Life Of Pi | Character Analysis

5500 words (22 pages) Essay

22nd May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Piscine Molitor Patel is the protagonist and, for most of the novel, the narrator. In the chapters that frame the main story, Pi, as a shy, graying, middle-aged man, tells the author about his early childhood and the shipwreck that changed his life. This narrative device distances the reader from the truth. We don’t know whether Pi’s story is accurate or what pieces to believe. This effect is intentional; throughout Pi emphasizes the importance of choosing the better story, believing that imagination trumps cold, hard facts. As a child, he reads widely and embraces many religions and their rich narratives that provide meaning and dimension to life. In his interviews with the Japanese investigators after his rescue, he offers first the more fanciful version of his time at sea. But, at their behest, he then provides an alternative version that is more realistic but ultimately less appealing to both himself and his questioners. The structure of the novel both illustrates Pi’s defining characteristic, his dependence on and love of stories, and highlights the inherent difficulties in trusting his version of events.

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Though the narrative jumps back and forth in time, the novel traces Pi’s development and maturation in a traditional bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story. Pi is an eager, outgoing, and excitable child, dependent on his family for protection and guidance. In school, his primary concerns involve preventing his schoolmates from mispronouncing his name and learning as much as he can about religion and zoology. But when the ship sinks, Pi is torn from his family and left alone on a lifeboat with wild animals. The disaster serves as the catalyst in his emotional growth; he must now become self-sufficient. Though he mourns the loss of his family and fears for his life, he rises to the challenge. He finds a survival guide and emergency provisions. Questioning his own values, he decides that his vegetarianism is a luxury under the conditions and learns to fish. He capably protects himself from Richard Parker and even assumes a parental relationship with the tiger, providing him with food and keeping him in line. The devastating shipwreck turns Pi into an adult, able to fend for himself out in the world alone.

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Pi’s belief in God inspires him as a child and helps sustain him while at sea. In Pondicherry, his atheistic biology teacher challenges his Hindu faith in God, making him realize the positive power of belief, the need to overcome the otherwise bleakness of the universe. Motivated to learn more, Pi starts practicing Christianity and Islam, realizing these religions all share the same foundation: belief in a loving higher power. His burgeoning need for spiritual connection deepens while at sea. In his first days on the lifeboat, he almost gives up, unable to bear the loss of his family and unwilling to face the difficulties that still await him. At that point, however, he realizes that the fact he is still alive means that God is with him; he has been given a miracle. This thought gives him strength, and he decides to fight to remain alive. Throughout his adventure, he prays regularly, which provides him with solace, a sense of connection to something greater, and a way to pass the time.

Richard Parker

Pi’s companion throughout his ordeal at sea is Richard Parker, a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Unlike many novels in which animals speak or act like humans, Richard Parker is portrayed as a real animal that acts in ways true to his species. It can be difficult to accept that a tiger and a boy could exist on a lifeboat alone, however, in the context of the novel, it seems plausible. Captured as a cub, Parker grew up in the zoo and is accustomed to a life in captivity. He is used to zookeepers training and providing for him, so he is able to respond to cues from Pi and submit to his dominance. However, he is no docile house cat. He has been tamed, but he still acts instinctually, swimming for the lifeboat in search of shelter and killing the hyena and the blind castaway for food. When the two wash up on the shore of Mexico, Richard Parker doesn’t draw out his parting with Pi, he simply runs off into the jungle, never to be seen again.

Though Richard Parker is quite fearsome, ironically his presence helps Pi stay alive. Alone on the lifeboat, Pi has many issues to face in addition to the tiger onboard: lack of food and water, predatory marine life, treacherous sea currents, and exposure to the elements. Overwhelmed by the circumstances and terrified of dying, Pi becomes distraught and unable to take action. However, he soon realizes that his most immediate threat is Richard Parker. His other problems now temporarily forgotten, Pi manages, through several training exercises, to dominate Parker. This success gives him confidence, making his other obstacles seem less insurmountable. Renewed, Pi is able to take concrete steps toward ensuring his continued existence: searching for food and keeping himself motivated. Caring and providing for Richard Parker keeps Pi busy and passes the time. Without Richard Parker to challenge and distract him, Pi might have given up on life. After he washes up on land in Mexico, he thanks the tiger for keeping him alive.

Richard Parker symbolizes Pi’s most animalistic instincts. Out on the lifeboat, Pi must perform many actions to stay alive that he would have found unimaginable in his normal life. An avowed vegetarian, he must kill fish and eat their flesh. As time progresses, he becomes more brutish about it, tearing apart birds and greedily stuffing them in his mouth, the way Richard Parker does. After Richard Parker mauls the blind Frenchman, Pi uses the man’s flesh for bait and even eats some of it, becoming cannibalistic in his unrelenting hunger. In his second story to the Japanese investigators, Pi is Richard Parker. He kills his mother’s murderer. Parker is the version of himself that Pi has invented to make his story more palatable, both to himself and to his audience. The brutality of his mother’s death and his own shocking act of revenge are too much for Pi to deal with, and he finds it easier to imagine a tiger as the killer, rather than himself in that role.

Character List

Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) – The protagonist of the story. Piscine is the narrator for most of the novel, and his account of his seven months at sea forms the bulk of the story. He gets his unusual name from the French word for pool-and, more specifically, from a pool in Paris in which a close family friend, Francis Adirubasamy, loved to swim. A student of zoology and religion, Pi is deeply intrigued by the habits and characteristics of animals and people.

