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Belief and Faith Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Survival and Resilience  Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
War and Identity  Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Unbroken, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Belief and Faith Theme Icon

Unbroken argues that belief is a powerful, even essential, component for overcoming adversity. The suffering Louie witnessed first hand during the war nearly swallowed his soul, making him lose faith in himself and the essential goodness of humankind. But in the years after the war, Louie found salvation in the religious conviction that a compassionate and benevolent God cares and guides the world even during periods of global suffering and turmoil. Belief in God gave Louie a reason to live, allowing him to recover from the psychological traumas of the war.

But traditional religious belief isn’t the only kind of belief in the book. Louie’s family had faith that he was alive despite the U.S. Army’s announcement that he was killed in action. This faith kept the family from falling apart and succumbing to unbearable grief. Similarly, before Louie found religion, his faith in himself and in his abilities gave him the confidence he needed to survive the trails of POW camp.

The book also shows that people who lack faith in themselves become cruel and violent. For example, the Japanese army’s rejection of Watanabe’s application to be an officer caused him to lose faith in himself, which Hillenbrand argues prompted him to torture others in order to derive a sense of power and significance. In this context, Unbroken illustrates that a deep-rooted faith in one’s own value is a necessity for moral decency.

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Belief and Faith Quotes in Unbroken

Below you will find the important quotes in Unbroken related to the theme of Belief and Faith.
Chapter 13 Quotes

That night, before he tried to sleep, Louie prayed. He had prayed only once before in his life, in childhood, when his mother was sick and he had been filled with a rushing fear that he would lose her. That night on the raft, in words composed in his head, never passing his lips, he pleaded for help.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Louise Zamperini
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Hillenbrand introduces the theme of religion to the novel. Louie isn't a particularly religious person, we've already been told--but there's a side of his personality that seems willing to have faith, against all the evidence. Here, Louie is trapped on a lifeboat, desperate for food and rescue. He prays to God for help, just as he did when he was a child and feared that he might lose his mother. His motivations aren't hard to diagnose: he's frightened and, for once, helpless.

In a way, Louie's behavior here reiterates everything we already knew about his athletic prowess. Louie is an optimist through and through--when the outlook doesn't look good, he finds a way to see the bright side, believing against all reasonable evidence that everything will work out well. Thus, he chooses to have faith that he'll be rescued, praying to God for help.


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Louise cried and prayed. From the stress, open sores broke out all over her hands. Sylvia thought her hands looked like raw hamburger. Somewhere in those jagged days, a fierce conviction came over Louise. She was absolutely certain that her son was alive.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Louise Zamperini , Sylvia Zamperini
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're told what's going on with Louie's relatives back in the United States. News that their son has gone missing reaches California, and Louie's mother, Louise, becomes horribly frightened. Louise is a religious person, and she prays to God for help with her son. Louise also finds the courage to believe that her son is still alive, even after the authorities tell her that he's likely dead. Much like her son, Louise is an eternal optimist, someone who believes in the best of all possible worlds and the ability to improve things through the force of one's will, endurance, and faith. Here, she chooses to believe that Louie is still alive--she becomes singularly focused on such an outcome, much like Louie focusing his attention on winning a race.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Mac had never seen combat, didn’t know these officers, and was largely an unknown quantity to himself. All he knew about his ability to cope with this crisis was that on the first night, he had panicked and eaten the only food they had. As time passed and starvation loomed, this act took on greater and greater importance, and it may have fed Mac’s sense of futility.

Related Characters: Francis “Mac” McNamara
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hillenbrand contrasts the experience of Mac, a new recruit to the military, with that of Phil and Louie on the life raft. Mac is young and unused to crises, and he feels devastatingly guilty about having stolen all the chocolate on the first night in the raft. As a result, Mac becomes depressed and anxious during his time at sea--he can't force himself to envision a future in which he survives the danger and goes back home.

The passage reminds us how extraordinary Louie's willpower is. Not just anybody can focus so single-mindedly on a bright future--many of us are more like Mac, focusing on the worst possible outcome and allowing our guilt and self-doubt to consume us.

They bowed their heads together as Louie prayed. If God would quench their thirst, he vowed, he’d dedicate his life to him. The next day, by divine intervention or the fickle humors of the tropics, the sky broke open and rain poured down. Twice more the water ran out, twice more they prayed, and twice more the rain came.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Louie prays to God, and his prayers are seemingly answered. Louie is getting desperate--he's going to die of thirst if he's not rescued soon. In his desperation, Louie takes solace in prayer and faith--he even promises God to devote his life to religion if there's rain. Almost miraculously, it rains shortly afterwards, saving Louie's life.

Hillenbrand isn't saying outright that God saved Louie's life--she leaves it up to readers to decide if the event was a coincidence or fate. And yet the broader point seems to be that Louie finds the courage to take a "leap of faith" in his time of need. In other words, Louie turns to God out of desperation, once again hanging onto his sense of optimism in the midst of a crisis.

Chapter 39 Quotes

In Sugamo Prison, as he was told of Watanabe’s fate, all Louie saw was a lost person, a life now beyond redemption. He felt something that he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Explanation and Analysis:

Louie was unbroken during the war because he faced the terrible traumas of the war, of the Japanese camps, and of the Bird with a refusal to give in or give up. He faced all these obstacles as enemies to be beaten, and he beat them. And yet after the war he found that the skills that allowed him to beat those obstacles -- rage, refusal to give in -- were essentially eating him alive. He survived the war; it did not break him physically. But it broke him emotionally.

As this quote shows, though, through religion Louie finds a way to mend himself, to un-break himself. Religion gives him a way to escape the mindset of war -- victory or death, defeat or be defeated -- and find instead compassion and forgiveness. Here he finds compassion, even, for the most hateful, vengeful enemy he faced: the Bird. And it is only when he feels that compassion for the Bird, when his faith allows him to be  able to recognize a kind of fundamental dignity in the Bird despite all that the bird did, that Louie is able to feel that dignity in himself as well and to leave the war behind, that he is able to truly be unbroken.