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.