Laura Hillenbrand

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Unbroken: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Back in Louie’s hometown of Torrance, Louise’s fierce belief that Louie is alive inspires the other family members to believe. Hillenbrand describes their feeling as not being hope, but rather a belief that they could feel Louie’s presence in the world.
Louise is the book’s epitome of belief. Hope is the feeling of desire and expectation for things in the future. But Louise’s belief is not desire – it is confidence in the truth of something without hard evidence. Louise does not want Louie to be alive, she knows he already is.
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Training naval recruits in San Diego, Pete feels the stress of not knowing about Louie’s situation wearing on him and he travels home often to be with his family. Louie’s sister Sylvia takes a job as a dental assistant at an army hospital, hoping to learn information about the war and about Louie. Anthony bravely smiles through the pain and tears.
Louie’s family endures an emotional ordeal that parallels Louie’s physical one. Each family member must find ways to cope with the uncertainty about Louie’s condition or else succumb to a crippling doubt and grief. Pete finds it in family, Sylvia in actively getting info, and Anthony by staying optimistic for others.
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After a military bombing destroys Execution Island, the U.S. army finds Japanese documents that list how a Japanese ship captured two unnamed American soldiers stranded on a raft. The report says that they were beaten and then transported to a camp in Japan. Although this information gives the army reason to believe Phil and Louie are still alive, the army never informs their families because of a lack of a hard evidence.
Since conviction in the absence of hard evidence is the definition of belief, the U.S. military is seriously lacking in it. If the military had more faith, then they could have given Phil’s and Louie’s families this info, sparing them the pain of not knowing about their sons’ conditions. Their lack of belief, usually a bad sign in this book, causes only more suffering for the families.
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The army officially declares Phil and Louie dead in May 1944, but their families don’t stop believing that they are alive. When a newspaper plans to run an obituary for Phil, his mother contacts the paper to ask them not to print the notice. In the Zamperini household, Anthony and Pete make plans during family meals to search the islands of the Pacific after the war, looking for Louie.
The family’s response to the announcement cements the importance of belief. Like Phil and Louie, their families are resilient, believing the boys are alive despite all odds. This belief will give them the strength to emotionally survive the war.
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