The book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand talks about an American soldier who was an Olympic runner who got lost at sea when his fighter jet crashed. His name was Louie Zamperini. Louie was from Torrance, California, where he was introduced to running by his brother Pete. Pete helped Louie get into running because Louie was a troubled boy and would not listen to authorities. Louie then realized he was passionate about running, practicing daily to make new records. With all his practice and dedication, he was breaking and setting records for the fastest mile by a high school athlete. He eventually got so fast that he could qualify and compete in the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin. After the Olympics, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps but opted out because he decided it was not for him. Louie was drafted back into the Army Air Corps for World War II. One day, Louie and his crew were sent on a rescue mission but had to crash land in the Pacific Ocean because of issues with their plane. With no other plane crews to help or radio communication, Louie and two crew mates were forced to survive stranded in the ocean for 47 days on a raft with little to no food or water. After 47 days, Louie and one of the other men were captured by the Japanese officers and taken to a POW camp where they were tortured and made to do very hard labor for the enemies.
Next, according to the reading Frontiers by Joyce Moser and Ann Waters, the American frontier is “an invisible border between settled and unsettled, civilized and uncivilized areas.” (Moser, Waters 92). This quote means there was never a set boundary of where one could set up to live and this left the people optimistic because they had hope to put up a house wherever they wanted. The specific trait of the American frontier I am going to discuss is optimism. I chose optimism because, while reading Unbroken and learning about Louie’s story, I felt that he and the other men had high hopes about being rescued. I saw this trait in this story multiple times, and it helped him stay motivated throughout the story. Louie was optimistic about running and where it was going to lead him in the future. He stayed focused and driven to becoming the best and fulfilling his dream of making it to the Olympics. It also helped him when he was in the military. While the men were out in the ocean, they just talked about the good times in life and did not let their current situation bring them down. Optimism is a part of the American consciousness because you need to have hope in order to stay positive and get through your toughest moments like Louie did.
The role of the frontier in the American consciousness developed the path for Americans today. The frontier is connected to optimism because the Europeans moving forward to settle on new land needed to stay hopeful and confident that they would find what they were looking for. In the book, Frontier America the author Sarah McGill mentions, “…Americans began to understand the opportunity that lay in lands from Missouri to Texas. Brave pioneers left their homes, hoping to find a new and more prosperous life on the frontier.” (McGill 1-2). The goal for America has always been to expand and uncover many new things. The westward expansion drove settlers to the edge in America. The frontier played a big role in the American consciousness because all the natives who found land had to learn how to live and survive on their own. They had to find shelter and food in order to survive with no government or sense of direction from anyone. According to the author notes from Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man by Timothy Sandefur, “Independence, pride, and personal and economic freedom were to his eyes the natural consequences of the basic principle of equality that lay at the heart of the America dream- a dream all people without regard to race, deserved a chance to purse.” (Sandefur 12). Immigrants wanted to have a second chance at their future, moving westward gave them that opportunity not only for themselves but for the future generations. They traveled in hopes that they would be able to make something of themselves or be able to start new and try again at life. Being able to own their own private property and be able to be independent from the government telling them what they can and can’t do was something they looked forward to. Everyone would have an equal chance at the American dream in spite of their past, race, or beliefs. These examples are related to optimism because the immigrants searching for the American Dream needed to stay confident that they would find what they were looking for.
The trait optimism is an important part of the American consciousness because it kept the people encouraged to find what they were looking for and it keep them hopeful and motivated. Optimism manifests itself in Louie Zamperini because, when he was stuck in the Pacific Ocean, he had to stay motivated that one day he and his crew would be rescued. He stayed optimistic for his crew members that survived with him so they would not get discouraged or lose hope. In the book Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand states, “As they imagined themselves back in the world again, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for.” (Hillenbrand 146). The men needed to stay lucid in order to realize they are being rescued. They did that by talking about life outside of the Army. Louie also had to stay optimistic when he was captured by the war enemies. He was captured, taken to a prison of war, and was kept there until the end of the war. In these camps or prisons, Louie suffered a lot of physical and mental abuse and torture. When talking to Louie, he stated, “The guards would stomp down the aisles, occasionally dragging a man out to be beaten.” (Hillenbrand 200). He was treated very poorly with little to no food or water, forced to work for the enemies, and even beaten to near death multiple times. According to the book Unbroken, “A single wad of rice, a little bit bigger than a golf ball, sailed through the door window and broke against the floor.” (Hillenbrand 180). This quote means the men weren’t served food properly and had to pick up the rice from the floor picking out the dirt and rocks. Regardless of his odds of survival, he chose to stay hopeful and confident that one day it will all be over, and he will back at home with his parents and siblings. Louie did not let the enemies take away this trait no matter what they did to him or how he was treated. He looked at the future and how everything will be okay when he gets back home.
