On the surface, Phil and Mac stay afloat by holding on to some of the plane’s debris. Phil has a bleeding head injury. Louie swims to the two inflated life-rafts and brings them over to Phil and Mac. Louie wraps his t-shirt around Phil’s head wound. Recognizing that his injury will hinder his ability to lead, Phil asks Louie to take command, and Louie agrees. Suddenly, they hear a horrible scream and then total silence. Louie searches for the drowning man, but he finds no trace of him.
The ocean is brutal and uncaring, literally swallowing up the man’s horrific scream. This scream even becomes a metaphor for life in a violent, unforgiving universe: in the endless expanse of time and space, man exists for a moment only to scream before returning to oblivion. This sense of futility sets the mood for the following chapters, threatening Louie’s will to survive.
The rafts contain several thick, highly caloric chocolate bars, a flare gun, a patch kit in case of leaks, a few half pints of water, and some fishing hooks. A few years later, the army would provide more rations and survival materials, including a water desalination device for making the ocean water drinkable.
This short list of inadequate survival materials attests to the direness of their situation. Hillenbrand is making it absolutely clear that the men have little to no chance at surviving long enough to be rescued.
As Louie takes stock of the rations, Mac starts to scream and shout that they’re all going to die. Louie tries to calm him, but Mac continues to panic so Louie slaps him. Mac falls silent. Louie tells them that they’ll survive by rationing the food. Each man will get one square of chocolate in the morning and at night as well as two sips of water a day.
If resilience is defined by one’s ability to adapt effectively to adversity, then Louie’s and Mac’s responses to the plane crash show the great divide between their respective resilience. The crash causes Mac to lose all hope while Louie, seemingly unfazed by the crash, stays positive and asserts control over the situation by rationing out the food. Resilience, or lack thereof, will be the determining factor for surviving the ordeal.
As the day passes, the sharks start to surround the raft. They are so close that Louie can touch them. At night, the temperature drops and the sharks rub their backs along the bottom of the raft. While Phil and Louie sleep, Mac stays wide awake, terrified at what may come.
The sharks are a symbol for the violent, ever-present natural world. Like the uncaring ocean, the sharks have no mercy or sympathy for the men. Only hunger. The sharks, and the violent death they represent, undermine Mac’s psychological fortitude, his ability to survive.