Summary and Analysis
Part IV Chapter 30: The Boiling City
Work on the coal barges ends; there aren’t enough ships left in Japan. Louie is on starvation rations, sick, and hungry. The Bird torments him still. One day he forces Louie to hoist up a heavy, wooden beam about six feet long. If Louie lowers his arms, The Bird says, Louie will be shot. Weak and ill, Louie is determined to outlast The Bird. Miraculously, he holds the beam overhead for 37 minutes until The Bird finally gives him a furious beating that knocks him unconscious. Louie and a few other officers begin planning to kill The Bird, but the plan is never carried out. Then, on August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb falls on Hiroshima, Japan.
In this chapter, it appears the end has come for Louie Zamperini. The Bird seems finally ready to extinguish the life of his plaything. He demands Louie do the impossible: hold a heavy beam overhead indefinitely. Even a healthy man would have trouble doing that for long. For an emaciated, war-ravaged, sick, starved man like Louie, even getting the beam above his head would seem unlikely. Yet there, in the middle of figurative hell, a minor miracle unfolds. With an almost supernatural inner strength, Louie towers over the task, keeping the beam aloft for 37 minutes.
It is The Bird who finally breaks, not Louie. And it’s the first real victory Louie has over his tormentor, a symbol of greater victories to come, including the atomic bombing of Hiroshima that’s only days away from this moment.