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Richard Parker – The Royal Bengal tiger with whom Pi shares his lifeboat. His captor, Richard Parker, named him Thirsty, but a shipping clerk made a mistake and reversed their names. From then on, at the Pondicherry Zoo, he was known as Richard Parker. Weighing 450 pounds and about nine feet long, he kills the hyena on the lifeboat and the blind cannibal. With Pi, however, Richard Parker acts as an omega, or submissive, animal, respecting Pi’s dominance.

Read an in-depth analysis of Richard Parker.

The Author – The narrator of the (fictitious) Author’s Note, who inserts himself into the narrative at several points throughout the text. Though the author who pens the Author’s Note never identifies himself by name, there are many clues that indicate it is Yann Martel himself, thinly disguised: he lives in Canada, has published two books, and was inspired to write Pi’s life story during a trip to India.

Francis Adirubasamy – The elderly man who tells the author Pi’s story during a chance meeting in a Pondicherry coffee shop. He taught Pi to swim as a child and bestowed upon him his unusual moniker. He arranges for the author to meet Pi in person, so as to get a first-person account of his strange and compelling tale. Pi calls him Mamaji, an Indian term that means respected uncle.

Ravi – Pi’s older brother. Ravi prefers sports to schoolwork and is quite popular. He teases his younger brother mercilessly over his devotion to three religions.

Santosh Patel – Pi’s father. He once owned a Madras hotel, but because of his deep interest in animals decided to run the Pondicherry Zoo. A worrier by nature, he teaches his sons not only to care for and control wild animals, but to fear them. Though raised a Hindu, he is not religious and is puzzled by Pi’s adoption of numerous religions. The difficult conditions in India lead him to move his family to Canada.

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Gita Patel – Pi’s beloved mother and protector. A book lover, she encourages Pi to read widely. Raised Hindu with a Baptist education, she does not subscribe to any religion and questions Pi’s religious declarations. She speaks her mind, letting her husband know when she disagrees with his parenting techniques. When Pi relates another version of his story to his rescuers, she takes the place of Orange Juice on the lifeboat.

Satish Kumar – Pi’s atheistic biology teacher at Petit Séminaire, a secondary school in Pondicherry. A polio survivor, he is an odd-looking man, with a body shaped like a triangle. His devotion to the power of scientific inquiry and explanation inspires Pi to study zoology in college.

Father Martin – The Catholic priest who introduces Pi to Christianity after Pi wanders into his church. He preaches a message of love. He, the Muslim Mr. Kumar, and the Hindu pandit disagree about whose religion Pi should practice.

Satish Kumar – A plain-featured Muslim mystic with the same name as Pi’s biology teacher. He works in a bakery. Like the other Mr. Kumar, this one has a strong effect on Pi’s academic plans: his faith leads Pi to study religion at college.

The Hindu Pandit – One of three important religious figures in the novel. Never given a name, he is outraged when Pi, who was raised Hindu, begins practicing other religions. He and the other two religious leaders are quieted somewhat by Pi’s declaration that he just wants to love God.

Meena Patel – Pi’s wife, whom the author meets briefly in Toronto.

Nikhil Patel (Nick) – Pi’s son. He plays baseball.

Usha Patel – Pi’s young daughter. She is shy but very close to her father.

The Hyena – An ugly, intensely violent animal. He controls the lifeboat before Richard Parker emerges.

The Zebra – A beautiful male Grant’s zebra. He breaks his leg jumping into the lifeboat. The hyena torments him and eats him alive.

Orange Juice – The maternal orangutan that floats to the lifeboat on a raft of bananas. She suffers almost humanlike bouts of loneliness and seasickness. When the hyena attacks her, she fights back valiantly but is nonetheless killed and decapitated.

The Blind Frenchman – A fellow castaway whom Pi meets by chance in the middle of the ocean. Driven by hunger and desperation, he tries to kill and cannibalize Pi, but Richard Parker kills him first.

Tomohiro Okamoto – An official from the Maritime Department of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who is investigating the sinking of the Japanese Tsimtsum. Along with his assistant, Atsuro Chiba, Okamoto interviews Pi for three hours and is highly skeptical of his first account.

Atsuro Chiba – Okamoto’s assistant. Chiba is the more naïve and trusting of the two Japanese officials, and his inexperience at conducting interviews gets on his superior’s nerves. Chiba agrees with Pi that the version of his ordeal with animals is the better than the one with people.

The Cook – The human counterpart to the hyena in Pi’s second story. He is rude and violent and hoards food on the lifeboat. After he kills the sailor and Pi’s mother, Pi stabs him and he dies.

The Sailor – The human counterpart to the zebra in Pi’s second story. He is young, beautiful, and exotic. He speaks only Chinese and is very sad and lonely in the lifeboat. He broke his leg jumping off the ship, and it becomes infected. The cook cuts off the leg, and the sailor dies slowly.

Themes

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Themes

The Will to Live

Life of Pi is a story about struggling to survive through seemingly insurmountable odds. The shipwrecked inhabitants of the little lifeboat don’t simply acquiesce to their fate: they actively fight against it. Pi abandons his lifelong vegetarianism and eats fish to sustain himself. Orange Juice, the peaceful orangutan, fights ferociously against the hyena. Even the severely wounded zebra battles to stay alive; his slow, painful struggle vividly illustrates the sheer strength of his life force. As Martel makes clear in his novel, living creatures will often do extraordinary, unexpected, and sometimes heroic things to survive. However, they will also do shameful and barbaric things if pressed. The hyena’s treachery and the blind Frenchman’s turn toward cannibalism show just how far creatures will go when faced with the possibility of extinction. At the end of the novel, when Pi raises the possibility that the fierce tiger, Richard Parker, is actually an aspect of his own personality, and that Pi himself is responsible for some of the horrific events he has narrated, the reader is forced to decide just what kinds of actions are acceptable in a life-or-death situation.

