The survival of the men on the raft is a combination of luck, chance, and determination. If not for the rainfall that was outside of their control, they might have perished. Hillenbrand shows that, for the men in the story as well as for people outside the book, survival can depend a great deal on mental attitude. Phil and Louie choose to be optimistic. The men use their conversations and senses to avoid mental atrophy, which not only keeps them calm and occupied, but also is smart. Louie also remains hopeful when he prays to God for water, and when he makes a promise to God about what he will do in the future. This promise will be powerfully referenced later in the story.
Louie and Phil keep their hope alive when anyone else might fall into complete despair, and with their hope they find opportunities where anyone else might see none. They use their quick wits on more than one occasion in order to capture food and water. They wisely take advantage of opportunities, including to grab the albatross and to catch the fish swimming alongside the sharks. Without knowing it, Louie and Phil are undergoing endurance training that will equip them for the endurance tests to come, in the Japanese camps where they will be held as prisoners. By contrast, Mac does not have the same mental fortitude as Louie and Phil have. Mac serves as a character foil, one to whom the reader might find it easier to relate. While Louie and Phil, crewmates from Super Man, are Superman-like, Mac is heroic but human. He is more susceptible to negative thoughts, including the guilt that seems to consume him as a result of his initial weakness in eating the rationed chocolate.
Chapter Fifteen loops the reader back to the description at the opening of the book. This time, the reader can contextualize the episode within Louie’s larger life and war experience, and within a more informed historical context of World War II. This whole episode is part of what might be called a “castaway narrative,” or a “sea narrative.” Such an observation sheds light on Hillenbrand’s storytelling versatility as well as on Louie’s stunning and episodic life. Chapter Fifteen shows how relentless the sea journey was and how the men continuously fight problems. Even right after the Japanese bombard them, the men are attacked by sharks. They face forces that wish for them to die, and they somehow manage to survive.
Chapter Fifteen also brings the reader closer to the next portion of Louie’s life, which will be a prisoner of war narrative. Here, the men’s false hope of being saved is soon replaced by the realization that they are more likely to be attacked by the enemy than saved by their own side. The fact that a bomber would repeatedly fire on men on a raft is a first experience of the brutality of the Japanese. Although they do not yet fully know it yet, for Louie and Phil this is the beginning of what is to come next. At the same time, the fact that the men survive the bombardment is nothing short of amazing. The repeated inability of the bomber to sink their rafts almost seems to be some sort of divine intervention.