BlogEnglishHow to Analyse All the Light We Cannot See for HSC and VCE English

How to Analyse All the Light We Cannot See for HSC and VCE English

Are you studying ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ for HSC English or VCE English and are struggling to come up with an analysis?

Well you’ve come to the right place!

We’re going to walk you through the key ideas of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ as well as give you a step-by-step of how to analyse the text.

PLUS we’ll provide you with a sample analysis table (also called a TEE table) and an example of a Band 6 paragraph for ‘All the Light We Cannot See’!

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to ace your analysis of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ — let’s go!

What is ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ about?
Analysis of ‘All The Light We Cannot See’
Studying this Text for the HSC
Studying this Text for the VCE

What is ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ about?

The text is told from the perspective of two main characters, a blind girl from Paris, Marie-Laure LeBlanc and an orphan from Germany, Werner Pfenning. A third character, Reinhold von Rumpel, a Nazi gemologist also narrates a few of the chapters of the novel.

All The Light We Cannot See Analysis - Novel

Marie-Laure is the daughter of Daniel LeBlanc, a doting father who is the head locksmith at The Museum of Natural History in Paris. This museum holds a gemstone called the Sea of Flames, which is said to give immortality to the owner at the cost of the misfortune of those around them.

When Germany invades France in 1940, they flee to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where Marie Laure’s uncle and her father’s brother, Etienne lives. Marie-Laure’s father brings the Sea of Flames, however he does not tell Marie Laure. Marie-Laure’s father builds her a model of Saint-Malo so she can navigate her way around despite her blindness.

After her father dies, she joins a resistance movement against Nazi occupation by slipping notes into pieces of bread and broadcasting radio signals with her uncle Etienne, which she takes over after he dies. She eventually finds the Sea of Flames hidden within the model her father has made her.

At the same time we hear about Werner, who begins as an orphan, living with his sister, Jutta, in the coal-mining town of Zollverein. Werner is particularly talented at fixing radios, and he spends much of his childhood fascinated by a science broadcast.

Due to his talent, he gets recruited to attend school at the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta. There, he works diligently but becomes emotionally hardened by his brutal training. Eventually he begins to work for the Nazi party, tracking illegal enemy signals.

We also learn about the third character, Reinhold von Rumpel who is searching for the The Sea of Flames. He believes that gemstone will grant him the eternal life which will allow him to overcome the cancer which is quickly spreading through his body. von Rumpel finds 3 forgeries of the stones and learns of Marie-Laure’s location to take the stone from her.

The novel culminates when the three characters meet in Saint-Malo.

All The Light We Cannot See Analysis - What is the text about?

Werner is tracking Etienne and Marie-Laure’s radio signals, von Rumpel is searching for the stone and is ready to kill Marie-Laure who is hiding in her uncle’s house. Marie-Laure sends out a cry for help from the radio she has been using.

Werner realises that the radio broadcast he had been tracking was the broadcast from the scientist he had listened to as a child. He therefore goes to the source of the broadcast in Etienne’s house, and kills von Rumpel and falls in love with Marie-Laure (yes, that escalated quickly!).

They throw the Sea of Flames into the ocean, which according to legend, ends the curse. Marie-Laure then escapes to safety but Werner is captured by the American disarmament centre where he dies.

The novel ends in 2014 with an 86-year-old Marie-Laure walking through the streets of Paris with her grandson.

Context of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is set during World War II in both France and Germany. On September 1 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and two days later, France declared war on Germany.

In June 1940, Germany invaded much of Western Europe, including France. This was devastating to France, creating significant issues with transport and trade.

The artificial exchange rate between German currency and the French Franc led to shortages of food and malnutrition amongst the most vulnerable in society. This is the world Marie-Laure finds herself in during ‘All the Light We Cannot See’.

All The Light We Cannot See Analysis - Context

In Germany at this time, youth and children were being indoctrinated with German ideology. This included the Supremacy of the German state, eugenics and antisemitism.

Eugenics is the practice of selectively breeding humans so they are “stronger”. This includes breeding out people with diseases, disabilities and other races.

