Chapter Twelve brings us to a new portion of Louie’s life, one that pushes him to grow in ways that neither he nor the reader could have anticipated. The situations in this part of the book are dire. In hero journeys, including The Odyssey, the hero often travels to the underworld, to hell. This is a place of extreme pain, and also a place of transformation. As mentioned earlier, the hero’s journey is also the story of human lives, not just of the lives of heroes. Louie shows that he can rise to challenges, just as all humans can rise to challenges. One way in which Louie is transformed is by assuming leadership. Louie officially becomes the leader of these three men in this chapter. He shows great concern for the others and also level-headedness.
In a situation in which relationships will certainly be tested and strained, the differing levels of familiarity between the crew members will prove important. The dynamic on the raft is uncertain at this point. Louie and Phil have been flying together for a long time and are both original members of Super Man. They are incredibly close, but neither one really knows Mac, as he has just been added to the crew. One might think that Louie and Phil might use their friendship to prioritize their survival over Mac’s. Conversely, perhaps they will become sick of each other much faster because they are friends.
The men must not only find resources, they must also stave off dangers, which include sharks. Among other things, the sharks seem to represent the inevitability of the crew’s death. They circle but don’t attack. They are content with waiting for the men to tip over, or for the rafts to deflate. Their willingness to wait shows confidence that the men will perish out on the sea and they have no need to deal the killing blow.
The exceptional nature of Louie’s personality is subtly highlighted in Chapter Thirteen. While many men have gone missing during the course of the war, and many more have perished, the weight of Louie’s disappearance is felt to a greater extent. The men searching for him feel higher stakes, and the men back at his base are more disheartened than usual. This all shows that Louie was an incredibly felt presence and an extraordinary young man. Readers also see a kind of dramatic irony in Louie’s family not knowing of his actual circumstances, in their being led to believe that everything is fine when Louie’s circumstances are in fact dire.
On the raft, Louie’s character and leadership are also seriously tested—and exhibited—in Chapter Thirteen. When Mac eats all of the chocolate, he endangers Louie and Phil, and directly disobeys Louie’s orders. But Louie knows that getting angry will have nothing but adverse consequences and instead decides to reassure Mac that they will be rescued soon. This decision shows Louie’s capability for empathy, his level-headedness, and his capacity as a leader. Instead of being single competitor in an endurance road race, Louie is now part of a team of three, and his goal is to have all three men cross the “finish line” of rescue and survival. He knows not to waste his energy on anything that will not better their chances of survival. Louie shows his athletic discipline, which is a discipline not only of body, but of mind. Hillenbrand shows how this kind of discipline transfers out of context into other contexts of life.