Summary and Analysis Part I Chapter 1: The One-Boy Insurgency


Chapter 1 opens with a scene of Louie Zamperini as a 12-year-old boy, seeing the famous German dirigible, Graf Zeppelin, fly directly over his home in Torrance, California. Hillenbrand then provides flashbacks to fill in the high points of Louie’s childhood.

Louis Silvie Zamperini was born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, New York. A son of Italian immigrants, he quickly distinguished himself by having a fearless, happy demeanor. At age 2, Louie and his family moved to Torrance, California, where he became something of a neighborhood troublemaker. He stole food and money. He rigged pranks. He ran scams. He got in fights and got in trouble with the law. In short, Louie’s life was quickly headed nowhere.


Hillenbrand uses this chapter to show three things. First, even as a child, Louie Zamperini possessed the ingenuity and stubbornness that he will later need to survive the extreme circumstances in his life. Second, although mildly incorrigible as a child, Louie was well-liked and even admired by his family and friends. Later, that cheerful likability will serve him well in the military, while lost at sea, and as a POW. Finally, and most importantly, Hillenbrand presents Louie as a “lost” child on the edge of disaster. He was a boy who was losing his way and who desperately needed to be rescued from his criminal inclinations. This theme of lostness and redemption will show up repeatedly in Louie’s life.

Food is a significant symbol that is first introduced in this chapter and later carried throughout the biography. It is not only the thing that Louie steals the most, but it also represents his emotional need for security and his constant worry of want from hunger.

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