The Importance of Storytelling

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Life of Pi is a story within a story within a story. The novel is framed by a (fictional) note from the author, Yann Martel, who describes how he first came to hear the fantastic tale of Piscine Molitor Patel. Within the framework of Martel’s narration is Pi’s fantastical first-person account of life on the open sea, which forms the bulk of the book. At the end of the novel, a transcript taken from an interrogation of Pi reveals the possible “true” story within that story: that there were no animals at all, and that Pi had spent those 227 days with other human survivors who all eventually perished, leaving only himself.

Pi, however, is not a liar: to him, the various versions of his story each contain a different kind of truth. One version may be factually true, but the other has an emotional or thematic truth that the other cannot approach. Throughout the novel, Pi expresses disdain for rationalists who only put their faith in “dry, yeastless factuality,” when stories-which can amaze and inspire listeners, and are bound to linger longer in the imagination-are, to him, infinitely superior.

Storytelling is also a means of survival. The “true” events of Pi’s sea voyage are too horrible to contemplate directly: any young boy would go insane if faced with the kinds of acts Pi (indirectly) tells his integrators he has witnessed. By recasting his account as an incredible tale about humanlike animals, Pi doesn’t have to face the true cruelty human beings are actually capable of. Similarly, by creating the character of Richard Parker, Pi can disavow the ferocious, violent side of his personality that allowed him to survive on the ocean. Even this is not, technically, a lie in Pi’s eyes. He believes that the tiger-like aspect of his nature and the civilized, human aspect stand in tense opposition and occasional partnership with one another, just as the boy Pi and the tiger Richard Parker are both enemies and allies.

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The Nature of Religious Belief

Life of Pi begins with an old man in Pondicherry who tells the narrator, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” Storytelling and religious belief are two closely linked ideas in the novel. On a literal level, each of Pi’s three religions, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, come with its own set of tales and fables, which are used to spread the teachings and illustrate the beliefs of the faith. Pi enjoys the wealth of stories, but he also senses that, as Father Martin assured him was true of Christianity, each of these stories might simply be aspects of a greater, universal story about love.

Stories and religious beliefs are also linked in Life of Pi because Pi asserts that both require faith on the part of the listener or devotee. Surprisingly for such a religious boy, Pi admires atheists. To him, the important thing is to believe in something, and Pi can appreciate an atheist’s ability to believe in the absence of God with no concrete proof of that absence. Pi has nothing but disdain, however, for agnostics, who claim that it is impossible to know either way, and who therefore refrain from making a definitive statement on the question of God. Pi sees this as evidence of a shameful lack of imagination. To him, agnostics who cannot make a leap of faith in either direction are like listeners who cannot appreciate the non-literal truth a fictional story might provide.

Motifs

Territorial Dominance

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Though Martel’s text deals with the seemingly boundless nature of the sea, it also studies the strictness of boundaries, borders, and demarcations. The careful way in which Pi marks off his territory and differentiates it from Richard Parker’s is necessary for Pi’s survival. Animals are territorial creatures, as Pi notes: a family dog, for example, will guard its bed from intruders as if it were a lair. Tigers, as we learn from Richard Parker, are similarly territorial. They mark their space and define its boundaries carefully, establishing absolute dominance over every square inch of their area. To master Richard Parker, Pi must establish his control over certain zones in the lifeboat. He pours his urine over the tarp to designate a portion of the lifeboat as his territory, and he uses his whistle to ensure that Richard Parker stays within his designated space. The small size of the lifeboat and the relatively large size of its inhabitants make for a crowded vessel. In such a confined space, the demarcation of territory ensures a relatively peaceful relationship between man and beast. If Richard Parker is seen as an aspect of Pi’s own personality, the notion that a distinct boundary can be erected between the two represents Pi’s need to disavow the violent, animalistic side of his nature.

Hunger and Thirst

Unsurprisingly in a novel about a shipwrecked castaway, the characters in Life of Pi are continually fixated on food and water. Ironically, the lifeboat is surrounded by food and water; however, the salty water is undrinkable and the food is difficult to catch. Pi constantly struggles to land a fish or pull a turtle up over the side of the craft, just as he must steadily and consistently collect fresh drinking water using the solar stills. The repeated struggles against hunger and thirst illustrate the sharp difference between Pi’s former life and his current one on the boat. In urban towns such as Pondicherry, people are fed like animals in a zoo-they never have to expend much effort to obtain their sustenance. But on the open ocean, it is up to Pi to fend for himself. His transition from modern civilization to the more primitive existence on the open sea is marked by his attitudes toward fish: initially Pi, a vegetarian, is reluctant to kill and eat an animal. Only once the fish is lifeless, looking as it might in a market, does Pi feel better. As time goes on, Pi’s increasing comfort with eating meat signals his embrace of his new life.

Ritual

Throughout the novel, characters achieve comfort through the practice of rituals. Animals are creatures of habit, as Pi establishes early on when he notes that zookeepers can tell if something is wrong with their animals just by noticing changes in their daily routines. People, too, become wedded to their routines, even to the point of predictability, and grow troubled during times of change. While religious traditions are a prime example of ritual in this novel, there are numerous others. For instance, Pi’s mother wants to buy cigarettes before traveling to Canada, for fear that she won’t be able to find her particular brand in Winnipeg. And Pi is able to survive his oceanic ordeal largely because he creates a series of daily rituals to sustain him. Without rituals, routines, and habits, the novel implies, people feel uneasy and unmoored. Rituals give structure to abstract ideas and emotions-in other words, ritual is an alternate form of storytelling.

