All the Light We Cannot See Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Timothy Sexton
Sight and Vision
From the title page to the very last page of the novel, sight and vision are the ovearching symbols of the novel. Marie-Laure LeBlanc has obvious vision problems stemming from her blindness yet she can clearly see things invisible to others like morality and intellect. Contrasting with LeBlanc is Wernfer Pfenning whose perfect vision is a requirement to acceptance into the National Institute yet who constantly finds himself in a struggle to see the ugly reality behind the whitewashed veneer of the Nazi Party.
Sea of Flames Diamond
What a fantastically resonant symbol the Sea of Flames diamond is: the true value lies not in the sparkling cuts, but the belief that whoever owns it is endowed with eternal life. Further enhancing the complexity of this symbol is that the price to pay for that eternal life of the owner is the deaths of those the owners cherishes most. Ultimately, the diamond is invested with great symbolic currency, however, because it proves to have only the value endowed by being crystallized carbon. The novel's thematic forwarding of the nation that life is but a randomized fate is thus reflected more accurately than dreams of powerful totems guiding destiny.
Marie-Laure gives herself the code name "The Whelk" when she joins the French Resistance and her symbolic association with not just whelks, but mollusks in general permeates throughout the novel. Marie-Laure is a respected scientist who specializes in the study of mollusks. The symbolic association between her and the mollusk is characterized most strongly by her admiration of their ability to withstand the damage inflicted on them by seagulls and their ability to stay connected to surfaces against which the water ceaselessly bangs. It is the stability, tenacity and constancy of the whelks that makes them a symbol for the protagonist.
Daniel LeBlanc builds intricate models of cities for the blind Marie-Laure as means of creating a navigable 3-D map for her to determine where she lives and how to get around there. In this way, Marie-Laure can find her way through the city in a way that even those with sight and vision cannot: without the need for street signs or other written cues indicating location, geography and topography. On a small scale, these models become symbols for the ways in which the characters are forced to traverse through unknown geographies, but as the novel moves on, the symbolic depth expands to comment on the various ways in which people try to reduce more complex concepts down to a more management laws and rules.
Eventually it beomes clear that the radio show that Werner loves so much features the transmission of the narration by none other than Henri LeBlanc: Marie-Laure's grandfather. The twin narrative threads that make up the story ultimately are directly connected most strongly by the motifs of vision and transmission of information. The radio is the source of transmission which binds both Werner and Marie-Laure together. The radio transmissions of Marie-Laure's grandfather becomes the catalyst driving him to save her life so in a sense, the radio itself ultimately becomes the symbolic representation of the light that cannot be seen.
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