Summary: Chapter 16, Singing in the Clouds

Louie and the other men continue to fight off sharks. When Louie decides to start hunting the sharks, he is pulled underwater by one of them before he succeeds at capturing a five-footer. The men harvest the liver of that shark and then repeat the process until their stomachs become full.

Mac’s condition deteriorates fast, and it is clear that he will soon die. The men go to bed one night, and in his sleep Louie hears a great exhale. He knows Mac has died. In the morning Phil and Louie pay their respects and cast his body off to sea. The sharks leave it alone. Not long after Mac’s death, Louie and Phil reach the final stage of starvation and don’t even feel hungry anymore. Death is approaching, but their minds are as sharp as ever. They reach an incredibly calm part of the sea called the doldrums. They are awed by its beauty. On the fortieth day, Louie hears singing in the sky, but Phil hears nothing. On the forty-sixth day, a storm comes and the waves bring them up to great heights. At the peak of one such wave, they see an island in the distance.

Summary: Chapter 17, Typhoon

The men ride the waves of a storm and eventually get caught in a typhoon. After making it through the violent storm, they are disoriented and think they see an island near them. It turns out to be a Japanese boat. The men are hauled aboard.

At first, Louie and Phil are treated very harshly. When they encounter the captain of the ship, however, they are treated with respect and fed biscuits. Soon after, the men are blindfolded and carried into an infirmary. In the infirmary, Louie and Phil are weighed and find out they have both lost about half of their body weight. The doctor brings them a feast of food and they devour it. After, they are brought into another room where an officer asks them to tell their story. The officers don’t believe that a Japanese plane would try to shoot them in the way they describe, but when Louie describes the plane, they go silent.

For the next two days, Phil and Louie are treated well. But they are then told that they will be sent to Kwajalein, a place known to Americans as “Execution Island.” They are told that their lives cannot be guaranteed once they get to Kwajalein. On July 16, Louie arrives at Kwajalein, and the Japanese start to treat him harshly. He is transported to a wooden cell with a hole in the floor serving as a latrine. Phil is moved nearby to a similar situation. As Louie looks at his deteriorated body, he begins to weep.


In Chapter Sixteen, Louie, Phil, and Mac use effective thinking and survival skills to turn their opponents, the sharks, into food. They use every bit of remaining strength and willpower to fight off the aggressive sharks and then to capture and to dissect the animals. The men must work as a team in order to make all of this happen. In these collective efforts, Mac redeems himself from the first night when he stole the chocolate by fending off the sharks. In his final hours, he sacrifices the little bit of life he has left to help save Phil and Louie. Though Mac had to push himself beyond his limits to save Louie and Phil, through this action he redeems himself.

Chapter Sixteen conveys the human experience of death and suggests a heavenly presence in Louie’s experience of the doldrums. The brutal sharks surprisingly leave Mac’s body alone when Phil and Louie send it into the water. Shortly after, Louie’s experience of the doldrums is one of complete calm and absolute beauty. Louie even hallucinates singing in the sky. While the doldrums are a natural phenomenon, Louie’s experience of this sea location transports him beyond the earthly experience. He is in a place between life and death, unlike any place he has been before.

Chapter Seventeen serves as a transition between the first part of this saga and the next. With the skill of a musical conductor, Hillenbrand slows down the tempo in Chapter Sixteen before presenting a surprising dramatic new movement in Chapter Seventeen. This chapter is more erratic, as it captures the typhoon and moments of hope soon extinguished by the unexpected capture of the men. It also serves to move the larger narrative from the sea to the land, from American control to Japanese control. The book becomes a prisoner narrative.

As prisoners, Louie and Phil already receive inconsistent treatment. They are vulnerable and have no way of knowing what is next. The higher-ups are the ones who treat the men with dignity. They are the ones who know the rules of warfare. Their reaction to the plane shooting at the raft shows that it was an illegal act of warfare. The guards, however, treat the men harshly. The cruelty of the everyday soldier shows the hostility between the two sides, as well as how war can transform human behavior. The guards have so much pent-up aggression that they pistol-whip Louie and Phil, who are eighty-pound skeletons at this point. Now that he is on land, Louie is able to examine his body and see how much it has been transformed. Ironically, Louie’s dire raft was better than what he now faces, because at least there he was in control and had respect from others. Louie also had Phil, but now they too are separated. Each of the men begins a parallel but separate narrative of life as a prisoner of the enemy.