Summary: Part 3: “Vienna” through “The Arrest of the Locksmith”

Werner begins his training, where he cannot help being seduced by the energy and enthusiasm of the drills and exercises. His bunkmate is a frail boy named Frederick. A new character is introduced, separate from both Werner and Marie-Laure’s storylines. Major Reinhold von Rumpel is a trained gemologist who worked appraising gems before the war. Now, as various countries are occupied by Nazi forces, he examines and catalogues the various treasures which are being confiscated. Von Rumpel is being sent in pursuit of various famous treasures, but he is especially intrigued by the legend of the Sea of Flames diamond, and wonders if he would be able to locate it.

German forces now occupy the town of Saint-Malo, creating a sense of unease. Marie-Laure grows sick of being stuck in the house and remains unsure of when she and her father will be able to return to Paris. She notices that her father has started making a scale model of the town of Saint-Malo. As Marie-Laure spends more time with Etienne, he reveals more of the secret features of the house to her. He shows her the cellar, where he is prepared to flee if he feels anxious, and he also shows her the garret on the seventh floor of the house. Up there, Etienne keeps recordings of a program he once worked on with his brother, Henri. Together, Henri and Etienne recorded episodes of a program explaining scientific concepts to children. After Henri was killed in the war and Etienne was sent home, he rigged up an elaborate machine that allows him to transmit the recordings of his brother’s voice. Etienne imagines that one day, Henri might respond to the sound of his own voice.

In a class for technical science and engineering skills, Werner attracts attention for the skill he already has at assembling and repairing devices. Dr. Hauptmann calls Werner in for a private meeting, and another boy is present. The other boy, Frank Volkheimer, is very strong and tough. Hauptmann is fascinated by Werner’s scientific and mathematical aptitude and orders him to start working in the laboratory every night, where he will be supervised by Volkheimer. Werner imagines that he might be able to grow up to be a famous and influential scientist. He writes regularly to Jutta, explaining his new role as a scientist-in-training and telling her about the nationalist and militaristic ideology being inculcated into the young boys. Only dreamy, gentle Frederick seems unaware of what is going on.

In autumn 1940, a perfumer in Saint-Malo named Claude is profiting from the German occupation by selling black market goods. He notices Daniel Leblanc making notes and observations about the layout of the town and plans to sell this information to the Germans. Meanwhile, life becomes more and more difficult under German occupation. An order goes out that all citizens of Saint-Malo must relinquish all radio receivers. Obeying orders, Daniel and Madame Manec hand over all the radios from Etienne’s rooms, but they are unaware of the special transmitting machine in the garret, and Marie-Laure does not tell them about it. When Etienne learns that all of the other radios are gone, he and Marie-Laure discuss what to do about the hidden one. They eventually settle on pushing a heavy wardrobe in front of the door leading to the garret, hoping that even if the house is searched, no one will find their way up there.

In Paris, von Rumpel visits the Museum of Natural History. He pressures the museum directors to show him where the Sea of Flames is kept; they initially refuse, but he threatens their children using information he has gathered from surveillance. Eventually, they show him the ingeniously constructed locked box where a blue diamond is housed.

In December 1940, Marie-Laure’s father receives a cryptic telegram recalling him to Paris. For weeks, he has been overcome with anxiety that he might have the real diamond in his possession, and that, if he does, the curse may harm those he loves. By now, he has completed the model of Saint-Malo, and Marie-Laure has begun using it to memorize the layout of the town. Her father reassures her that his trip to Paris will be brief, and he will soon return to her. However, Daniel Leblanc is arrested during his journey and questioned. Because of his notations about the town, the Germans think he may have been trying to destroy some of the buildings they use as strongholds. Without access to any sort of trial or the opportunity to tell anyone what has happened, he is taken to a German prison camp.

At Werner’s school, a new drill has been invented where a boy identified as weaker than the others is made to run while the others pursue him. Frederick fails the drill and is beaten in punishment.