Symbols

Pi

Piscine Molitor Patel’s preferred moniker is more than just a shortened version of his given name. Indeed, the word Pi carries a host of relevant associations. It is a letter in the Greek alphabet that also contains alpha and omega, terms used in the book to denote dominant and submissive creatures. Pi is also an irrational mathematical number, used to calculate distance in a circle. Often shortened to 3.14, pi has so many decimal places that the human mind can’t accurately comprehend it, just as, the book argues, some realities are too difficult or troubling to face. These associations establish the character Pi as more than just a realistic protagonist; he also is an allegorical figure with multiple layers of meaning.

The Color Orange

In Life of Pi, the color orange symbolizes hope and survival. Just before the scene in which the Tsimtsum sinks, the narrator describes visiting the adult Pi at his home in Canada and meeting his family. Pi’s daughter, Usha, carries an orange cat. This moment assures the reader that the end of the story, if not happy, will not be a complete tragedy, since Pi is guaranteed to survive the catastrophe and father children of his own. The little orange cat recalls the big orange cat, Richard Parker, who helps Pi survive during his 227 days at sea. As the Tsimtsum sinks, Chinese crewmen give Pi a lifejacket with an orange whistle; on the boat, he finds an orange lifebuoy. The whistle, buoy, and tiger all help Pi survive, just as Orange Juice the orangutan provides a measure of emotional support that helps the boy maintain hope in the face of horrific tragedy.

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

1. I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.

Explanation for Quotation 1 >>

These words are spoken by Pi early in Part One, at the end of chapter 4, after a long discussion of zoo enclosures. Mr. Patel, Pi has recently told us, runs the Pondicherry Zoo, a place that Pi considered paradise as a boy. Pi has heard many people say negative things about zoos-namely that they deprive noble, wild creatures of their freedom and trap them in boring, domesticated lives-but he disagrees. Wild animals in their natural habitat encounter fear, fighting, lack of food, and parasites on a regular basis. Given all these biological facts, animals in the wild are not free at all-rather, they are subject to a stringent set of social and natural laws that they must follow or die. Since animals are creatures of habit, zoo enclosures, with abundant food and water, clean cages, and a constant routine, are heaven for them. Given the chance, Pi says, most zoo animals do not ever try to escape, unless something in their cage frightens them.

We have already learned that Pi studied zoology and religion at the University of Toronto, and the above quote demonstrates just how closely aligned the two subjects are in his mind. He is quick to turn a discussion of animal freedom into a metaphor for people’s religious inclinations. Just as people misunderstand the nature of animals in the wild, they also misunderstand what it means for a person to be “free” of any religious system of belief. The agnostic (someone who is uncertain about the existence of god and does not subscribe to any faith) may think he is at liberty to believe or disbelieve anything he wants, but in reality he does not allow himself to take imaginative leaps. Instead, he endures life’s ups and downs the way an animal in the wild does: because he has to. A person of faith, on the other hand, is like an animal in an enclosure, surrounded on all sides by a version of reality that is far kinder than reality itself. Pi embraces religious doctrine for the same reason he embraces the safety and security of a zoo enclosure: it makes life easier and more pleasurable.

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2. I can well imagine an atheist’s last words: “White, white! L-L-Love! My God!”-and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

Explanation for Quotation 2 >>

Spoken by Pi, this quotation-chapter 22 in its entirety-emphasizes the important distinction between facts and imagination, the crux of the entire novel. Previously, in chapter 21, the author used the phrases “dry, yeastless factuality” and “the better story” after a meeting with Pi in a café; the repetition highlights this dichotomy. Religion is aligned with imagination, while lack of faith is linked to accurate observation and rationalism. In short, Pi is giving us a simple, straightforward explanation for the variants of his own story: the one with animals and the one without.

The quote condemns those who lack artistry and imagination, the inability to commit to a story. Pi himself is a consummate artist, a storyteller, and he believes all religions tell wonderful tales, though not literal truths. Pi believes that atheists (who do not believe in God) have the capacity to believe; they choose to believe that God doesn’t exist. At the end of their lives, they could embrace the notion of God and devise a story that will help them die in peace and contentment. Pi despises agnostics for their decision to make uncertainty a way of life. They choose to live a life of doubt, without any sort of narrative to guide them. Without these stories, our existence is “dry” and unpalatable as unrisen or “yeastless” bread.

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3. [W]ithout Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.

Explanation for Quotation 3 >>

This line is spoken by Pi approximately halfway through the book, in chapter 57. The “you” in this sentence is the author, to whom Pi relates his story over the course of many meetings in Canada many years after the ordeal. Of course, the “you” is also the reader, for Pi is aware that he is telling his story to a writer who has the intent to publish. By this point, we know that Richard Parker is a Royal Bengal tiger, an adult male, who weighs 450 pounds and takes up about one-third of the lifeboat. At first, it might sound ludicrous that such a menacing creature should get credit for keeping alive a slender, adolescent Indian boy, but Pi explains himself compellingly. The presence of Richard Parker, though initially terrifying, eventually soothes him and saves him from utter existential loneliness. Moreover, the necessity of training and taking care of Richard Parker fills up Pi’s long, empty days-staying busy helps time pass.

