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25 Best All the Light We Cannot See Quotes by Anthony Doerr

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all the light we cannot see quotes

All the Light We Cannot See is a historical novel by Anthony Doerr, set during the final days of World War II. The story revolves around the experiences of two main characters, Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig, as they navigate their challenging lives during the war.

The story is intricately told through alternating chapters, focusing on the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig. These chapters seamlessly transition between the characters’ pasts and the unfolding events of the Allied siege of Saint-Malo in August 1944.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
all the light we cannot see book

In this blog post, I’ve brought together the 25 best quotes from this brilliant novel, each one offering profound insights into the human spirit, the enduring power of hope, and the complexities of life during wartime.

I hope you’ll enjoy my list! ✨

Summary | Ending Explained | Character Analysis | Quotes

All the Light We Cannot See Quotes

  1. “‘Open your eyes’ concludes the man, ‘and see what you can with them before they close forever.’”

    In this pivotal moment from Chapter 18, page 59, Werner and Jutta are captivated by a French scientific broadcast on Werner’s homemade radio. This phrase becomes Werner’s guiding principle, encapsulating the essence of the novel. It underlines the theme of seizing opportunities and learning while one can, echoing the uncertainty of life’s duration. Werner, driven by this motto, embarks on a journey to make the most of his abilities and time.
  2. “What do we call visible light? We call it color. But the electromagnetic spectrum runs to zero in one direction and infinity in the other, so really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible.”

    Chapter 20, page 63 finds Werner and Jutta engrossed in a French science program. This quote challenges conventional perceptions of light. It emphasizes that our understanding of the world is limited by what we perceive. It ties into the novel’s title, symbolizing the hidden knowledge and experiences that shape the characters. Despite the vastness of the universe, the quote underscores the importance of striving to comprehend the unseen aspects of life.
  3. “‘You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own selfinterest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.’”

    In Chapter 30, page 95, Herr Siedler imparts a harsh truth to Werner. This quote highlights the manipulation of history and self-interests. It marks a turning point for Werner, making him question his beliefs and leading to his acceptance of the prevailing narrative. It showcases the power dynamics and moral dilemmas prevalent during the wartime setting, revealing the complexities of human choices.
  4. “‘Is it right,’ Jutta says, ‘to do something only because everyone else is doing it?’”

    Chapter 43, page 143 captures Jutta’s innocence and wisdom. Her question challenges societal norms and blind conformity, urging Werner to introspect. At just 12 years old, she becomes Werner’s conscience, highlighting the importance of individual moral compass in the face of overwhelming influence. This quote emphasizes the struggle for ethical clarity amid the chaos of war.
  5. “This, she realizes, is the basis of his fear—all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.”

    In Chapter 51, page 170, Marie-Laure comprehends Etienne’s fear. It reveals the psychological impact of war, symbolized by the metaphorical ‘light’ that represents danger. The quote poignantly conveys the inevitability of danger in wartime, emphasizing the vulnerability and helplessness experienced by individuals exposed to such threats.
  6. “There is pride, too, though—pride that he has done it alone. That his daughter is so curious, so resilient. There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane. The drain moans; the cluttered house crowds in close.”

    Chapter 59, page 200 portrays Daniel LeBlanc’s deep emotions as a father. This quote captures the profound love and pride he feels for his daughter. It illustrates the boundless nature of parental love, suggesting that it transcends physical and societal boundaries. The quote beautifully conveys the strength of the parent-child bond, portraying the overwhelming sense of responsibility and admiration Daniel has for his daughter.
  7. “‘Your problem, Werner,’ says Frederick, ‘is that you still believe you own your life.’”

    In Chapter 68, page 235, Frederick challenges Werner’s perception of control. This quote exposes Werner’s illusion of autonomy, highlighting the constraints imposed by societal expectations and familial obligations. It sheds light on the complexities of personal freedom during wartime, emphasizing the interconnectedness of individual lives and the influence of external forces on one’s choices and actions.
  8. “Frederick pours his water onto the ground. ‘I will not,’ he says.”

    In Chapter 70, page 241, Werner observes Frederick’s brave refusal to partake in the torture of a prisoner. This act of defiance contrasts sharply with Werner’s own internal struggle. Werner, torn between his longing for bravery and the constraints imposed by his government, witnesses the courage of others like his sister and Frederick. Frederick’s act becomes a beacon of resistance, highlighting the moral dilemmas faced by individuals trapped within a system of inhumanity during wartime.
  9. “Madame Manec says, ‘Don’t you want to be alive before you die?’”

    Chapter 84, page 288 sees Madame Manec challenging Etienne’s fear in the face of resistance. Madame’s question resonates deeply with Marie-Laure, inspiring her to seek true fulfillment in life. This moment marks a significant turning point, emphasizing the pursuit of meaning and vitality amidst danger. Marie-Laure adopts this philosophy, guiding her actions and shaping her resilience in the face of adversity.
  10. “For Werner, doubts turn up regularly. Racial purity, political purity—Bastian speaks to a horror of any type of corruption, and yet, in the dead of night, Werner wonders, isn’t life a kind of corruption? A child is born, and the world sets in upon it.”

