Chapter X: Let Us Open the Casket

Uncle Henrik is about to depart for his boat, leaving the people gathered with the coffin. Present are an old man, a couple with a young baby, the Rosens, Peter Neilsen, Annemarie, and Mrs. Johansen. As Henrik walks out, the old man says, "God keep you safe." Henrik returns the blessing, modifying it to include everyone in the room. Annemarie looks at Ellen sitting between the Rosens and feels sad that they are in different worlds now. Ellen is headed for something Annemarie will not be able to share with her. Annemarie dozes in a chair and is awoken by headlights. Officers approach and pound on the door. They want to know why there are so many people in the house. Mrs. Johansen tells them a family member has died. The officers storm in and turn to Annemarie, asking her who died. As Annemarie answers she thinks how right Uncle Henrik was: the more you know, the harder it is to be brave. She lies and says Great-aunt Birte died. The officer is not satisfied. He wants to know why they have not kept the custom of leaving the casket open. He demands that it be opened. Mrs. Johansen goes to the casket and says they are right, Great-aunt Birte's face should be seen even if she did die of typhus. The officer slaps Mrs. Johansen for her stupidity, puts out the candles, and leaves.

Annemarie moves to comfort her mother, but realizes that she must not touch her since the departing officers might see them. Peter begins to read a psalm that praises the Lord "who numbered the stars one by one." They all sit and listen; the old man knows it by heart. Annemarie is on the brink of tears, but she does not want to cry. The sky is too big to number the stars, Annemarie thinks. She feels that the sky is big and cold and cruel, and so is the world. When he finishes reading, Peter opens the casket.

Chapter XI: Will We See You Again Soon, Peter?"


There is nothing in the casket except blankets and clothing. He distributes the items to the people gathered, saying they will need them for protection against the cold. Annemarie watches Ellen put on a jacket. She knows Ellen has never worn anything so shabby before. Peter can find nothing for the baby, so Mrs. Johansen gets one of Kirsti's favorite sweaters. Peter makes the baby take some drops so it will be quiet, saying they cannot take any chances. Mrs. Johansen passes out the food and Peter hands Mr. Rosen a paper package. He tells him it is very important that he give it to Henrik at the boat. Annemarie realizes that Mr. Rosen does not know what is in the package and does not ask, because it is safer not to know.

Peter leaves with everyone except the Rosens, telling Mrs. Johansen to follow in twenty minutes. For the first time, Peter calls Mrs. Johansen by her first name, Inge. Annemarie takes this as a sign that Peter has a place in the "world of adults." Peter says goodbye to Annemarie and departs. The old man stumbles on the way out, but Mrs. Johansen says he is all right; if he hurt anything it was just his pride. Annemarie thinks about that word. She looks at the Rosens, all bundled in worn clothing. She thinks of all the good things and times they left in Copenhagen. It has become clear to Annemarie that Uncle Henrik is going to take the Rosens and the others to Sweden in his boat. She remember that Mrs. Rosen is scared of the ocean and that there will be other fears to face, too. As she looks at the Rosens, she sees that they are sitting up straight. They have not changed so much from the way they were before. Pride, Annemarie realizes, can come from other things than the material goods the Rosens left behind.


Annemarie realizes that she and Ellen are being divided. Though she has never felt any difference between herself and her best friend, Annemarie must now accept that they are on different paths. With Annemarie's acceptance of their differences comes an acknowledgement that there are multiple worlds within the one larger world they all live in. Annemarie's observation, that her friendship with Ellen is not "broken," but has changed, points out one of the sad effects of the war. Whatever happens to Ellen and her family, their happy lives have been changed forever.

When the soldiers come to the house, Annemarie compares their arrival to "a recurring nightmare." This is not the first time that Annemarie associates events having to do with the war with an alternate reality. To her, the soldiers' arrival has all the makings of a nightmare: it is potentially so terrible that it takes on an unreal, dream-like quality. Annemarie also knows now that they are in real danger. Each encounter Annemarie has with German soldiers increases the discomfort she feels in their presence. This is her fourth encounter. The others happened on the way home from school, when soldiers came to search the apartment, and on the train to Uncle Henrick's. With each encounter, Annemarie understands a little more about what is happening. When the soldiers come to the funeral, she sees once again why it is so important not to know too much. Annemarie is able to answer the officer's question, but she realizes that it was easier to sound convincing because she does not really know what is in the coffin.

Lying is examined in the scene when the soldiers come to Henrik's house. Annemarie knows that she is lying to the soldiers, but she does it because she must. Children are often taught that lying is wrong. Annemarie is learning that the rules she has lived by are not as straightforward as they seemed. The distinction between right and wrong is not clear cut. Annemarie's talk with Uncle Henrik earlier in the evening established that sometimes a lie is necessary, particularly if it is used to protect a loved one or yourself. It is difficult for Annemarie to accept this, but she begins to see how it can be true. When the soldiers come to their house, the only protection the people have against the guns and threats are lies. Mrs. Johansen saves them all by telling a lie about her aunt's death.

The psalm that Peter reads aloud brings up fears and doubts for Annemarie. The psalm is not comforting to her; rather, it illustrates how vast the world is. Her logical mind cannot believe anyone could "number the stars one by one." (Lowry chooses to use this line as the title of the novel. Her choice indicates how much the novel focuses on Annemarie's emotional travels through the story.) Annemarie is overcome by the largeness of the world. The place that seemed manageable and safe during happy times feels overwhelming in wartime. The world feels immense to Annemarie because she has so little control. She also feels that it is a cruel world. The events that have made Annemarie perceive the world as too big are negative ones. Because of this, she associates the world's bigness with badness. Annemarie learns that outside appearances are not always as important as what the appearances hide. The coffin appears to be normal, but it hides supplies for the endangered Jews. Mrs. Johansen's comment about the old man's pride sets Annemarie thinking about exactly what pride is. She is not used to seeing her best friend dressed in old, used clothing. At first, Ellen and her parents' appearance make Annemarie think that they have had to leave their pride behind. Ellen has had to leave her dreams of the theater, Mr. Rosen his books, and Mrs. Rosen her home and rituals. But as Annemarie studies the Rosens, she comes to see that all three are as composed as ever. Annemarie discovers that pride is not located in physical objects or places. The old man still has his pride, too. Pride, Annemarie finds, is what you carry in you.

These chapters also evaluate the importance of possessions. Mrs. Johansen demonstrates that possessions are not the most significant thing in life. She gives one of Kirsti's most prized possessions to a woman she probably has never seen before. Realizing that possessions are not crucial is another part of growing up. Children place value on the things they can touch, but as they grow older, ideally they learn that abstract possessions are more valuable. The woman's baby is brought up several times during the course of the night. In this case, the baby symbolizes hope for a better future. Presumably, Mrs. Johansen gives the baby one of Kirsti's sweaters because that is all she can offer. But the big sweater on the little body represents the fact that the child is escaping, and will live long enough to grow into the sweater.

Through his interactions with Mrs. Johansen and Henrik, Peter is established as an adult. Annemarie has always thought of him as her older sister's fiancé. She says that she once thought of him as a brother. Now Peter is on the same level as Annemarie's mother. Annemarie's own progression is reflected by Peter's passage into adulthood. Peter addresses Mrs. Johansen by her first name because now they are peers.