The quotation can also be considered in the context of Pi’s second story, the one without animals, in which Pi himself is the tiger. Pi has chosen a tiger to represent himself because of its conflicting qualities: nobility and violence, grace and brute force, intelligence and instinct. In a way, these qualities are very human. But on a day-to-day basis-for example, as we go to school, drive to the supermarket, and watch TV at night-the elements of violence, brutality, and instinct are blunted. Instead of catching and killing fish, we purchase plastic-wrapped filets; rather than hunt animals for meat, we buy steaks at the deli counter. Stripped of these conveniences, Pi must return to nature and reassert his animal instincts. He must overcome his squeamishness in order to eat. He must embrace aggression in order to kill the cook who might otherwise have killed him. In crediting Richard Parker’s existence for his own survival, Pi acknowledges that it is animal instinct, not polite convention or modern convenience, that protects him from death.

Close

4. Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.

Explanation for Quotation 4 >>

This comment appears about halfway through Part Two, as Pi adjusts to life at sea and philosophizes on the nature of being a castaway. In an endgame in chess, most of the game has been played out and the majority of the chess pieces knocked off the board.

Similarly, after the sinking of the Tsimtsum, only a handful of survivors (Pi, Richard Parker, Orange Juice, the Grant’s zebra, the hyena) remain. The few that are left are forced into a strategic battle of wits to see who will ultimately prevail. The tensions between the lifeboat’s inhabitants immediately after the ship sinks are high; each inhabitant knows that the game is “sudden death” and that each move must be considered with special care. The zebra, the orangutan, and the hyena all make missteps and lose. But Pi painstakingly charts out his plan of action, and his diligence and foresight save his life.

Life on a lifeboat is simple, but, stripped of all else, the stakes become considerable: life or death. Pi’s life in the middle of the Pacific has no luxuries, no complex processes to participate in, and no obscure signals to follow. Faced with numerous physical dangers-Richard Parker, sharks, starvation, the blind castaway-his only real choice is whether to fight to live or to give up and die. Though he considers doing otherwise, Pi chooses to fight.

The distilled quality of Pi’s existence is similar to the kind of bare-bones life lived by many religious mystics, for whom stripping down to the essentials is necessary for communion with God. A full, varied life with many distractions can cloud faith or even make it unnecessary. However, within a spare and even monastic existence, God’s presence becomes palpable. To put it another way, within the confines of a lifeboat, spirituality looms as large as a nearly 10-foot, 450-pound Bengal tiger.

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5. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.

Explanation for Quotation 5 >>

Pi narrates these words in chapter 93, toward the end of his ordeal at sea and as he is reaching the depths of his despair. As Pi mentions just before this, his situation seems “as pointless as the weather.” Up to now, Pi’s tedious life at sea has been alleviated somewhat with sporadic new activities: killing fish, taming Richard Parker, creating drinkable water using the solar stills, and so on. More notably, the blind French castaway and the days spent on the floating island gave Pi a change in routine. But now the novelty has worn off. This section, in which nothing is expected to happen, drives Pi into utter hopelessness, yet he must continue living.

At this point Pi turns to God and, Martel implies, invents the story that we have just read. His mind is desperate to escape the physical reality of continued existence on the lifeboat, and so it soars into the realm of fiction. At his lowest point, Pi reaches for the only remaining sources of salvation available to him: faith and imagination. Through the plot’s remaining action, Martel emphasizes that such a strategy for self-preservation can actually be astonishingly effective. Immediately after this moment in the text, Pi lan

Piscine Molitor Patel is the protagonist and, for most of the novel, the narrator. In the chapters that frame the main story, Pi, as a shy, graying, middle-aged man, tells the author about his early childhood and the shipwreck that changed his life. This narrative device distances the reader from the truth. We don’t know whether Pi’s story is accurate or what pieces to believe. This effect is intentional; throughout Pi emphasizes the importance of choosing the better story, believing that imagination trumps cold, hard facts. As a child, he reads widely and embraces many religions and their rich narratives that provide meaning and dimension to life. In his interviews with the Japanese investigators after his rescue, he offers first the more fanciful version of his time at sea. But, at their behest, he then provides an alternative version that is more realistic but ultimately less appealing to both himself and his questioners. The structure of the novel both illustrates Pi’s defining characteristic, his dependence on and love of stories, and highlights the inherent difficulties in trusting his version of events.

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Though the narrative jumps back and forth in time, the novel traces Pi’s development and maturation in a traditional bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story. Pi is an eager, outgoing, and excitable child, dependent on his family for protection and guidance. In school, his primary concerns involve preventing his schoolmates from mispronouncing his name and learning as much as he can about religion and zoology. But when the ship sinks, Pi is torn from his family and left alone on a lifeboat with wild animals. The disaster serves as the catalyst in his emotional growth; he must now become self-sufficient. Though he mourns the loss of his family and fears for his life, he rises to the challenge. He finds a survival guide and emergency provisions. Questioning his own values, he decides that his vegetarianism is a luxury under the conditions and learns to fish. He capably protects himself from Richard Parker and even assumes a parental relationship with the tiger, providing him with food and keeping him in line. The devastating shipwreck turns Pi into an adult, able to fend for himself out in the world alone.

Pi’s belief in God inspires him as a child and helps sustain him while at sea. In Pondicherry, his atheistic biology teacher challenges his Hindu faith in God, making him realize the positive power of belief, the need to overcome the otherwise bleakness of the universe. Motivated to learn more, Pi starts practicing Christianity and Islam, realizing these religions all share the same foundation: belief in a loving higher power. His burgeoning need for spiritual connection deepens while at sea. In his first days on the lifeboat, he almost gives up, unable to bear the loss of his family and unwilling to face the difficulties that still await him. At that point, however, he realizes that the fact he is still alive means that God is with him; he has been given a miracle. This thought gives him strength, and he decides to fight to remain alive. Throughout his adventure, he prays regularly, which provides him with solace, a sense of connection to something greater, and a way to pass the time.