Antisemitism, on the other hand, refers to a hostility against Jewish people. These ideologies were taught through organisations such as The Hitler Youth and National Political Institutions of Education. This is the world the novel’s other protagonist, Werner, finds himself in.

Themes in ‘All the Light We Cannot See’

Below are some of the key ideas from All the Light We Cannot See. These are great starting points to get you to consider what will make up your thesis and topic sentences. 

  • The conflict between duty and morality
  • Dehumanisation
  • The power of knowledge
  • Self-protection vs protecting others
  • Free will VS fate

How to Analyse ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ in 3 Steps

Often students will try to start with their thesis when trying to answer an essay question. Instead, start with your analysis! You need to equip yourself with the knowledge of your text before you can answer anything about it.

After you’ve analysed your text, you can draw ideas from it, then you can build your thesis!

We’re going to walk you through creating an analysis for ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ in three simple steps!

Step 1: Choose your example

The best way to choose an example is to find a technique. The technique is the key to unlocking deeper meaning in a text, which you will need in your analysis. 

We have chosen to look at two quotes to compare Werner with the state of Germany:

“He regularly appears in the kitchen with fresh milk for the babies”


“The ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that was Germany”

Step 2: Identify your technique(s)

When trying to find a technique within your example, it’s not about finding the fanciest technique or just any old technique for that matter!

It’s about identifying a technique which will enable you to say something about your idea that’s interesting and can contribute to your argument and analysis. 

Try to focus on finding examples with techniques which unveil a deeper meaning like metaphors, similes, figurative language, connotations, symbolism and recurring motifs. Other techniques like alliteration and repetition are a bit harder to find a deeper meaning in!

We have identified 3 techniques in the two quotes above: contrast, childlike image and metaphor

It’s always great to try and find multiple techniques in your quotes as it allows you to take your analysis up a notch!

Step 3: Write the analysis

When you write the analysis, it is important to always focus on what the effect of the technique is. One of the worst things you can do when writing analysis is technique labelling. Technique labelling would look like this:

The childlike image of Werner “appear[ing] in the kitchen with fresh milk for the babies” in contrast to the metaphor, ​​“The ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that was Germany”, shows how Doerr depicts Werner as a victim.

Instead of this we need to flesh out how each of those techniques get us to our point. Firstly, the childlike image is important because it shows Werner’s innocence. The metaphor of the machine is important because it connotes the mechanical, dehumanised nature of society. The contrast between the two shows the vast difference between society and a single individual within that society. So if we include all that in our analysis it looks like:

Doerr introduces Werner as an orphan who “…appears in the kitchen with fresh milk for the babies” using childlike images to describe his innocence. This is contrasted to metaphor of “The ever-quickening, ever-expanding machine that was Germany”, highlighting the difference between the humanity of Werner as an individual and the mechanical, dehumanised nature of the society which oppresses him.

Studying this text for HSC Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences

In the space below, we will show you how to connect a number of the syllabus points in Texts and Human Experiences to assist with your analysis of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’. We have also included the Texts and Human Experiences Rubric to refresh your memory!

All The Light We Cannot See Analysis - HSC

Link #1: individual vs collective experiences

The contrast between collective and individual experiences is highlighted particularly through the character of Werner. In ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, Doerr demonstrates the difference between Werner’s individual experience as an orphan and the collective experience of the dehumanisation and brutality of Germany.

Doerr emphasises that individuals are separate from the societies and systems which they live within. Despite the fact Werner operates within a cruel and oppressive state, he is a complex individual, a victim of Germany as much as their military enemies are.

In doing so, Doerr challenges our assumptions about Nazis in World War II, which is another important rubric point in the common module.

Link #2: anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour

‘All the Light We Cannot See’ is full of paradoxical and inconsistent characters. Werner fights for the Nazis in WWII, but as we’ve previously discussed, was also a victim of the German state. His cruel actions as a Nazi are inconsistent with his values and his moral compass.

