"She cursed the stone and whoever kept it…the curse was this: the keeper of the stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortunes would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain."

As a young child, Marie-Laure learns of the Sea of Flames and the dark legend that accompanies it. This quotation, which appears in the first chapter of Part One, describes the curse and emphasizes the significance of the stone’s legacy. The idea that the Sea of Flames can grant eternal life situates the stone itself as a timeless artifact whose centuries-old stories continue to resonate in the present day. Given how much of the novel’s action centers around the pursuit of this historic legend, Doerr seems to suggest that the present is inextricably linked to the past. 

“‘You mean he was more scared of things?’ ‘I mean lost. A mouse in a trap. He saw dead people passing through the walls. Terrible things in the corners of the streets. Now your great-uncle does not go outdoors.’”

Marie-Laure asks Madame Manec numerous questions after her arrival in Saint Malo in the chapter “Occuper” from Part Three, including this one about Etienne’s reserved character. The fact that her great-uncle remains locked away in his house years after the end of World War I highlights just how much events of the past can impact present attitudes and behaviors. Etienne carries the dark memories of the war with him every day, a psychological burden which controls his life.

"Because Etienne has stopped feeling nauseated in the afternoons; his vision has stayed clear, his heart untroubled…When Marie Laure comes through the front door with the bread, when he's opening the tiny scroll in his fingers, lowering his mouth to the microphone, he feels unshakeable; he feels alive."

This quotation, which comes from the chapter entitled “Fall” in Part Seven, reflects the changing relationship that Etienne has with his past. With Marie-Laure’s determined spirit and their acts of resistance playing a significant role in his day-to-day life, Etienne no longer has time to dwell on his dark memories from the first world war. Instead, he finds meaning and purpose in the present, allowing him to break free of his suffocating past.

"It's surely nonsense, yet something hangs inside it, some truth he does not want to allow himself to apprehend, and as she speaks, she ages, silver hair lays down on her head, her collar frays; she becomes an old woman—his understanding of who hovers at the rim of his consciousness."

As Werner lies trapped beneath the Hotel of Bees in the chapter “Final Sentence” from Part Ten, he has a vision of the innocent Viennese girl whom Volkheimer killed that transforms into the image of Frau Schwartzenberger from Frederick’s apartment building. This nightmare foreshadows the kind of emotional toll that Werner’s past experiences will have on him for the rest of his life. The fact that the figure who haunts him changes identity suggests that his memories are blurring together, an effect which reflects his unsuccessful attempts to suppress the overall shame he feels for his involvement in the war effort.

“Jutta clutches her bag between her knees; she is certain that he was wounded in the war, that he will try to start a conversation, that her deficient French will betray her…Maybe she smells German. He’ll say, You did this to me.” 

In the chapter entitled “Saint-Malo” from Part Twelve, Jutta travels from Essen, Germany to Saint-Malo with her young son when she sees a man who she believes is a former French soldier on the train. Her almost instant anxiety over whether or not this man will recognize and comment on her German heritage highlights the significant impact that cultural history can have on an individual. While Jutta was not directly responsible for any acts of brutality during the war, Germany’s dark legacy weights on her consciousness nonetheless.