Richard Parker

Pi’s companion throughout his ordeal at sea is Richard Parker, a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. Unlike many novels in which animals speak or act like humans, Richard Parker is portrayed as a real animal that acts in ways true to his species. It can be difficult to accept that a tiger and a boy could exist on a lifeboat alone, however, in the context of the novel, it seems plausible. Captured as a cub, Parker grew up in the zoo and is accustomed to a life in captivity. He is used to zookeepers training and providing for him, so he is able to respond to cues from Pi and submit to his dominance. However, he is no docile house cat. He has been tamed, but he still acts instinctually, swimming for the lifeboat in search of shelter and killing the hyena and the blind castaway for food. When the two wash up on the shore of Mexico, Richard Parker doesn’t draw out his parting with Pi, he simply runs off into the jungle, never to be seen again.

Though Richard Parker is quite fearsome, ironically his presence helps Pi stay alive. Alone on the lifeboat, Pi has many issues to face in addition to the tiger onboard: lack of food and water, predatory marine life, treacherous sea currents, and exposure to the elements. Overwhelmed by the circumstances and terrified of dying, Pi becomes distraught and unable to take action. However, he soon realizes that his most immediate threat is Richard Parker. His other problems now temporarily forgotten, Pi manages, through several training exercises, to dominate Parker. This success gives him confidence, making his other obstacles seem less insurmountable. Renewed, Pi is able to take concrete steps toward ensuring his continued existence: searching for food and keeping himself motivated. Caring and providing for Richard Parker keeps Pi busy and passes the time. Without Richard Parker to challenge and distract him, Pi might have given up on life. After he washes up on land in Mexico, he thanks the tiger for keeping him alive.

Richard Parker symbolizes Pi’s most animalistic instincts. Out on the lifeboat, Pi must perform many actions to stay alive that he would have found unimaginable in his normal life. An avowed vegetarian, he must kill fish and eat their flesh. As time progresses, he becomes more brutish about it, tearing apart birds and greedily stuffing them in his mouth, the way Richard Parker does. After Richard Parker mauls the blind Frenchman, Pi uses the man’s flesh for bait and even eats some of it, becoming cannibalistic in his unrelenting hunger. In his second story to the Japanese investigators, Pi is Richard Parker. He kills his mother’s murderer. Parker is the version of himself that Pi has invented to make his story more palatable, both to himself and to his audience. The brutality of his mother’s death and his own shocking act of revenge are too much for Pi to deal with, and he finds it easier to imagine a tiger as the killer, rather than himself in that role.

Character List

Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) – The protagonist of the story. Piscine is the narrator for most of the novel, and his account of his seven months at sea forms the bulk of the story. He gets his unusual name from the French word for pool-and, more specifically, from a pool in Paris in which a close family friend, Francis Adirubasamy, loved to swim. A student of zoology and religion, Pi is deeply intrigued by the habits and characteristics of animals and people.

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Richard Parker – The Royal Bengal tiger with whom Pi shares his lifeboat. His captor, Richard Parker, named him Thirsty, but a shipping clerk made a mistake and reversed their names. From then on, at the Pondicherry Zoo, he was known as Richard Parker. Weighing 450 pounds and about nine feet long, he kills the hyena on the lifeboat and the blind cannibal. With Pi, however, Richard Parker acts as an omega, or submissive, animal, respecting Pi’s dominance.

Read an in-depth analysis of Richard Parker.

The Author – The narrator of the (fictitious) Author’s Note, who inserts himself into the narrative at several points throughout the text. Though the author who pens the Author’s Note never identifies himself by name, there are many clues that indicate it is Yann Martel himself, thinly disguised: he lives in Canada, has published two books, and was inspired to write Pi’s life story during a trip to India.

Francis Adirubasamy – The elderly man who tells the author Pi’s story during a chance meeting in a Pondicherry coffee shop. He taught Pi to swim as a child and bestowed upon him his unusual moniker. He arranges for the author to meet Pi in person, so as to get a first-person account of his strange and compelling tale. Pi calls him Mamaji, an Indian term that means respected uncle.

Ravi – Pi’s older brother. Ravi prefers sports to schoolwork and is quite popular. He teases his younger brother mercilessly over his devotion to three religions.

Santosh Patel – Pi’s father. He once owned a Madras hotel, but because of his deep interest in animals decided to run the Pondicherry Zoo. A worrier by nature, he teaches his sons not only to care for and control wild animals, but to fear them. Though raised a Hindu, he is not religious and is puzzled by Pi’s adoption of numerous religions. The difficult conditions in India lead him to move his family to Canada.

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Gita Patel – Pi’s beloved mother and protector. A book lover, she encourages Pi to read widely. Raised Hindu with a Baptist education, she does not subscribe to any religion and questions Pi’s religious declarations. She speaks her mind, letting her husband know when she disagrees with his parenting techniques. When Pi relates another version of his story to his rescuers, she takes the place of Orange Juice on the lifeboat.

Satish Kumar – Pi’s atheistic biology teacher at Petit Séminaire, a secondary school in Pondicherry. A polio survivor, he is an odd-looking man, with a body shaped like a triangle. His devotion to the power of scientific inquiry and explanation inspires Pi to study zoology in college.

Father Martin – The Catholic priest who introduces Pi to Christianity after Pi wanders into his church. He preaches a message of love. He, the Muslim Mr. Kumar, and the Hindu pandit disagree about whose religion Pi should practice.

Satish Kumar – A plain-featured Muslim mystic with the same name as Pi’s biology teacher. He works in a bakery. Like the other Mr. Kumar, this one has a strong effect on Pi’s academic plans: his faith leads Pi to study religion at college.