    In Chapter 87, page 295, Werner grapples with disillusionment as he questions the ideals of the Reich. His doubts intensify amid the cruelty of his training and Frederick’s tragic fate. This introspection reflects the corrosion of Werner’s beliefs, symbolizing the broader corrosion within society. Werner confronts the harsh reality that life, once pure and innocent, can be corrupted by external influences, forcing him to confront the dark complexities of existence.
  11. “After she has gone back to sleep, after Etienne has blown out his candle, he kneels for a long time beside his bed. The bony figure of Death rides the streets below, stopping his mount now and then to peer into windows. Horns of fire on his head and smoke leaking from his nostrils and, in his skeletal hands, a list newly charged with addresses. Gazing first at the crew of officers unloading from their limousines into the chateau. Then at the flowing rooms of the perfumer Claude Levitte. Then at the dark tall house of Etienne LeBlanc. Pass us by, Horseman. Pass this house by.”

    In Chapter 106, page 354, Etienne confronts his fears, realizing that death is an ever-present companion. This introspective moment signifies Etienne’s transformation from a fearful recluse to a courageous resistor. He decides to honor Madame Manec’s legacy, embracing bravery and shedding his fear. This passage captures his newfound strength and determination to resist, marking a crucial evolution in his character.
  12. “Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”

    Marie-Laure reflects on the fluidity of time in Chapter 122, page 329, highlighting the disorientation caused by the war. This profound observation underscores the chaos and uncertainty of wartime, emphasizing how easily individuals lose their grasp on reality. It symbolizes the characters’ struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the disruptions, encapsulating the profound impact of war on their lives.
  13. “I am only alive because I have not yet died.”

    In Chapter 122, page 400, Marie-Laure clings to hope amidst despair, envisioning her father’s reassurance. This poignant moment illustrates Marie-Laure’s resilience as she fights to survive in a perilous situation. Her belief in the Sea of Flames’ protection reflects her desperate need for reassurance, showcasing the power of human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.
  14. “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air. Marie-Laure can sit in an attic high above the street and hear lilies rustling in marshes two miles away. She hears Americans scurry across farm fields, directing their huge cannons at the smoke of Saint-Malo; she hears families sniffling around hurricane lamps in cellars, crows hopping from pile to pile, flies landing on corpses in ditches; she hears the tamarinds shiver and the jays shriek and the dune grass burn; she feels the great granite fist, sunk deep into the earth’s crust, on which Saint-Malo sits, and the ocean teething at it from all four sides, and the outer islands holding steady against the swirling tides; she hears cows drink from stone troughs and dolphins rise through the green water of the Channel; she hears the bones of dead whales stir five leagues below, their marrow offering a century of food for cities of creatures who will live their whole lives and never once see a photon sent from the sun. She hears her snails in the grotto drag their bodies over the rocks.”

    Chapter 127, page 414 finds Marie-Laure appreciating the intricate sounds of the world around her, embracing her heightened senses due to blindness. This passage vividly portrays her deep connection with nature, emphasizing the interconnectedness of life. Marie-Laure’s acute awareness of her surroundings signifies her acceptance of the world’s complexity, transcending visual limitations and highlighting the richness of her sensory experiences.
  15. “I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads. It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”

    In this letter to his sister in Chapter 132, page 428, Werner marvels at the ocean’s beauty for the first time. The sea becomes a symbol of redemption, offering solace and perspective amid his guilt and moral turmoil. Werner finds solace in the vastness of the ocean, appreciating its timeless majesty. This moment marks a profound shift in his perspective, signifying his yearning for purity and tranquility in a world torn apart by war.
  16. “A half dozen more words flutter though Werner in that Breton accent … memory coming at Werner like a six-car train out of the darkness, the quality of the transmission and the tenor of the voice matching in every respect the broadcasts of the Frenchman he used to hear, and then a piano plays three single notes, followed by a pair, the chords rising peacefully, each an candle leading deeper into a forest … The recognition is immediate. It is as if he has been drowning for as long as he can remember and somebody has fetched him up for air.”

    In this poignant moment from Chapter 133, page 428, Werner rediscovers Etienne’s broadcast in 1944, transporting him back to his childhood. Memories flood back, evoking the familiar comfort of shared moments with Jutta and the science broadcasts. This recognition acts as a lifeline, pulling Werner out of the depths of despair. It’s as if he has been drowning, and this rediscovered connection gives him the air he desperately needed. His identity, buried beneath the weight of the war, resurfaces, marking a powerful moment of self-reclamation.
  17. “Now the piano makes a long, familiar run, the pianist playing difference scales with each hand—what sounds like three hands, four—the harmonies like steadily thickening pearls on a strand and Werner sees six-year-old Jutta lean toward him, Frau Elena kneading bread in the background, a crystal radio in his lap, the cords of his soul not yet severed.”

