Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand
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What are some quotes that show resilience?

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The theme of resilience is carried throughout Unbroken. While it is most evident for the period of Louie Zamperini’s imprisonment, Hillenbrand effectively conveys resilience as an innate personal characteristic that Louie displays throughout his life.

Part I is devoted to Louie’s life up through the time he competed in...

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The theme of resilience is carried throughout Unbroken. While it is most evident for the period of Louie Zamperini’s imprisonment, Hillenbrand effectively conveys resilience as an innate personal characteristic that Louie displays throughout his life.

Part I is devoted to Louie’s life up through the time he competed in the Berlin Olympics. After World War II derailed the 1940 Olympics, Zamperini became despondent. Although he joined the air corps, he burned out. Following Pearl Harbor, he was drafted and returned to the air corps. His changing attitude shows resilience in rebounding from disappointment to become an officer (p 57): “Though Louie had been miserable over having to rejoin the air corps, it wasn’t so bad after all. [In] training . . . he earned superb test scores. . . . [When he] graduated from Midland, [he] was commissioned a second lieutenant.”

Later, as told in part III, after their plane crashes in the Pacific, Louie and fellow survivors drifted for one-and-a-half months, but some of the men died. Louie managed to hold on and even stay positive in that time as well (pp 173–174): “Louie found that the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge. He had never recognized how noisy the civilized world was. Here, drifting in almost total silence . . . his mind was quick and clear, his imagination unfettered and supple.”

Once the Japanese soldiers picked them up and then shipped them to one prisoner-of-war camp after another, this optimism was sorely tested. The Naoetsu camp was particularly grueling, with a sadistic guard, nicknamed Bird, who physically attacked the prisoners, including Louie. One of the punishments, however, was more passive (pp 301–302). The Bird made Louie stand in the hot sun holding a six-foot-long, heavy wooden beam over his head. If he lowered his arms, a guard would hit him with a gun. Something happened inside Louie that gave him extra strength, and he endured “long past when his strength should have given out”—actually, for thirty-seven minutes. What clicked in his head was the thought “He cannot break me” (italics in original). His endurance enraged the Bird, who punched him in the stomach, causing the beam to drop onto his head, and he fell over and passed out. He always retained that “unbreakable” idea.

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In his WWII exploits, Louis Zamperini's resilience took the form of mental and psychological resilience more than physical resilience. Trapped on the raft after their plane crash without food or water, surviving only on what fish and rainwater they can catch, Louis, having remembered from another plane crash story that exposure, starvation, dehydration, and stress were greater enemies than hunger, "began peppering the other two with questions on every conceivable subject." They shared their histories, "the best dates they'd ever had," and practical jokes, taught each other songs, and shared trivia to keep their minds active and sharp.

An example of physical perseverance is shown by a William Harris, a marine who meets Louis at Ofuna. Harris had, with another American, "been captured in the surrender of Corregidor in May 1942." They escaped, swimming across Manila Bay in 8.5 hours, coming ashore on the Bataan Peninsula. He had "begun a run for China, hiking through jungles and over mountains, navigating the coast in boats donated by sympathetic Filipinos, hitching rides on burros, and surviving in part by eating ants." He was safe with Filipinos, but when Americans landed at Guadalcanal, he went to join his unit and was recaptured by the Japanese (201-2).

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