The Hindu Pandit – One of three important religious figures in the novel. Never given a name, he is outraged when Pi, who was raised Hindu, begins practicing other religions. He and the other two religious leaders are quieted somewhat by Pi’s declaration that he just wants to love God.

Meena Patel – Pi’s wife, whom the author meets briefly in Toronto.

Nikhil Patel (Nick) – Pi’s son. He plays baseball.

Usha Patel – Pi’s young daughter. She is shy but very close to her father.

The Hyena – An ugly, intensely violent animal. He controls the lifeboat before Richard Parker emerges.

The Zebra – A beautiful male Grant’s zebra. He breaks his leg jumping into the lifeboat. The hyena torments him and eats him alive.

Orange Juice – The maternal orangutan that floats to the lifeboat on a raft of bananas. She suffers almost humanlike bouts of loneliness and seasickness. When the hyena attacks her, she fights back valiantly but is nonetheless killed and decapitated.

The Blind Frenchman – A fellow castaway whom Pi meets by chance in the middle of the ocean. Driven by hunger and desperation, he tries to kill and cannibalize Pi, but Richard Parker kills him first.

Tomohiro Okamoto – An official from the Maritime Department of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who is investigating the sinking of the Japanese Tsimtsum. Along with his assistant, Atsuro Chiba, Okamoto interviews Pi for three hours and is highly skeptical of his first account.

Atsuro Chiba – Okamoto’s assistant. Chiba is the more naïve and trusting of the two Japanese officials, and his inexperience at conducting interviews gets on his superior’s nerves. Chiba agrees with Pi that the version of his ordeal with animals is the better than the one with people.

The Cook – The human counterpart to the hyena in Pi’s second story. He is rude and violent and hoards food on the lifeboat. After he kills the sailor and Pi’s mother, Pi stabs him and he dies.

The Sailor – The human counterpart to the zebra in Pi’s second story. He is young, beautiful, and exotic. He speaks only Chinese and is very sad and lonely in the lifeboat. He broke his leg jumping off the ship, and it becomes infected. The cook cuts off the leg, and the sailor dies slowly.

Themes

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Themes

The Will to Live

Life of Pi is a story about struggling to survive through seemingly insurmountable odds. The shipwrecked inhabitants of the little lifeboat don’t simply acquiesce to their fate: they actively fight against it. Pi abandons his lifelong vegetarianism and eats fish to sustain himself. Orange Juice, the peaceful orangutan, fights ferociously against the hyena. Even the severely wounded zebra battles to stay alive; his slow, painful struggle vividly illustrates the sheer strength of his life force. As Martel makes clear in his novel, living creatures will often do extraordinary, unexpected, and sometimes heroic things to survive. However, they will also do shameful and barbaric things if pressed. The hyena’s treachery and the blind Frenchman’s turn toward cannibalism show just how far creatures will go when faced with the possibility of extinction. At the end of the novel, when Pi raises the possibility that the fierce tiger, Richard Parker, is actually an aspect of his own personality, and that Pi himself is responsible for some of the horrific events he has narrated, the reader is forced to decide just what kinds of actions are acceptable in a life-or-death situation.

The Importance of Storytelling

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Life of Pi is a story within a story within a story. The novel is framed by a (fictional) note from the author, Yann Martel, who describes how he first came to hear the fantastic tale of Piscine Molitor Patel. Within the framework of Martel’s narration is Pi’s fantastical first-person account of life on the open sea, which forms the bulk of the book. At the end of the novel, a transcript taken from an interrogation of Pi reveals the possible “true” story within that story: that there were no animals at all, and that Pi had spent those 227 days with other human survivors who all eventually perished, leaving only himself.

Pi, however, is not a liar: to him, the various versions of his story each contain a different kind of truth. One version may be factually true, but the other has an emotional or thematic truth that the other cannot approach. Throughout the novel, Pi expresses disdain for rationalists who only put their faith in “dry, yeastless factuality,” when stories-which can amaze and inspire listeners, and are bound to linger longer in the imagination-are, to him, infinitely superior.

Storytelling is also a means of survival. The “true” events of Pi’s sea voyage are too horrible to contemplate directly: any young boy would go insane if faced with the kinds of acts Pi (indirectly) tells his integrators he has witnessed. By recasting his account as an incredible tale about humanlike animals, Pi doesn’t have to face the true cruelty human beings are actually capable of. Similarly, by creating the character of Richard Parker, Pi can disavow the ferocious, violent side of his personality that allowed him to survive on the ocean. Even this is not, technically, a lie in Pi’s eyes. He believes that the tiger-like aspect of his nature and the civilized, human aspect stand in tense opposition and occasional partnership with one another, just as the boy Pi and the tiger Richard Parker are both enemies and allies.

The Nature of Religious Belief

Life of Pi begins with an old man in Pondicherry who tells the narrator, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” Storytelling and religious belief are two closely linked ideas in the novel. On a literal level, each of Pi’s three religions, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, come with its own set of tales and fables, which are used to spread the teachings and illustrate the beliefs of the faith. Pi enjoys the wealth of stories, but he also senses that, as Father Martin assured him was true of Christianity, each of these stories might simply be aspects of a greater, universal story about love.

Stories and religious beliefs are also linked in Life of Pi because Pi asserts that both require faith on the part of the listener or devotee. Surprisingly for such a religious boy, Pi admires atheists. To him, the important thing is to believe in something, and Pi can appreciate an atheist’s ability to believe in the absence of God with no concrete proof of that absence. Pi has nothing but disdain, however, for agnostics, who claim that it is impossible to know either way, and who therefore refrain from making a definitive statement on the question of God. Pi sees this as evidence of a shameful lack of imagination. To him, agnostics who cannot make a leap of faith in either direction are like listeners who cannot appreciate the non-literal truth a fictional story might provide.

