What does the title mean?

The title All the Light We Cannot See speaks to the idea that goodness can still exist in the world even when darkness and destruction seem to dominate. Marie-Laure does what she can to support her community during the war, and Werner defies orders in order to save her life. More broadly, the title emphasizes that so many individual stories, such as those of children, go untold. Structuring the novel around a collection of intersecting narratives rather than a single character allows Doerr to highlight this point. 

How does Marie-Laure’s blindness impact her understanding of the world?

When Marie-Laure goes blind at age six, she essentially has to relearn everything about the world around her. As she does so, she becomes more attuned to the small, simple details of her environment and finds joy in exploring the natural world. Losing her sight helps Marie-Laure appreciate the meaning inherent in ordinary moments, a quality which ultimately serves her as the Nazi occupation of France upends her life in Paris. She manages to keep her spirits up by learning all she can about Saint-Malo.

Why does Werner join the Nazi war effort?

After discovering a broken radio outside the orphanage, Werner becomes increasingly curious about electronics and teaches himself how to repair them. When the opportunity arises to go to the prestigious National Political Institute of Education, he eagerly applies and hopes that he will learn how to become an engineer. His time at school, however, focuses more on preparing him to serve the Nazi war effort rather than meaningfully enhancing his scientific knowledge. Werner does not begin to grasp how his work at Schulpforta enables Nazi brutality until he is too deep into his military service. 

Why does Marie-Laure throw the Sea of Flames into the ocean?

Marie-Laure discovers that her father hid the Sea of Flames in her model of Saint-Malo before he left for Paris and quickly realizes that the German officer hiding in her house, Reinhold von Rumple, is after it. Although she imagines a conversation with her father in which he attempts to convince her that the stone is protecting her from harm, she insists on leaving it in the ocean with the model of the house before Werner helps her escape to safety. By returning the gem to nature, Marie-Laure rids herself of its burdensome legends and the greed that follows.

How does Werner die?

After helping Marie-Laure escape to safety, French resistance fighters capture and imprison Werner. He quickly falls ill, developing a fever and struggling to keep food down. One night he wakes, his mind racing through memories of his past, and he walks outside only to step on a trigger land mine put in place by the Germans only months prior. Werner dies in the explosion, his death becoming yet another casualty of the Nazi war machine.