Marie-Laure’s isolation and eccentric life has commonalities with the experience of her great-uncle, Etienne. As other characters grapple with the impact of a new war, Etienne is still living with the trauma of the previous one. Etienne’s story reveals how terrible frontline combat can be and the impact it can have even years later. Even though he is ostensibly now free and safe, Etienne is effectively imprisoned by his memories and trauma. Fortunately, Etienne’s wealth ensures that he can still live a comfortable life, but the scope of his experience is extremely limited. Marie-Laure is also now imprisoned by a war, and her experience of the outside world is dwindling.
Werner’s intelligence is what secures him the opportunity to participate in the entrance exam, but his fitness and physical appearance are what allow him to be successful, and he is conflicted about his future opportunity. Werner has a combination of intelligence, physical aptitude, and the blonde, blue-eyed looks which were perceived as indicators of “racial purity.” The structure of the examination he undergoes reveals how much emphasis the Nazi party puts on the pseudo-science of preserving the looks they associate with an ideal Germanic identity. Werner is conflicted about the opportunity extended to him. He knows that attending the school will lead to him being trained to participate in the Nazi war effort. Unlike many Germans around them, Werner and Jutta are suspicious of these war efforts and critical of the actions taken by the Nazis. Still, Werner cannot help but be hopeful that attending the school will open new doors for him. He is intrigued by the wealth and power he has glimpsed amongst Nazi officials, and he also wants the opportunity to learn about the latest science and technology. Even though it threatens to drive a wedge between him and Jutta, Werner tries to focus on the positive aspects of this new stage of life.