Werner’s conversation with Marie-Laure just after he rescues her is critical to the novel’s portrayal of the tension between free will and predetermination. Werner calls Marie-Laure brave. She answers that she is not brave: “I wake up and live my life.” When she asks Werner if he doesn’t do the same, he replies that he hasn’t lived his own life for many years but adds, “Today maybe I did.” Initially Marie-Laure denies that she has any choice in her life, pointing to circumstances beyond her control that have shaped who she is. But Werner’s response reframes her statement. By saying that he has not lived his own life the way he would want for many years and is only now doing so, Werner implies that Marie-Laure’s life still reflects ownership over her choices. He, on the other hand, has let himself be robbed of the right to act independently for years.
The manner of Werner’s death speaks symbolically to the commonness of humanity and the tragedy of war. The text specifies that Werner is killed by a mine laid by his own army. The idea of killing one’s own people extends beyond the German army alone to the entire act of war. By killing fellow human beings, the novel suggests, human beings are in a sense killing themselves.