Laura Hillenbrand

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Themes and Colors
Survival and Resilience Theme Icon
Dignity Theme Icon
Redemption and Forgiveness Theme Icon
War and Identity Theme Icon
Belief and Faith Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Unbroken, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Dignity Theme Icon

One of the central conflicts of the novel centers on Louie’s struggle to preserve his dignity, which Hillenbrand argues is as important to survival as food and shelter, in the face of the dehumanizing conditions of the Japanese prison camps. Even before Louie arrives at the camps, Hillenbrand establishes the importance of dignity when Francis “Mac” McNamara succumbs to selfish desire and eats all the rations on the raft, a betrayal that made him lose his self-respect. Without his dignity intact, despair consumed Mac, weakening his will to live and making survival impossible.

The issue of dignity took on greater weight after Louie and Phil were captured and brought to the Japanese prison camps. The Japanese considered being captured by the enemy as being without dignity. Since they saw the POWs as having no dignity, the Japanese guards treated the POWs as subhuman. In this context, preserving one’s dignity was akin to insisting on one’s humanity. Louie and the other prisoners preserved their dignity with small acts of resistance against their captors: they stole, mocked the guards behind their backs, and planned escape attempts. By rebelling against the guards, the men asserted their independence and individuality, reclaiming the self-respect that the guards tried to take from them.

While Louie preserved his dignity during the war, after the war his inability to cope with the psychological wounds left by the war threatened his self-respect, which led to a cycle of drinking heavily, abusing his wife, and squandering his family’s money, that in turn led to even more loss of dignity. Louie’s postwar loss of dignity causes him to lose his sense of morality, becoming almost as violent as the guards who tried to deny him his dignity in the first place, and leads him to the false idea that the only hope for restoring his self-respect was to kill Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe.

In the end, Louie countered the dehumanizing effects of war with a faith in God. Since the Japanese guards tried to deprive him of his dignity by making him feel insignificant, Louie’s faith that a higher power singled him out for protection restored his dignity and self-worth.

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Dignity Quotes in Unbroken

Below you will find the important quotes in Unbroken related to the theme of Dignity.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He could have ended the beatings by running away or succumbing to tears, but he refused to do either. “You could beat him to death,” said Sylvia, “and he wouldn’t say ‘ouch’ or cry.” He just put his hands in front of his face and took it.

Related Characters: Sylvia Zamperini (speaker), Louis “Louie” Zamperini
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

The realization that Mac had eaten all of the chocolate rolled hard over Louie. In the brief time that Louie had known Mac, the tail gunner had struck him as a decent, friendly guy, although a bit of a reveler, confident to the point of flippancy. The crash had undone him. Louie knew that they couldn’t survive for long without food, but he quelled the thought. A rescue search was surely under way.

Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind. Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain.

Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.

Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

Finally, Louie was introduced to a group of men, Australians and Americans. These men, the producers said, were helping them make broadcasts. As Louie held out his hand, the propaganda prisoners dropped their eyes to the floor. Their faces said it all; if Louie agreed to make this broadcast, he would be forced into a life as his enemy’s propagandist.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

Now he was condemned to crawl through the filth of a pig’s sty, picking up feces with his bare hands and cramming handfuls of the animal’s feed into his mouth to save himself from starving to death. Of all of the violent and vile abuses that the Bird had inflicted upon Louie, none had horrified and demoralized him as did this. If anything is going to shatter me, Louie thought, this is it.

Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 34 Quotes

A flask became his constant companion, making furtive appearances in parking lots and corridors outside speaking halls. When the harsh push of memory ran through Louie, reaching for his flask became as easy as slapping a swatter on a fly.

Related Characters: Louis “Louie” Zamperini
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

For these men, the central struggle of postwar life was to restore their dignity and find a way to see the world as something other than menacing blackness. There was no one right way to peace; every man had to find his own path, according to his own history. Some succeeded. For others, the war would never really end.

Page Number: 357
Explanation and Analysis:

Louie had no idea what had become of the Bird, but he felt sure that if he could get back to Japan, he could hunt him down. This would be his emphatic reply to the Bird’s unremitting effort to extinguish his humanity: I am still a man. He could conceive of no other way to save himself. Louie had found a quest to replace his lost Olympics. He was going to kill the Bird.

Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 37 Quotes

No one could reach Louie, because he had never really come home. In prison camp, he’d been beaten into dehumanized obedience to a world order in which the Bird was absolute sovereign, and it was under this world order that he still lived. The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his hands. A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder.

Related Symbols: The Bird
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 39 Quotes

In Sugamo Prison, as he was told of Watanabe’s fate, all Louie saw was a lost person, a life now beyond redemption. He felt something that he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion. At that moment, something shifted sweetly inside him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was over.

Explanation and Analysis: