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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Toward the end of their raft journey, Louie and Phil wake one morning to find that they are in the doldrums, a portion of the ocean found at the equator. This is a place of absolute beauty and peace on earth. The doldrums represent multiple things, for Louie and in the book as a whole. The place reflects the possibility of transcendent experience, experiences during which one feels and connects to a consciousness and greatness beyond ordinary life. The doldrums also reflect the fact that such beauty and peace can be found in one’s lifetime on earth, as Louie is able to experience after his religious conversion, later in the book. The doldrums also symbolize the fact that great pain and suffering can be followed by equally great beauty and peace, gifts from a force beyond the world. Louie also interprets the doldrums to be a symbol of the divine intelligence that created the natural world.
The cell in Kwajalein is the place where Louie first experiences the cruel treatment that will dominate his life while he is held by the Japanese. In the first cell where he is held, he adds his name to the nine names already etched there. Later, when Fred Garrett is held in the same cell, he sees Louie’s name there. Louie wonders often about what became of those nine marines. When Fred Garrett arrives at Ofuna, he tells Louie that he was told the men were executed. Later in his life, Louie tries, unsuccessfully, to recover the bodies of those marines. The names on the wall serve as reminders to Louie and to readers that many men did not survive World War II. The names are reminders of the cruel treatment that many prisoners of war received. In all likelihood, these men experienced horrible pain even before their killings. The names reflect the brotherhood among all soldiers and also their awareness that the same death could have come to any of them. The names are reminders that the stories of Louie and of Fred are two stories out of eleven. Nine times out of eleven, the soldiers died. One time out of eleven, the soldier survived the war but with extreme physical and emotional damage. That was Fred. The names are reminders of how incredibly lucky Louie was to survive in the ways he did.
At war’s end, Louie reaches Yokohama and meets Robert Trumbull. When Trumbull asserts that Louie Zamperini is dead, Louie proves his identity by taking out a cartoon he still has tucked inside his wallet, a clipping from the Honolulu Advertiser that celebrates Louie’s running achievements and his military service. This cartoon is symbolic of Louie’s human dignity, athleticism, and heroism. The drawing of Louie in perfect health and athletic achievement was always with Louie, hidden but surviving within Louie’s wallet. This cartoon is symbolic of Louie’s spirit, including his optimism, his endurance, and his ability to win. While on the outside Louie appeared emaciated and sick, the other Louie was still there. That is how Louie identified himself, not as the sick man, but as the competitor and military hero who had managed to survive his fiercest competition.