keys to the vault and is technically keeper of the diamond. Daniel's father dies in WWI, his wife dies in childbirth, and his daughter loses her sight. In Saint-Malo he entrusts the diamond to Marie-Laure, and next all those she loves fall victim to misfortune. Nazi treasure hunter Reinhold von Rumpel hunts the stone in desperate hopes that the legend is true. He traces the precious jewel to Saint-Malo and is killed as he attempts to seize it from Marie-Laure.

The Sea of Flames tempts Daniel, Marie-Laure, and von Rumpel to believe in the fantastic and mystical. Its legend incites their hopes and fears. The stone represents superstition and forces in the world that cannot be explained. Its presence in the novel generates a sense of dark magic and possibility. Its curse challenges the humanistic life stance that all things begin with human beings; they alone shape and give meaning to their lives.


For Marie-Laure, mollusks represent tenaciousness and endurance—qualities she needs amid the danger and chaos of war. They also represent a bond between Marie-Laure and her uncle.

From her days with Dr. Geffard at the Natural History Museum, Marie-Laure has developed a love for mollusks. They are fascinating creatures she understands and can identify by touch. She learns to order their shells by size and morphology, or formation. Later, surrounded by the disordered world of war, she passes the time trapped indoors exploring and ordering the shells in Etienne's study. The mollusks, like familiar friends, help her to endure "the slow rain of hours."

Marie-Laure admires the mollusk's ability to withstand the assault of outside forces; to thrive in a harsh world, battered by the sea and attacked by birds. It is armored, impervious, and tenacious, clinging to its rock and living "moment to moment, centimeter to centimeter." In Saint-Malo, Marie-Laure looks to these qualities as a guide for surviving wartime stresses and peril. She even lightheartedly adopts the code name "the Whelk" when she joins Madame Manec in the resistance movement.

Shells represent a bond that, once established, grows strong between Marie-Laure and her uncle. Marie-Laure's favorite mollusk is the whelk. Coincidentally, it is the first shell in the trail of shells Etienne sets out like breadcrumbs to lead Marie-Laure to his fifth-floor room for the first time. She has told Madame Manec of her interest in seashells, so Etienne chooses this whimsical method of introducing himself. Shells are also the first gift from the outside world that Marie-Laure brings home to Etienne. They remind him of better times when he and his brother Henri played on the beach as boys.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about All the Light We Cannot See? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!