Throughout the novel, sharks symbolize the ever-present violence of the natural world. The U.S. airmen fear the sharks more than starvation or drowning. On the raft, the sharks encircle Louie
, reminding him that the natural world’s dangers are all around him. At first, Louie and his crew kill sharks in revenge for eating downed Allied airmen, but Louie quickly realizes that it’s wrong to kill the sharks because it’s in their nature to attack anything in the water. But unlike sharks and other sources of danger in the natural world, people have the ability to control their violent inclinations. Though the sharks appear like cruel monsters, the real monsters are abusive guards like Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
who choose to torture prisoners for pleasure. In this way, the sharks represent a natural violence that contrasts with the much more cruel human violence.