Allied planes had sunk so many Japanese ships that shoveling the coal used to power those ships became unnecessary. Without a work detail, the officials send Louie back to half rations. After Louie begs the Bird for work, the Bird commands him to watch over the camp’s goat. The Bird says that if the goat dies, then Louie dies. Already sick, the goat dies almost immediately.
Hillenbrand’s choice of the word “beg” emphasizes how far Louie has sunk. For fear of losing his dignity, a younger, healthier Louie would never beg for anything, let alone from a man who spent years torturing him. Memories of moments like these will eat away at Louie in the postwar years, making him feel worthless and without dignity, and driving his anger and desire for revenge against the Bird.
As punishment, the Bird makes Louie carry a thick, six-foot beam over his head. The Bird says that if Louie drops it, then another guard will beat him with his gun. Louie picks up the beam, locking eyes with the Bird and radiating hatred. At first, the Bird laughs at him, but after ten minutes the Bird stops laughing. Louie thinks to himself “He cannot break me.”
Louie’s defiance ensures that, at least in the reader’s eyes, he he has nothing to feel shame or humiliation about. But, for Louie, this moment may redeem his momentary loss of dignity when begging the Bird, as if he is telling his nemesis that he is a man of dignity who deserves respect and not a animal that must beg for its life.
Louie calls upon all the strength he has to hold up the beam. In a flurry of motion, the Bird charges towards him and rams his fist into Louie’s stomach. The beam falls Louie’s head, knocking him unconscious. After rousing him, the other prisoners say that he held the beam aloft for thirty-seven minutes.
Louie breaks the Bird, not the other way around. Forcing the Bird to fly into a rage, Louie proves himself to be even more formidable, and more honorable, than the Bird.
Each day, Louie grows thinner and weaker. One day, the Bird approaches Louie and tells him that tomorrow he will drown him. After spending the day in fear, the Bird finds him the next day and says, “I have changed my mind. I will drown you tomorrow. Unable to take the abuse any more, Louie joins a group of prisoners plotting to kill the Bird by tying a rock to his legs then throwing him out the barracks window and into the Hokura river below.
Revenge in this context is morally ambiguous. Would the murder be evidence of Louie asserting his dignity by defending himself or is it evidence of the Bird’s influence penetrating him, making him lose sight of his moral compass? Hillenbrand doesn’t provide any answers or moral judgments yet.
As the men plan the assassination, a U.S. plane drops an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. A huge, bluish grey rise over the city as Hiroshima boils in fire.
Hillenbrand has stayed fairly neutral about the United States’ participation in the war, not weighing in on the questionable aspects of their involvement. But now, she implicitly condones the dropping of the atomic bomb (a highly controversial issue) by turning a blind eye to the human toll of the attack. She focuses on the city’s destruction rather than on the hundred thousand or more civilians who lost their lives.