Unbroken

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Sharks Symbol Icon
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.

Sharks Quotes in Unbroken

The Unbroken quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sharks. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of Unbroken published in 2010.
Chapter 9 Quotes

When they arrived at the crash site, the men were astonished by what they saw. Two life rafts, holding the entire five-man B-25 crew, floated amid plane debris. Around them, the ocean was churning with hundreds of sharks, some of which looked twenty feet long. Knifing agitated circles in the water, the creatures seemed on the verge of overturning the rafts.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Related Symbols: Sharks
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie's crew rescues a group of men from shark-infested waters. The men are swimming in the ocean, trying to escape the sharks, which threaten to eat them alive. Louie and his friends are shocked and terrified by the sight of so many bloodthirsty animals. The passage reiterates the presence of death and danger in Louie's life now: as a soldier, he has to contend with the dangers of the natural world, not just of the Japanese army. Next to the sharks, the sailors and their life rafts seem incredibly fragile, barely capable of withstanding the sharks' attacks. At the same time, the sharks are just following their nature--they aren't any more bloodthirsty or vicious than any other animal trying to eat. It's only humans who are capable of real cruelty--it's a human war that has brought the sailors to this conflict with nature. The passage also foreshadows some of the dangers that Louie will experience personally when he's sent adrift in the ocean.

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Sharks Symbol Timeline in Unbroken

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sharks appears in Unbroken. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
...crewmen of his crashed plane. The men have no rations or drinking water and hungry sharks constantly encircle them. The U.S. military has already given them up for dead. (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
...the other crewmen take their chances on the raft. As the bomber flies overhead, the sharks swim toward Louie. (full context)
Chapter 8: “Only the Laundry Knew How Scared I Was”
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
...seeing anyone on a tiny life-raft in the middle of the Pacific was highly unlikely. Sharks, starvation, and crash wounds all contributed to the unlikelihood of staying alive on a raft... (full context)
Chapter 9: Five-hundred and Ninety-four Holes
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
On a search-and-rescue mission, the crew of Super Man see hundreds of sharks surrounding five downed airmen sitting in two life-rafts. The rescue planes get to the men... (full context)
Chapter 12: Downed
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
As the day passes, the sharks start to surround the raft. They are so close that Louie can touch them. At... (full context)
Chapter 15: Sharks and Bullets
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
As the bomber shoots from overhead, Louie jabs an oncoming shark in the snout. After the plane passes, Louie climbs back onto the raft and finds... (full context)
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...in air. With a renewed sense of life, Mac uses an oar to hit the sharks when they come close to the raft. They keep this up for hours until Louie... (full context)
Chapter 16: Singing in the Clouds
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
One day while Louie stares into the ocean, a shark lunges at him. Luckily Mac beats the sharks away before it can injure Louie. Smiling,... (full context)
War and Identity  Theme Icon
Louie feels that he has an implicit understanding with the sharks: if he’s in the water, they can attack him, but they have no right to... (full context)
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
...panicked and unreliable man, in his last days he redeemed himself by fending off the sharks. They wrap his body in part of the ruined raft and lower him into the... (full context)