The hot sun burns the men’s skin and their lips balloon in size. On the third day without water, rain falls and the men collect some of the water in a makeshift hat. Louie starts to resent Mac for eating the chocolates but says nothing, believing that Mac’s guilt about eating the rations is already causing him to slip deeper into despair.
Mac’s depression provides evidence of the shame he feels for failing his crewmen. This guilt may have caused him to lose any pride or respect he had in himself. The extreme conditions of life on the raft gave him a glimpse of his selfishness and lack of resolve– a glimpse that only further weakens his resilience.
On around the tenth day, an albatross lands on the raft. Louie catches the bird and uses the meat as bait to catch a small fish. Eating the fish revives Louie’s and Phil’s spirit, but Mac remains unchanged. Phil worries that killing a friendly albatross will bring them bad luck. This superstition comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” where a sailor kills an albatross, causing his whole crew to die as punishment for the cruelty. Louie shrugs off his superstition.
At this point, Louie reveals himself to be a skeptical, rational person. He does not read symbolic meaning in the albatross, instead taking the practical approach: he must kill the bird to survive. It’s worth noting that Louie’s practicality explains his lack of religious belief – he only turns to God as a last resort when he can do nothing else to save himself.
Fearing that the lack of mental stimulation will cause them to lose their minds, Louie and Phil spend their days quizzing each other on trivia, telling stories, and recounting all the good food they have eaten in their lives. Mac doesn’t join in.
As a survival mechanism, Louie and Phil concentrate on the past, reminding themselves of all the good things that are waiting for them if they survive. Mac, on the other hand, is stuck in the terrifying present, unable to pull himself out of despair.
Having overcome challenges in the past, Phil and Louie remain confident in their ability to survive the ordeal. But Mac, a new recruit who never saw action, becomes more depressed. His guilt over eating the rations on the first night may have also contributed to his lack of faith in his ability to survive. Phil was also a quietly religious man, and his faith may have given him the inner strength to endure life on the raft.
Hillenbrand speculates that Louie’s and Phil’s encounters with adversity and the resilience they built up as a result helped give them the self-confidence to overcome this new challenge. In addition to having little built up resilience, Mac’s panicked betrayal makes him lose his self-respect and his faith in himself. Consumed by self-doubt, Mac does not believe he has the strength to survive – a belief that will only further hinder his chances.
As the men starve, they decide that no matter what they won’t resort to cannibalism. At the two week mark, Louie begins to pray out loud. They catch a second albatross and feed Mac its blood, hoping the nourishment will revive his spirits. On the sixth day without water, Louie promises to dedicate his life to God if he sends rain. The next day, it rains. Twice more they ran out of water and twice more they prayed and rain came.
Even starvation doesn’t make the men lose sight of their identities and abandon their convictions against cannibalism. Louie not only holds on to his beliefs, but also begins to form new ones. Though it could be coincidence, Hillenbrand frames this scene as if God answered Louie’s prayer by sending rain – an event that will plant in him the seeds of faith that will later bloom into full-fledged religious conviction.