In this initial section, it does not appear that Marie-Laure and Werner have much in common. Because he is a German soldier and she is a French civilian, they are immediately positioned as future enemies. However, the impending Allied attack places them both in parallel positions of vulnerability. When Allied forces eventually bomb the city, they will both be in serious danger. They both also have to make use of the limited resources they have to protect themselves. When one hides in the cellar and the other hides under a bed, they turn domestic spaces usually associated with comfort and security into places associated with danger. Under normal circumstances, having stores of food and a comfortable place to sleep would be cozy, but warfare means that nothing about everyday life is secure. Part of what makes the wartime context chilling in this opening section is that it does not involve the traditional setting of a battlefield. Instead, the setting is one of a city, populated in large part by civilians trying to carry on with daily life. As a blind young girl, Marie-Laure represents someone who is very innocent and vulnerable and who should not be caught up in military conflict at all.
As the flashback scenes reveal, Marie-Laure and Werner do have some traits in common, even though they have very different pasts. Marie-Laure is obviously bright and curious because she has been able to navigate the world using the models her father builds for her. She is intrigued by the workings of the museum and the legend she hears about the diamond. Werner shows his intelligence and technical skill by teaching himself how to repair the radio even though he has very little formal education. Werner’s tinkering with the radio is comparable to Marie-Laure learning by memorizing the feel of the models. They both have to learn by making mistakes and trying different things, even when they feel uncertain about the right way to proceed. This learning process gives both a resilience and adaptability that will serve them well later in life. Additionally, both children have childhoods marked by both deep affection and tragedy. Marie-Laure is motherless and has lost her sight completely, but she is beloved by her father. Werner is a poor orphan, but he is a favorite of Frau Elena and has a loving relationship with his sister.
This opening section also sets the stage for the plot around the Sea of Flames diamond. The legendary curse associated with the diamond seems fantastical but also reveals why people are so fascinated by it. The story of people coveting the diamond in spite of the supposed dangers foreshadows the reckless pursuit of power and glory which will become a prominent theme in the rest of the novel. It is hinted, but not yet established, that Marie-Laure may have possession of the diamond by 1944, and this hint helps to build suspense and deepen the mystery of how it could have come into her possession. In the section set in 1944, whatever Marie-Laure possesses is called simply “a stone,” which suggests that any value assigned to the diamond is arbitrary. Because she is blind, she would not even be able to identify the diamond if it were in her possession, and it is clear that this luxury object is useless to her in her present danger.