All the Light We Cannot See and Human Nature

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In daily life, people tend to make a mix of selfish and selfless decisions. In times of conflict, decisions are more important and can be the difference between life and death. Anthony Doerr tells us that during times of conflict, it is human nature to pick a side of either selfish or selfless decisions.

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Doerr shows us that people tend to pick a side based off of love or fear. Love, in this case, is showed in devotion to a person or an organization. Fear is the fear of the consequences of war or conflict, like imprisonment, torture, and death. Not only does fear or love motivate someone to pick a side, it also causes people to change sides. In All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr shows that in times of conflict, it is human nature for people to gravitate towards selfishness or selflessness. Doerr uses his characters to show that love and fear determine people’s inclination to selfishness or selflessness, and their ability to change between the two. All the Light We Cannot See follows the story of two different characters, Werner Pfennig and Marie-Laure LeBlanc. Werner’s story takes place in Germany, and Marie-Laure’s story takes place in France, but the stories happen at the same time. Marie-Laure lives with her father Daniel LeBlanc, who works at the Museum of Natural History. Marie-Laure hears about the legend of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that is said to make the holder immortal but kill the holder’s family. Von Rumpel, a Geman official, is searching for the diamond, and Marie-Laure and her father flee with the diamond to live with her great-uncle Etienne. Marie-Laure and Etienne later in the story help the resistance by broadcasting codes they receive in loaves of bread. As this happens, Werner is sent to the National Institute, a boarding school for raising young boys to become German soldiers.

His skills at building radios earn his spot there, and after he graduates, he works with teammates Volkheimer and Neumann One and Two, known as the Neumanns, to hunt foreign radios. Werner hears Marie-Laure’s broadcasts that she does with her great-uncle Etienne and is motivated to save her from von Rumpel, who is in her house trying to find the diamond. Werner kills von Rumpel and saves Marie-Laure. After being saved, she hides the diamond in a hidden grotto she uses, where she was previously held up by von Rumpel, and gives the key to the grotto to Werner. The characters separate and never see each other again. Doerr uses his character, Werner, to show how fear can cause someone to make selfish decisions. Werner is also used as an example of someone who changes and begins to act selflessly because of love. Werner’s selfish decisions in the novel are motivated by fear.

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