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, Mac proves himself a necessary asset and, for a moment, reclaims the sense of self that he was losing.
Mac’s redemption continues as he regains some of his lost dignity by helping his crewmates.
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 lunge at him on the raft. Feeling like they violated an agreement, Louie takes revenge by grabbing a shark by its tail and lifting it out of the water. The men eat the shark’s liver and are full for the first time since being on the raft. They catch and kill one more shark this way, but soon all the small sharks stay away from the raft.
Louie’s imagined treaty with the sharks reinforces their symbolic meaning as a specifically natural violence. Louie feels that it is natural for the sharks to attack him in the water because that is their domain, but unnatural for them to come on the raft, his territory. This view of the sharks also draws a connection between sharks and the Japanese military, who crossed into American territory to bomb Pearl Harbor. Louie, therefore, seems to provide a justification for the war: if you cross our borders with violent intentions, then you can expect we’ll be coming to your territory, seeking revenge. At the same time, this eye-for-an-eye mentality and the anger it brews in him is something that Louie will struggle with after the war.
As the days pass, Mac grows thinner, eventually dying from malnutrition. Although he began his journey on the raft as a 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 ocean. The sharks leave his body alone.
Hillenbrand makes explicit the theme of Redemption, outlining how Mac redefined himself. At first he selfishly risked the lives of the men, but, at the end, he risked his own life to fend off the sharks. Even the sharks seem to respect their former adversary’s bravery, allowing him a dignified burial at sea.
One morning, Louie and Phil awake to a total stillness. They have arrived in a calm, windless part of the ocean called the doldrums. Amazed by the beauty and stillness of the ocean, Louie feels as if only some greater being could have created such perfection.
As we saw earlier, Louie’s fear of sterilization made him clean up his act, but his love of exceeding limitations made him an Olympian. On the raft, fear made Louie turn to religion as a last resort, but now he sees God’s hand in the beauty of the world. This more positive, joyful reason to believe will eventually provide Louie with a deeper, more resilient faith in the years after the war.
On the raft, the quiet and lack of stimulation provides Louie with an intellectual refuge. Without the noise and chaos of everyday life, he has time to think about himself and his world. In his mind, he recalls with great precision memories from his childhood, including one where his dog saved him from falling down a flight of stairs.
Louie’s realization about his memory underscores war’s capacity for bringing out people’s true qualities. (Speaking more skeptically, one might speculate that because Louie was an old man when he told Hillenbrand these stories, she might focus on his memory skills in order to anticipate any criticisms of the book that cast doubt on Louie’s ability to recall the events of his life.)
On the fortieth day, Louie hears a chorus of voice singing in the sky. When he looks up, he sees twenty-one human figures in the clouds. Asleep, Phil hears and sees nothing. Louie feels confident that this is no hallucination or vision, but instead something real. A few days later, they see land in the distance.
Louie’s encounter with the angels is a divine revelation, reinforcing the presence of God in his life and in the narrative. The angels are a good omen, heralding the coming of land and his deliverance from the jaws of a natural death at sea.