Summary: Chapter 39, Daybreak
In 1950, Louie returns to Japan. For the previous year, ever since his experience with Billy Graham, Louie has made a modest living as a Christian speaker. He travels around America and tells his story. He and Cynthia, along with baby Cissy, live modestly but happily.
At Sugamo Prison, Louie encounters nearly a thousand former guards, including some he recognizes. He sees the Quack and Sasaki, among others. Louie does not see the Bird and asks about him. He is told that the Bird killed himself. Louie is now able to see the Bird as a man and nothing more. He even feels compassion for him.
Chapter Thirty-Eight moves the book toward final resolution. Some lingering interior conflicts are solved, not only with Louie but also with the Bird’s mother. Like a puppeteer controlling the motions of more than one puppet, Hillenbrand controls both of these narratives with a delicate touch.
In presenting the point of view of the Bird’s mother, Hillenbrand rounds out the characterization of characters and humanizes the Japanese antagonists. She forces the reader to see that even the tyrant has a mother who wants to see her son and who is desperate to spend just minutes with him. Just as Louie’s mother loves Louie and longed for him to return home, so too does the Bird’s mother love. The Bird’s mother also finds peace in seeing her son after their separation. In turn, this characterization allows the reader also to resolve feelings of pure antagonism against these characters.
On the other side of the Pacific, Hillenbrand presents Louie and his conversion experience, which Louie experiences in contractions, not unlike the birth of a baby. Louie is in fact reborn as a person able to shed the resentment, anxiety, and dependency that had plagued him. But he does not enter his conversion experience willingly. Instead, he enters skeptically. Over and over again, Louie resists Cynthia’s pleas to accompany him to hear Billy Graham before finally experiencing it and being pulled into a new life. Hillenbrand offers Louie’s conversion experience without skepticism and in ways that pull together threads she places across the entire book. If anything, one could possibly accuse the story of underscoring the miraculous element, particularly when Louie claims that it starts to rain inside the tent.
On a secular level, Louie’s experience offers insight into ideas that can help people find peace and healing. The Biblical stories and Graham’s preaching speak to Louie and help him reconcile his wartime experiences. He is able to reframe those experiences and to see his experiences as miraculous acts of God. This reframing gives Louie the salvation he needed, freeing him from his hatred and need for revenge. He now sees his life in terms of divine love having saved him on numerous occasions. While Louie had been stuck on his revenge for the Bird, he had not focused on the moments when he had felt a connection to God. In the tent, he sees these moments with clarity and recalls his promise to serve God if he is able to survive.
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