Summary and Analysis
Part III Chapter 16: Singing in the Clouds
After four weeks at sea, a shark leaps out of the water and tries to bite off Louie’s upper body. Louie fights off the shark attack, but other sharks keep coming. Mac finally saves Louie by whacking the sharks with an oar. Afterward, Louie devises a scheme for catching and killing sharks, then eating their livers for nourishment. Mac, however, continues to falter. After more than a month in the rafts, Mac dies and is buried at sea. On the 40th day, Louie inexplicably hears angelic singing and sees 21 human figures floating in a bright cloud above. Phil hears nothing. On July 13, 1943, the 46th day adrift on the ocean, Louie and Phil finally see an island.
The most unique aspect of Louie’s vision of “singing in the clouds” is the way in which Hillenbrand retells this sequence of events. Up to this point and later in the biography, Hillenbrand freely colors events with her opinions about them. For example, when she relates statistics about the war, moments in battle, problems with government bureaucracies, and the cruel taskmasters in the POW camps, she expresses her opinions in no uncertain terms.
Writing about Louie’s vision, though, Hillenbrand-as-the-biographer draws back, aloof. This whole sequence reads more like a recitation of data than the intimate storytelling style she’s displayed up to this point. Is Louie’s vision a hallucination brought on by deprivation? Is it an actual, angelic appearance sent to strengthen the castaways’ faith? Hillenbrand clearly doesn’t want to make a judgment one way or the other. This is an interesting departure for her, and effective, because it forces the reader to make the judgment that Hillenbrand won’t make.