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Written by Sonia Chen
Louis "Louie" Zamperini
Louie is the protagonist of the novel. He is resourceful and athletic. Although he isn’t the brightest, he is the fastest thinker and certainly the most creative. Louie's experiences in the Japanese camps are more than torturous, meaning they should be able to "break" just about everyone. Amazingly, Louie remains "unbroken," though he does come very close to his breaking point -- he suffers from severe PTSD and he comes close to divorcing his wife Cynthia. As the novel is focused on his life, his dynamic character takes the reader through the struggles Louie fights through to find peace and love.
Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe
Watanabe is Louie’s biggest antagonist. He specifically aims his wrath at Louie. Torturing Louie physically and emotionally, Watanabe derives self-worth and pleasure from dehumanizing his prisoners. Watanabe remains in Louie's memories and flashbacks and becomes Louie's #1 murder target. After the war, Watanabe has no self-awareness and tries to see himself as a victim, rather than the wrongdoer.
Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips
Phil is the pilot of the SuperMan and the Green Hornet, as well as one of Louie’s most faithful and dependable friends. He is also one of the survivors of the plane crash, and even though he was not responsible for the plane crash and the death of the other crewmen, Phil’s morals and conscience make him feel guilty. He serves as the pillar of religious constancy and compassion in the aftermath of the crash.
Francis “Mac” McNamara
Mac is the third plane crash survivor. He is fairly new and drains all hope and resources. His hopelessness and greediness severely endanger Louie and Phil’s lives when he eats all the survival rations. At first, he serves as the object that sucks the optimism and hope out of the men. However, he transforms near the end of the raft days, driven by his sense of responsibility. Instead of lying there, pathetic and hope draining, Mac starts to help defend the raft from sharks. However, he also symbolizes the lack of resilience to survive in the end.
Cynthia is the kind, patient, beautiful, and independent wife of Louie. After the war, she serves as Louie’s catalyst for recovery and redemption. The couple’s marriage disintegrates as Louie drinks heavily and suffers from PTSD. However, her patience and love pay off when she attends a Billy Graham Christian revival meeting that allows her to gain renewed faith in Louie. She is one of Louie’s saving forces after the war.
Pete, Louie’s older brother, is the embodiment of responsibility and maturity. He helped Louie out of his fighting and stealing stage, transitioning him from a delinquent life to a successful one. He is another pillar of optimism in this novel, always believing that Louie was alive despite all of the contrasting beliefs and reports.
Billy is a Christian evangelical preacher who traveled all over the country to spread the gospel. His honest and compelling sermons serve as the turning point in Cynthia’s life and then Louie’s life. It can be inferred that without his teaching, Cynthia and Louie’s marriage would have completely disintegrated and Louie might never have recovered from his war experience.
Kawamura is a Christian Japanese guard on the first island Louie and Phil were kept on. While all the other guards were evil and abusive, Kawamura offered kindness and compassion in one of the darker places in Louie’s life. He serves as a reminder that love and compassion are natural to humans and that one should never lose hope, despite such depressing surroundings.
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