Study Guide

Unbroken Family

By Laura Hillenbrand


[Louie's] father, Anthony, had been living on his own since age fourteen. […] His mother, Louie, was a petite, playful beauty, sixteen a marriage and eighteen when Louie was born. (1.1.9)

The more you learn about Louie's parents (which, admittedly, isn't much), the more you see where his tenacious nature comes from. Louise may have been "petite" and "playful," but she was also fierce with a rolling pin. 

Every morning, through all that lay ahead for her, Louie would pin the [airman's wings] to her dress. Every night, before she went to bed, she'd take them off her dress and pin them to her nightgown. (2.6.48)

Like all good heroes, Louie loves his momma. And his momma loves him. The airman's wings are a way for them to stay connected, despite being separate by thousands of miles. 

On The weekend after the crash, Pete, Virginia, and Louise Zamperini made an impromptu visit to the home of Cuppernell's parents, who lived in Long Beach. It was a merry meeting, and they all talked of their boys. (3.13.34)

The families have no idea that tragedy has befallen their sons/brothers at this point. But even once they do find out, they behave in the same way: keeping hope alive. 

Upon hearing that her brother was missing, Sylvia became hysterical, sobbing so loudly that her neighbor ran to her. (3.13.42)

It isn't just the parents who miss their sons, it's the siblings too. Sylvia has a difficult time with Louie's disappearance, because she and Louie are so close.

In Torrance, Anthony Zamperini remained stoic. Louise cried and prayed. From the stress, open sores broke out all over her hands. Sylvia thought her hands looked like raw hamburger. (3.13.48)

The stress of losing a family member (or perceiving him as lost) manifests itself in different ways. Not that we're quantifying love (okay, we are)… but maybe Louie's mom loves him the most out of anyone, since her stress and grief present themselves physically. 

Louie had often boasted to Phil about his mother's cooking, and at some point, Phil asked Louise to describe how she made a meal. […] Soon, Louise's kitchen floated with them: Sauces simmered, spices were pinched and scattered, butter melted on tongues. (3.14.25)

Memories of the past help keep the men alive when they are lost at sea. Mom's cooking is so potent, it practically gives them real nutrition.

They, like the Zamperinis, refused to conclude that their boy was dead. (4.21.25)

While many other people believe Louie dead (one group even organizes a Louie Zamperini memorial run) his family—a.k.a. his biggest support group—<em>never </em>loses hope. 

By the spring of 1944, the mothers of the <em>Green Hornet </em>crewmen, as well as other family members, had begun to correspond. (4.21.30)

When the families of the lost men start to band together, they end up forming one giant family, which is the best support group a person can have. 

"September 9 is going to be Mother's Day to me, because that's the day I learned for sure my boy was coming home to stay." (4.33.29)

Not that we'd rank happiness among family members as Louie returns home, but… okay, that's exactly what we're doing. And as you'd expect, the person happiest for Louie to come home is his beloved momma. 

Pete was gaunt, and he'd gone largely bald. The brothers fell together, eyes shining. (4.33.53)

Pete and Louie finally see each other again after years apart. Both of them may look different since when they last saw each other, but they'll always be brothers, no matter what they look like. 

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