    Chapter 133, page 429 sees Werner listening to “Claire de Lune,” torn between his loyalty to his training and the beauty of the music. The memory of young Jutta and their shared moments resurfaces. Werner realizes he cannot betray the Frenchman who provided him hope and awakened his aspirations. This moment encapsulates his struggle, showcasing his deep reverence for the beauty in life, even amidst the horrors of war.
  18. “She walks like a ballerina in dance slippers, her feet as articulate as hands, a little vessel of grace moving out into the fog.”

    Chapter 136, page 438 captures Werner’s admiration for Marie-Laure’s resilience and independence. As he watches her navigate the foggy streets, her graceful determination strikes him profoundly. This observation underscores Marie-Laure’s strength and vitality, echoing the novel’s theme of finding beauty and strength amidst adversity.
  19. “How long do these intolerable moments last for God? A trillionth of a second? The very life of any creature is a quick-fading spark in a fathomless darkness.”

    In Chapter 139, page 445, Marie-Laure, trapped and fearing for her life, contemplates the fleeting nature of human existence. This introspection highlights the insignificance of her current suffering in the grand scheme of time. The imagery of life as a brief spark in darkness encapsulates the novel’s recurring theme of the battle between life, light, and darkness.
  20. “They said what he needed was certainty. Purpose. Clarity. That pigeon-chested commandant Bastian, with his grandmother’s walk; he said they would strip the hesitation out of him. We are a volley of bullets, we are cannonballs. We are the tip of the sword. Who is the weakest?”

    In Chapter 156, page 488, Werner faces a pivotal moment after escaping his captors. He embraces his training and purpose, heading to rescue Marie-Laure. This passage signifies his transformation into a determined and resolute individual, reflecting his resolve to protect what he holds dear.
  21. “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?”

    Werner faces von Rumpel with courage in Chapter 158, page 493. This moment encapsulates his bravery and determination. Faced with mortal danger, he seizes the opportunity to define his fate, showcasing his growth as a character.
  22. “‘When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?’”

    Marie-Laure’s wisdom shines through in Chapter 161, page 498, as she shares her perspective with Werner. Her resilience and acceptance of life’s challenges inspire him, restoring his faith and sense of purpose.
  23. “He thinks of the old broken miners he’d see in Zollverein, sitting in chairs or on crates, not moving for hours, waiting to die. To men like that, time was a surfeit, a barrel they watched slowly drain. When really, he thinks, it’s a glowing puddle you carry in your hands; you should spend all your energy protecting it. Fighting for it. Working so hard not to spill one single drop.”

    In Chapter 163, page 506, Werner contemplates life’s fragility and the preciousness of each moment. Marie-Laure’s influence leads him to appreciate the light within him, symbolizing his newfound appreciation for life amidst the darkness of war.
  24. “Maybe he drops the diamond into the pool among the thousands of snails. Then he closes the puzzle box and locks the gate and trots away. Or he puts the stone back into the house. Or slips it into his pocket. From her memory, Dr. Geffard whispers: That something so small could be so beautiful. Worth so much. Only the strongest people can turn away from feelings like that.”

    Chapter 175, page 550 finds Marie-Laure pondering Werner’s actions, illustrating her enduring faith in his goodness. The diamond symbolizes the beauty in the world, and Werner’s decision echoes the novel’s theme of preserving the precious amidst chaos.
  25. “Torrents of text conversations, tides of cell conversations, of television programs, of email, vast networks of fiber and wire interlaced above and beneath the city … I’m going to be late and Maybe we should get reservations? and Pick up avocadoes and What did he say? and ten thousand I miss yous, fifty thousand I love yous … ads flying invisibly over warrens of Paris, over the battle fields and tombs, over the Ardennes, over the Rhine, over Belgium and Denmark, over the scarred and ever-shifting landscapes we call nations. And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel those paths? That her father and Etienne and Madame Manec and the German boy named Werner Pfennig might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings? That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough?”

    Marie-Laure reflects on the interconnectedness of souls in Chapter 178, page 560. This profound observation suggests the enduring essence of humanity beyond physical existence, highlighting the novel’s theme of interconnectedness and the continuity of life even after death.

Final thoughts

All the Light We Cannot See reminds us of the beauty that can be found even in the darkest times, teaching us to cherish every moment and find the light within ourselves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of All The Light We Cannot See quotes as much as I have. Remember that the power of a well-crafted sentence goes beyond its literary value; it has the potential to inspire, provoke thought, and touch the very core of our being.

If you haven’t had the chance to read the full novel, I highly recommend diving into the world of Marie-Laure and Werner, where these quotes come to life in the most unforgettable ways.

Happy reading! ❤️