Laura Hillenbrand

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Unbroken: Chapter 34 Summary & Analysis

At the Zamperini home, the family showers Louie with gifts and love. Louie acts normally until his sister Sylvia puts on their prized recording of Louie’s broadcast. When the broadcast begins to play, Louie suddenly screams, shouting incoherently about propaganda prisoners. To his family’s horror, he demands that Sylvia destroy the record. Louie goes up to his boyhood room and falls asleep. That night, he dreams of the Bird.
Louie isn’t out of the woods yet. Though his body is healthy, the war has left unseen, psychological wounds that make him violent and unpredictable. Louie thought that he was “free” when the war ended, but he only found himself in a psychological prison where the war, the many threats to his dignity such as the offer to read propaganda, and most of all the Bird still haunt him.
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In the Japanese metropolis of Kofu, the Bird hears on the radio his name on a list of war criminals. He decides to spend his life in hiding, vowing never to let himself get captured. In the wake of the WWII peace treaty, Japan forms a special detective unit for apprehending war criminals. The hunt for the Bird is on.
The Bird’s desire to keep his freedom points to the ambiguity in his nickname. The Bird does not want to live out his days imprisoned in a cage, but he doesn’t realize that by fleeing punishment, he has already made for himself a personal prison. Without redemption, he will never free himself of his sins, never know the true freedom of inner peace and atonement.
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In the States, the War Department books Louie for a speaking tour to talk about his wartime experiences. His days are full of interviews, fancy dinners, and speeches, but at night he dreams only of the Bird. At one speaking engagement, Louie begins to drink more than normally in order to calm his nerves. The next day at breakfast, he drinks even more. Soon, Louie carries a flask with him wherever he goes, taking a swig whenever he starts remembering the war.
Louie fights against the memories of war much as he did against his fear of dying, repressing them with the use of alcohol. Speaking more broadly, Louie approaches the terror of his memories as he has every other challenge: as something to overcome. This attitude bolstered his resilience in wartime, but it will prove to have destructive effects in peacetime when the thing he has to overcome is internal.
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In Miami, while spending the two weeks of paid vacation awarded to returning servicemen, Louie meets Cynthia Applewhite on the beach. Cynthia comes from a wealthy family, but has an impulsive, passionate, and independent personality. After two weeks of flirting, partying, and pulling pranks, Louie asks her to marry him. Despite knowing so little about him, she accepts.
Louie’s proposal might be an attempt to flee the memories of the past. Carefree and untroubled by emotional baggage, Cynthia seems like the perfect person for forgetting his own troubles. Seizing the first chance he has for marriage, Louie tries to jumpstart a normal civilian life, but without first coming to terms with his past and healing his psychological wounds, Louie won’t be able to reintegrate fully into society.
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In the following May of 1946, Louie and Cynthia marry in a small church near Louie’s home. In a hotel room they rented for their wedding night, Cynthia informs her parents about the marriage for the first time. They keep her on the phone all night yelling at her. Louie opens the champagne, drinks the whole bottle, and falls asleep.
The first fissures appear in the external appearance of stability and normalcy that Louie has tried to cultivate with marriage. Drinking himself into a stupor on his wedding night is not a good sign for his mental health or for their marriage.
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