Uncle Etienne is also an inconsistent character as he initially fails to act in accordance to his convictions due to his trauma from World War I. When Etienne overcomes his fears and joins the French resistance, he becomes an anomaly — a human which transcends what is expected of them. Can you think of any other characters who are inconsistent, paradoxical or an anomaly?

Link #3: The role of storytelling throughout time

Doerr expresses the power of storytelling through the motif of the Sea of Flames. Surrounding the Sea of Flames is a legend that whoever possesses the stone will have immortality but bring misfortune to those surrounding them.

This legend shapes many characters’ actions. von Rumpel dedicates his life to acquiring the stone, committing various cruel acts to attain it.

This shows us that regardless of whether a story is true or not, stories are able to shape humans and their motivations. Can you think of any other examples of how the stone shaped individual or collective actions?

Studying this text for VCE Unit 3 – Area of Study 1: Reading and Creating Texts

If you are studying this text as a part of VCE unit 3, Area of Study 1, Reading and Creating Texts, there are a few more things to keep in mind!

One of the important aspects of this Area of Study is having your own interpretation of the text. This means that you can’t just state what is obvious about the text, instead, you need to make an argument. To have an interpretation of the text, you need to make an argument about something in the text which is not blatantly obvious.

For example, saying “All the Light We Cannot See is about the pain and suffering humans experience during war” is not a strong interpretation, because that’s obvious! Everyone can see that from reading the plot synopsis. Instead, try to make your interpretations something you have to dig a little deeper in the text to find. For example, we have argued:

Anthony Doerr breaks down the dichotomy of victims and perpetrators in WWII, suggesting that we are all humans, similarly victimised by the system of war. 

This is a strong interpretation because it took reading into numerous quotes and signs and symbols to develop it. Below, we have explained how to come up with your own interpretation. 

Step 1: Identify techniques in your text

Techniques are they key to unlocking the deeper hidden layers of meaning in your text, which is exactly what you want to find when developing your own interpretation.

Things like metaphors, similes, symbolism and recurring motifs are great things to look for. Things like alliteration and sound techniques will be less helpful in allowing you to uncover deeper meanings initially.

Step 2: Analyse the techniques

In this step you want to ask yourself:

  • Why have they chosen to use this specific technique?
  • Why was the word choice here important?
  • Is there something deeper behind this quote?

Step 3: Find patterns in what your analysis is saying

Once you find patterns in what your analysis is saying, or in other words, patterns in the hidden meanings within the text, you have yourself an interpretation! For example, when we were analysing ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, we noticed a pattern of Doerr subverting expectations about victims and perpetrators, and that’s what helped us develop our topic sentence and interpretation!

Creative Writing

If you are studying this text to help you write a piece of creative writing, an interpretation will be helpful in allowing you build your own unique response to the text. For example, since our interpretation says the text breaks the dichotomy of victims and perpetrators, we might have a short story that focusses on a character we expect to be a victim, but who is actually a perpetrator.

If you are doing creative writing for this assessment, it is also super important that you know about the textual features of ‘All the Light We Cannot See’, because you will ned to demonstrate you can replicate as well as alter some of these elements. We have made a list of the elements of the text below:

  • Strong use of imagery
  • Strong use of metaphors and figurative language
  • Fragmentary chapters
  • Non-linear timeline
  • Third person narration
  • Multiple perspectives

You might also like to think of a way you can use these elements but slightly alter them. For example you won’t have fragmentary chapters in your creative writing because it will be too short, but you could instead include small fragmentary sections which change between points of view.

Looking for extra help with your All The Light We Cannot See analysis?

We have an incredible team of HSC English tutors and mentors who are new HSC syllabus experts!

We can help you master your HSC English text and ace your upcoming HSC English assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby or the Hills!

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Brooklyn Arnot has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature with Honours at the University of Sydney. She scored an HD average and has even received the Dean’s award for excellence! Brooklyn teaches our English classes at Art of Smart and has over 5 years of experience supporting Year 11 and 12 students throughout their HSC. She’s also a new Syllabus expert and studied 4U English in high school.

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