Study Guide

Unbroken Setting

By Laura Hillenbrand


World War II, Japan and the Pacific Ocean

World at War

Unbroken focuses on the conflict in the Pacific during World War II. We don't get many behind the scenes looks at Hitler's machinations or global politics though, and instead the story mostly focuses on Louie's life in the barracks (decorating the walls of his room with pin-ups, for example) and the absolutely harrowing conditions of the POW camps he has to suffer through. These camps are dirty, and the guards are bent on humiliating the prisoners until "their dignity had been obliterated" (5.34.13). Yup—sounds like Word War II to us.

WWII might be the darkest time in human history. Unbroken briefly touches on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and includes a quote from a POW who believes "the end probably justified the means" (4.33.5). Yikes.

Like the rest of the world, Louie has to heal from the horrors he suffers during war. They're both mental and physical: "The physical injuries were lasting, debilitating, and sometimes deadly. […] The emotional injuries were much more insidious" (4.35.6, 4.35.7). This is a time period before PTSD was common knowledge, and many of the soldiers are suffering from experiences that most people do not understand.

But Louie, many of his companions, and even some of the Japanese, manage to recover and move on. One of the most moving images in the book shows us that just because the U.S and Japan were on different sides of the war, doesn't mean that they have to be enemies. When the U.S. soldiers are released, "The POWs' last sight of Naoetsu was a broken line of Japanese, the few civilian guards and camp staffers who had been kind to them, standing along the side of the track. Their hands were raised in salute" (4.32.42). This image gives the world hope. 

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