Louie Character Analysis in Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Often, the odds seem totally stacked against us. Sometimes conditions are so unfavorable, the likelihood of success is slim to none. Resilient optimism is the ability to maintain hopefulness and confidence through the most trying of circumstances. Individuals who sustain resilient optimism are able to overcome their obstacles and beat the odds. A famous example of a resilient optimist is Louie Zamperini. Born in 1917 to an Italian immigrant family, Louie grew up in Torrance, California where, at a young age, started smoking, stealing, and fighting. After the start of World War 2, Louie joined the US Army Air Corps and served four years, two of which he spent as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp (Book Summary 1). Louie’s life struggles are mapped out in a mud run obstacle course, with each obstacle representing one struggle, from childhood to adulthood. These key moments in his life demonstrate the theme in Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: overcoming adversity requires resilient optimism.
Throughout “Unbroken”, Louie is faced with many obstacles that challenge his cleverness and mental health. The most obvious of these challenges comes during his time in the military. He utilized his wit after the Wake Atoll mission when his B-12 bomber, Super Man, is battered and barely flying. Hillenbrand writes, “Louie had an idea. What if they tied parachutes to the plane, pitched them out the windows at touchdown, and pulled the ripcords? No one had ever tried to stop a bomber this way, but it was all they had. They decided to try” (84). Instead of panicking like some of his other crewmates, Louie is proactive and brainstorms a plan for if the men could not make it back to the airbase. His resilient optimism and cleverness shines through the chaos, and the crew agrees with Louie’s plan. On another mission, Louie’s plane crashes in the Pacific leaving Mac, Phil, and himself stranded at sea. Rather than emphasize the crisis of the men, “Louie began peppering Phil and Mac with questions on every subject. They shared their histories, from first memories and onward. They reminisce about the best dates they’d ever had” (Hillenbrand 114). Louie boosts the men’s spirits with lighthearted conversations and stories to support their mental health. His ability to take action and gain control over the highly stressful situation exhibits his resilient optimism.
As resilient as Louie is during the war, his health and faith were greatly challenged when he came home. Alcoholism and PTSD were common troubles veterans and POWs faced after the war. Louie drank heavily to cope with his war traumas which negatively affected his family and finances. After his wife convinces Louie to go to see Billy Graham, Louie has an epiphany (Book Summary 9). When the couple returned home from the church service, “Louie went straight to his liquor , carried the bottles to the kitchen, and emptied them into the sink. In the morning he woke up feeling cleansed” (Hillenbrand 269). Louie lets go of his wartime worries and reaffirms his relationship with God. His resiliently optimistic attitude and reignition of his faith shows growth from his post-war, sullen, and dark soul. Along with the crippling alcoholism, Louie was also plagued with terrifying dreams of the Japanese camp guards and fits of rage set off by anything that reminded him of the horrors he endured. When Louie finally travels to a Japanese prison to see the guards that abused him, he “was seized by giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face” (Hillenbrand 273). Rather than resent the guards and the inhumane things they did him, Louie forgives them. Aided by his faith, Louie resiliently lets go of his animosity towards his abusers, replacing it with understanding. Even at his lowest points, Louie’s emotional strength and optimism allows him to overcome the obstacles in his way.
A mud-run style obstacle course can be used to represent the struggles Louie faces throughout Unbroken as well as reinforce the theme that overcoming adversity requires resilient optimism. We start our course at the Foggy Forest, where runners make their way through a quarter mile of dense and misty woods. The forest represents Louie’s difficult childhood riddled with alcohol, drugs, and violence. Mentored by his brother, Louie overcame this struggle by joining the track team and focusing all of his efforts on running (Book Summary 2). His resilience and quick feet sent him all the way to the 1939 Olympic Games. To make it through the Foggy Forest, runners must harness their own resilience, dodging thick trees and finding their way through the haze as quickly as they can. After a half mile run through mud, a sand field, and monkey bars, runners will need to paddle across a lake scattered with inflatable sharks. During Louie’s days lost at sea, he and his crewmates had to fight off hunger, insanity, and sharks. Louie greatly contributed to the castaways survival through his resiliently optimistic survival strategies. He caught birds and fish for food, lifted spirits, and fought off sharks. Where the other men lacked motivation and confidence after the crash, Louie maintained a positive attitude and took initiative to control their dire situation. Continuing through the course, runners will progress through a 200ft mud crawl, sprint with a 40lb salt slab, dodge flying rocks, and navigate through a drunken maze to finally reach the last obstacle: the double rock wall. The walls represent the last significant struggle Louie overcomes in Unbroken, which is his post-war PTSD. Instead of letting his night terrors and fear consume him, Louie travels to a Japanese prison and resiliently forgives the guards that tormented and abused him (Book Summary 10). Two walls, each 14.5 feet tall, require strength, technique, and optimist to overcome. The first person to complete all ten obstacles and cross the finish line wins a $500 cash prize. All proceeds from the mud run will be donated to the Louis Zamperini Foundation, whose mission is to transform the lives of young people through character building and self discovery. Their goal is to provide hope, instill resilience, and demonstrate forgiveness, while developing compassion and empathy for others.
To conclude, Unbroken conveys the theme that resilience and optimism are key attributes required for overcoming struggles and adversity. When this theme is modeled in an obstacle course mud run, readers can visualize the struggles Louie endured and understand just how much strength and adaptability was needed to prevail over his barriers. Themes like Hillenbrand’s establish to her readers that hope, strength, and resilient optimism are necessary to overcome unfavorable conditions and beat even the smallest of odds.