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Unbroken

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

author  Laura Hillenbrand

type of work  Biography

genre  Literary nonfiction

language  English

time and place written  Hillenbrand began researching Unbroken after her bestselling book Seabiscuit was published in 2001. She researched and wrote the book while homebound in Washington, D.C.

date of first publication  2010

publisher  Random House, New York

narrator  The narrator is not a character in the story.

point of view  Third-person narration informed by interviews with numerous participants in the historical events, notably the main character, Louie Zamperini. While the narration focuses mainly on Louie’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings, it also leaves Louie to provide information about other characters, including loved ones back home in America and, later in the book, Mitsuhiro Watanabe, known to Louie as “the Bird.” Hillenbrand also brings war statistics and other factual information into the storytelling.

tone  Factual, journalistic, hopeful. The story is presented with a factual tone, but as the title of the book suggests, the book is shaped in ways that celebrate Louie’s life and that support the portrait of Louie as an exceptional human being.

tense  Past tense

setting (time)  The book covers Louie’s life from 1917 through events in 2008, but most of the book focus on the World War II years, 1941-1945.

setting (place)  The book begins by focusing on Louie’s boyhood in Torrance, California. As he becomes a competitive runner, the book moves to New York and then to the Berlin Olympics before his college experience at USC. Later, the book follows Louie’s military service in Washington state and Hawaii, following by his forty seven days lost in the Pacific Ocean and years of imprisonment in Japan, at various POW camps. Finally, the book covers Louie’s post-war life, especially in California.

protagonist  Louis Silvie Zamperini (“Louie”)

major conflict  Surviving World War II after the plane crash of a B-24

rising action  Louie and his crewmate Phil think they are saved when they spot land after a forty-seven-day sea journey, but they are soon captured by the Japanese and become prisoners of war who face years of cruel treatment in a variety of POW camps.

climax  Men at the POW camp of Naoetsu receive confirmation that the war has ended and that the Allied forces have defeated Japan.

falling action  Now that the war has ended, Louie journeys eastward, across Japan and toward America. He begins a process of recovering from the physical and emotional trauma of the war.

themes  The capacity of the human spirit; the power of love, the atrocities of war, life as a heroic adventure

motifs  The presence of cruel danger, miraculous survival, relationships enabling survival and success

symbols  The doldrums, etched names on wall of cell, on Kwajalein, the cartoon inside Louie’s wallet

foreshadowing  The zeppelin in the Preface represents the dark cloud of war that will soon eclipse Louie’s family. The incident in which another runner spikes Louie’s leg reflects the capacity of humans to inflict harm on others, something Louie will experience across his years as a prisoner of war. The sharks that surround the raft, and the men’s successful efforts to keep them away from the sinking raft, foreshadow the dangers of the war and the men’s ultimate ability to survive. Louie’s transcendent experience in the doldrums reflects the beauty and peace that Louie will discover when he experiences his religious conversion.