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Redemption and Forgiveness 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.
Redemption and Forgiveness  Theme Icon

The cycles of wrongdoing and redemption that lie at the heart of the book illustrate how one can always atone for the crimes and sins of the past. At the beginning of the book, Louie is a juvenile delinquent, committing petty crimes, terrorizing the neighbors with pranks, and beating up other boys. Louie redeemed himself in the eyes of his community when he turns his energy to running and ends up competing in the Olympics, becoming the pride of his hometown. Likewise, Francis “Mac” McNamara selfishly endangered his crewmates by eating all of the rations, but redeemed himself by tirelessly fending off sharks from attacking Louie and Phil.

Though the book portrays everyone as having the potential for redemption, some characters miss out on the spiritual rewards of finding redemption. For example, Mutsuhiro “the Bird” Watanabe committed the much graver crime of torturing POWs but never sought redemption for his wrongdoing. If this story were fictional, we might expect the author to conclude the book with the Bird getting what’s coming to him. But, in reality, the Bird didn’t suffer any physical consequences for his actions. The Bird, however, does miss out on the inner fulfillment and serenity of finding redemption and making amends for past wrongs.

The book ends with Hillenbrand identifying forgiveness as the most powerful resource for achieving redemption. For Louie to recover from the traumas of war and rebuild his familial and marital relationships, he had to let go of the anger he had for Watanabe. Once he forgave his former captor, Louie found the inner peace that had eluded him in the years after the war.

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Redemption and Forgiveness Quotes in Unbroken

Below you will find the important quotes in Unbroken related to the theme of Redemption and Forgiveness .
Chapter 3 Quotes

Once his hometown’s resident archvillain, Louie was now a superstar, and Torrance forgave him everything. When he trained, people lined the track fence, calling out, “Come on, Iron Man!” The sports pages of the Los Angeles Times and Examiner were striped with stories on the prodigy, whom the Times called the “Torrance Tempest” and practically everyone else called the “Torrance Tornado.”

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

As Louie becomes a more impressive athlete, he also becomes a more popular figure in his own hometown. Previously, Louie was demonized for being an Italian. As he grows up, though, the townspeople are forced to acknowledge his greatness--they give him their respect because he earns it.

The passage is a good example of how many immigrants in the Untied States won respect for themselves through hard work and model behavior. At the same time that Louie was becoming a sensation, Frank Sinatra was paving a way for Italians in show business, another good example of the same process. It's unfair, of course, that immigrants should have to prove themselves to be "real" Americans through their excellence, but such is life in America in the middle of the 20th century.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

Hitler said something in German. An interpreter translated. “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

Related Characters: Adolf Hitler (speaker), Louis “Louie” Zamperini
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Louie, having just run the fastest final lap of a race in history, meets Adolf Hitler. Hitler praises Louie for his excellent performance. The scene is so strange that a fiction writer wouldn't dare to dream it up: but it really happened. Hillenbrand notes the irony here: Louis is shaking hands with Hitler, the man who started the war in which Louie would one day fight, on the other side.

Thus, the passage foreshadows some of the tragedies of the second part of the book. Louie is basically just an innocent kid for now, but we the readers recognize that he'll become involved in a horrible war in the near future. Similarly, at this point Hitler was seemingly just another world leader (albeit a racist and power-hungry one), not yet recognized as the architect of one the world's greatest atrocities.

Chapter 35 Quotes

For these men, the central struggle of postwar life was to restore their dignity and find a way to see the world as something other than menacing blackness. There was no one right way to peace; every man had to find his own path, according to his own history. Some succeeded. For others, the war would never really end.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips , Fred Garret
Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final third of the book, Hillenbrand changes her focus from war and athleticism to psychology. The book has been psychological all along, of course—we’ve seen what’s going on in Louie’s mind while he’s running or surviving the lifeboat—but now, Louie’s mind becomes the true “battleground.” As Hillenbrand says here, many soldiers returned from World War Two without ever really recovering their old lives: the experience of so much bloodshed and trauma was too much for them to bear. Each soldier had suffered in a different way—as a result, there was no easy fix for the trauma of warfare.

In effect, the final third of the book is about whether or not Louie can regain control of his own mind, or if he’ll plummet into guilt, despair, and resentment.

Louie had no idea what had become of the Bird, but he felt sure that if he could get back to Japan, he could hunt him down. This would be his emphatic reply to the Bird’s unremitting effort to extinguish his humanity: I am still a man. He could conceive of no other way to save himself. Louie had found a quest to replace his lost Olympics. He was going to kill the Bird.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini , Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hillenbrand shows us how low Louie has sunk after coming home from World War Two. Louie endured incredibly harsh conditions in his POW camp—most of it at the hands of a Japanese soldier nicknamed “The Bird." The result is that Louie, despite having survived the war, feels a continued hatred for the Bird. He’s been so traumatized by his violent torture that he thinks the only solution is more violence. Thus, Louie plans to return to Japan and kill his old tormenter. He feels helpless and lost in America, and feels that he can only take meaningly action and reclaim his human dignity by taking the life of his enemy.

Louie’s attempts to find justice and peace after World War Two are especially poignant because they suggest that the remainder of his life will be dominated by his memories of the past. Louie has always been an optimistic person who focuses on the future; now, he can think of no future other than one in which he settles his past scores.

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.