Analysis: Part 3: “Vienna” through “The Arrest of the Locksmith”

Werner’s experiences at the Schulpforta school highlight the tensions and contradictions in his character. Werner is intelligent enough to be suspicious of the ideology of patriotism and power which is being forced upon the boys. The boys who attend the school are young and impressionable and attracted to the idea of becoming powerful men who can dominate others and control the world. But Werner questions the way they are being indoctrinated with Nazi ideology and feels fearful about what this training might lead them to do in the future. Still, he finds the experience exciting. Especially because Werner is an orphan who has never had any family except Jutta, being at the school gives him a sense of belonging and role models whom he wants to please and impress. Werner cannot help feeling proud when his innate intelligence earns him special attention and special opportunity. The opportunity to study calculus and specialized technology is something he would never have gotten at the orphanage, and it makes him feel as if coming to Schulpforta will be a positive thing in his life. A reader, however, may start to have suspicions about what Werner is being trained to do, and what awaits him.

The character of Frederick functions to display Werner’s inner self and foreshadow other vulnerable figures to come. While Werner is very intelligent and scholarly, he is also fairly athletic and can perform reasonably well in the drills and exercises the boys are required to participate in. Werner is also smart enough to put on a tough façade and identify people who are in positions in power. Frederick is, like Werner, more interested in thinking and studying than running and fighting. But unlike Werner, Frederick is not athletic or savvy and is quickly singled out for bullying and abuse.

The way Frederick is treated by the boys at the school mirrors Nazi ideology: anyone who was considered “weak” or “undesirable” because they were different in any way deserved to suffer and even be eliminated. Only the strong were considered good enough to survive. Unlike Werner, Frederick lacks either the ability or the willingness to pretend to be something he is not. This puts Werner in a challenging position because he cares about Frederick and does not want to see his friend get hurt. At the same time, Werner does not want to jeopardize his own status and safety by standing up for someone else. Everything that Werner has is precarious and could easily be lost if it seemed like he is showing weakness. This tension foreshadows Werner’s later failure to protect the young girl who will be killed in Austria and also his desire to help and protect Marie-Laure in Saint-Malo.

Reinhold von Rumpel’s introduction brings an antagonist and villain into the plot. While the Nazi government as a whole represents an evil force that creates conflict in the plot, a single, identifiable villain helps to bring focus and specificity to the larger Nazi party. Von Rumpel’s character also shows how power and corruption can impact individuals at moments of historical crisis. Von Rumpel seems to have lived an ordinary life before the Nazi party came to power, and nothing in the novel suggests he is driven by any particular hatred or political belief. Instead, an alignment between his skill set and a moment of historical significance creates an opportunity for him to gain newfound power and wealth. Once he starts on the road toward these things, von Rumpel becomes obsessed with maintaining and acquiring more. All he has to do is follow orders and turn a blind eye to the atrocities which are occurring around him. In this sense, von Rumpel functions as a warning of what Werner might become if Werner continues to ignore his conscience and seek out opportunities to feed his ambition.

Information about Etienne’s past and his relationship with his brother deepen the pathos around this character. Etienne not only experienced his own suffering and pain while fighting on the frontlines, he also had to witness the person he loved most die next to him. This death of his brother (Daniel’s father and Marie-Laure’s grandfather) marks a gap in their family history and chain of memory. Etienne grieves by clinging to the belief that his brother is not completely gone, and his fascination with the radio and recordings of their program shows why this new technology played such a powerful role in capturing people’s imaginations.

In modern times, it is easy to take access to recordings, memories, and the sound of someone’s voice for granted, even after they are gone. At Etienne’s time, limited technology meant that someone was totally absent once they died, so Etienne’s ability to still hear and broadcast the sound of his brother’s voice seems almost miraculous. This information also implies that Werner and Jutta were listening to these same broadcasts, which starts to foreshadow how these parallel storylines will eventually converge. Although Etienne does not know this, his whimsical decision to broadcast the program is affecting the lives of others. If he had not heard these programs, Werner might never have decided to pursue science.