Optimism had influenced the Americans in the past because they were trying to find new land to make their own and did not want to give up. Optimism influences Americans today because the world is evolving and there are new places to explore and expand to. Americans also want to be able to live the American dream. In order to fulfill this dream, they must be successful and finically stable. The American dream is not free; people must stay motivated in order to become successful, become wealthy or own their own properties and businesses. The American dream and frontier pushed people to keep moving forward to get what and where they wanted to. In the book, The American Dream in Frontier Literature of the Late Nineteenth Century by Franklin Stanley he states, “The dream is consistently hooked to the frontier… and the frontier began on the land and in the pastoral ideal. The land is the source of wealth and security, both emotional and physical. With private land ownership and freedom from oppressive government and church, one can convert tremendous potential of natural resources into wealth.” (Stanley 10). The author is talking about what people think the American Dream consists of. Too many think the dream is being wealthy, but to others it can mean way more than just owning property and having money. People will always have different meanings or definitions to this phrase, but regardless of their thoughts, people will always want to achieve this dream. According to Clara Riggio in her studies of Defining the American Dream: A Generational Comparison she states, “The American Dream is, first of all, freedom. Freedom from restrictions from the government. Freedom from entanglement in things that you don’t want to be entangled in. American freedom is the best thing. That’s why we all came here.” ( Riggio 10). However you think of the American Dream, it would still require these traits that the frontier generated because you need to be able to be independent, be optimistic and motivated to be better to get where you want to be in your life.
The Western Frontier was more than just a boarded and unsettled piece of land. It played a crucial role in the development of American history and its characteristics by making Americans the way they are now. Optimism was important in the western frontier and the expansion because it motivated settlers to keep moving forward, pushing for a better life, and keeping people determined in hard times. It is still very important to Americans today because everyone wants to be successful and have great life that they can look back at and be proud of. They want to experience the true American dream because they want wealth, to be able to own a home, to be finically stable, and to live a happy and healthy life. In this quote, the author talks about how the dream of owning a home is possible for the majority of Americans. In Jim Cullen’s book, The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation he states, “No American Dream has broader appeal, and no American Dream has been quite so widely realized. Roughly two-thirds of Americans owned their homes at the start of this century, and it seems reasonable to believe that many of the remaining third will go on to do so.”(Cullen 136). None of that would be possible if it was not for the American Frontier and how it developed the trait of Optimism. That is why I believe this trait is very significant to Americans and how it influences them today.
As for Louie Zamperini, he continued to live an optimistic life after getting out of the war and returning home. He got married and started a family but suffered with alcoholism. Through his journey to find himself again, he stayed hopeful that one day he would get better and be able to enjoy life with his wife and daughter. Louie had a change in life when his wife, Cynthia persuaded him to go see a preacher named Billy Graham. Billy Graham helped Louie find faith in himself and get back to a better life. In Unbroken, Louie expressed how he felt after hearing Graham preach, “When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him” (Hillenbrand 376). Louie changed for the better and was able to spend the rest of his life with his wife, daughter and eventually his son. He opened up a boy’s camp to help troubled boys find the right path in their life. Louie would then go on to run in the Olympics but not as a competitor, he ran holding the torch to light the start of the 1984 Summer Olympics. I would say after Louie found himself again and became better, he still remained optimistic about the next part of his life and what he could accomplish next. He had more confidence in himself and his worth to continue helping not only himself but other people in need.
Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Random House, 2010.
McGill , Sarah. Frontier America . Great Neck Publishing , Accessed Nov. 2022.
Moser, Joyce, and Waters Ann. “Frontiers .” Creating America, fourth ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2005, pp. 92–95.
Sandefur, Timothy. “Author Note’s.” Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man, Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., 2018, pp. 12–12.
Stanley, Franklin N. “The American Dream in Frontier Literature of the Late Nineteenth Century.” California State University, Long Beach , ProQuest Dissertations Publishing , 1997, pp. 10–10.
Riggio, Clara R. “Defining the American Dream: A Generational Comparison.” Modern Psychological Studies., vol. 27, no. 1, 2021, pp. 10–10., Accessed 2022.