The cycles of wrongdoing and redemption that lie at the heart of the book illustrate how one can always atone for the crimes and sins of the past. At the beginning of the book, Louie is a juvenile delinquent, committing petty crimes, terrorizing the neighbors with pranks, and beating up other boys. Louie redeemed himself in the eyes of his community when he turns his energy to running and ends up competing in the Olympics, becoming the pride of his hometown. Likewise, Francis “Mac” McNamara selfishly endangered his crewmates by eating all of the rations, but redeemed himself by tirelessly fending off sharks from attacking Louie and Phil.
Though the book portrays everyone as having the potential for redemption, some characters miss out on the spiritual rewards of finding redemption. For example, Mutsuhiro “the Bird” Watanabe committed the much graver crime of torturing POWs but never sought redemption for his wrongdoing. If this story were fictional, we might expect the author to conclude the book with the Bird getting what’s coming to him. But, in reality, the Bird didn’t suffer any physical consequences for his actions. The Bird, however, does miss out on the inner fulfillment and serenity of finding redemption and making amends for past wrongs.
The book ends with Hillenbrand identifying forgiveness as the most powerful resource for achieving redemption. For Louie to recover from the traumas of war and rebuild his familial and marital relationships, he had to let go of the anger he had for Watanabe. Once he forgave his former captor, Louie found the inner peace that had eluded him in the years after the war.
Redemption and Forgiveness ThemeTracker
Redemption and Forgiveness Quotes in Unbroken
Once his hometown’s resident archvillain, Louie was now a superstar, and Torrance forgave him everything. When he trained, people lined the track fence, calling out, “Come on, Iron Man!” The sports pages of the Los Angeles Times and Examiner were striped with stories on the prodigy, whom the Times called the “Torrance Tempest” and practically everyone else called the “Torrance Tornado.”
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.
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.
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.