Laura Hillenbrand

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Unbroken: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

As they drift towards land, a terrible storm picks up and nearly sinks their raft. After the storm, a Japanese military ship intercepts their raft. The Japanese sailors bring the men aboard at gunpoint and tie them to the mast. The sailors threaten Louie and Phil, but the ship’s captain tells them to treat the Americans more humanely. As per the captain’s orders, the sailors untie them and give them food and lodging.
The typhoon that the chapter takes its title from is both literal and metaphoric. The literal typhoon is another example of the violent natural world, but the men only glimpse the metaphoric typhoon: the tumultuous storm of violence and cruelty that the Japanese will unleash on them.
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The ship drops them off at an island where a Japanese doctor provides them with food and medical care. Both men have lost half their body weight during their time on the raft. They feel safe until a Japanese commanding officer tells them that the Japanese military is sending them to an island known to the Americans as “Execution Island.” The officer says that he has sought to treat them well here, but that he can offer no protection on the island.
The commanding officer’s actions provide an important contrast to the coming violence of internment. From here on, the book will depict countless Japanese atrocities, so Hillenbrand first establishes the obvious truth that there are good Japanese people, that not every Japanese person is inherently evil – a belief some of the POWs will sadly harbor postwar.
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On the boat to Execution Island, the ship’s captain provides Phil and Louie with bountiful portions of food. But their fortunes change at the island where Japanese prison guards drag them to small separate wooden cages. Louie sees the names of nine marines carved into the roof of his cage and wonders what happened to them. When he looks down at his body and sees his shrunken form, he thinks to himself that he is a dead body breathing. He then begins to cry.
Louie’s assessment of his emaciated body directly contrasts with the scene where he ran a mile in the sand on the day of the crash. At that moment, he was in the best shape of his life, but now his body has withered away. The shock of the transformation risks withering his spirit, his will to live, and assaults his dignity, which was so tied up in his ability to overcome physical challenges.
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