Motifs

Territorial Dominance

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Though Martel’s text deals with the seemingly boundless nature of the sea, it also studies the strictness of boundaries, borders, and demarcations. The careful way in which Pi marks off his territory and differentiates it from Richard Parker’s is necessary for Pi’s survival. Animals are territorial creatures, as Pi notes: a family dog, for example, will guard its bed from intruders as if it were a lair. Tigers, as we learn from Richard Parker, are similarly territorial. They mark their space and define its boundaries carefully, establishing absolute dominance over every square inch of their area. To master Richard Parker, Pi must establish his control over certain zones in the lifeboat. He pours his urine over the tarp to designate a portion of the lifeboat as his territory, and he uses his whistle to ensure that Richard Parker stays within his designated space. The small size of the lifeboat and the relatively large size of its inhabitants make for a crowded vessel. In such a confined space, the demarcation of territory ensures a relatively peaceful relationship between man and beast. If Richard Parker is seen as an aspect of Pi’s own personality, the notion that a distinct boundary can be erected between the two represents Pi’s need to disavow the violent, animalistic side of his nature.

Hunger and Thirst

Unsurprisingly in a novel about a shipwrecked castaway, the characters in Life of Pi are continually fixated on food and water. Ironically, the lifeboat is surrounded by food and water; however, the salty water is undrinkable and the food is difficult to catch. Pi constantly struggles to land a fish or pull a turtle up over the side of the craft, just as he must steadily and consistently collect fresh drinking water using the solar stills. The repeated struggles against hunger and thirst illustrate the sharp difference between Pi’s former life and his current one on the boat. In urban towns such as Pondicherry, people are fed like animals in a zoo-they never have to expend much effort to obtain their sustenance. But on the open ocean, it is up to Pi to fend for himself. His transition from modern civilization to the more primitive existence on the open sea is marked by his attitudes toward fish: initially Pi, a vegetarian, is reluctant to kill and eat an animal. Only once the fish is lifeless, looking as it might in a market, does Pi feel better. As time goes on, Pi’s increasing comfort with eating meat signals his embrace of his new life.

Ritual

Throughout the novel, characters achieve comfort through the practice of rituals. Animals are creatures of habit, as Pi establishes early on when he notes that zookeepers can tell if something is wrong with their animals just by noticing changes in their daily routines. People, too, become wedded to their routines, even to the point of predictability, and grow troubled during times of change. While religious traditions are a prime example of ritual in this novel, there are numerous others. For instance, Pi’s mother wants to buy cigarettes before traveling to Canada, for fear that she won’t be able to find her particular brand in Winnipeg. And Pi is able to survive his oceanic ordeal largely because he creates a series of daily rituals to sustain him. Without rituals, routines, and habits, the novel implies, people feel uneasy and unmoored. Rituals give structure to abstract ideas and emotions-in other words, ritual is an alternate form of storytelling.

Symbols

Pi

Piscine Molitor Patel’s preferred moniker is more than just a shortened version of his given name. Indeed, the word Pi carries a host of relevant associations. It is a letter in the Greek alphabet that also contains alpha and omega, terms used in the book to denote dominant and submissive creatures. Pi is also an irrational mathematical number, used to calculate distance in a circle. Often shortened to 3.14, pi has so many decimal places that the human mind can’t accurately comprehend it, just as, the book argues, some realities are too difficult or troubling to face. These associations establish the character Pi as more than just a realistic protagonist; he also is an allegorical figure with multiple layers of meaning.

The Color Orange

In Life of Pi, the color orange symbolizes hope and survival. Just before the scene in which the Tsimtsum sinks, the narrator describes visiting the adult Pi at his home in Canada and meeting his family. Pi’s daughter, Usha, carries an orange cat. This moment assures the reader that the end of the story, if not happy, will not be a complete tragedy, since Pi is guaranteed to survive the catastrophe and father children of his own. The little orange cat recalls the big orange cat, Richard Parker, who helps Pi survive during his 227 days at sea. As the Tsimtsum sinks, Chinese crewmen give Pi a lifejacket with an orange whistle; on the boat, he finds an orange lifebuoy. The whistle, buoy, and tiger all help Pi survive, just as Orange Juice the orangutan provides a measure of emotional support that helps the boy maintain hope in the face of horrific tragedy.

Quotes

Important Quotations Explained

1. I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.

Explanation for Quotation 1 >>

These words are spoken by Pi early in Part One, at the end of chapter 4, after a long discussion of zoo enclosures. Mr. Patel, Pi has recently told us, runs the Pondicherry Zoo, a place that Pi considered paradise as a boy. Pi has heard many people say negative things about zoos-namely that they deprive noble, wild creatures of their freedom and trap them in boring, domesticated lives-but he disagrees. Wild animals in their natural habitat encounter fear, fighting, lack of food, and parasites on a regular basis. Given all these biological facts, animals in the wild are not free at all-rather, they are subject to a stringent set of social and natural laws that they must follow or die. Since animals are creatures of habit, zoo enclosures, with abundant food and water, clean cages, and a constant routine, are heaven for them. Given the chance, Pi says, most zoo animals do not ever try to escape, unless something in their cage frightens them.

We have already learned that Pi studied zoology and religion at the University of Toronto, and the above quote demonstrates just how closely aligned the two subjects are in his mind. He is quick to turn a discussion of animal freedom into a metaphor for people’s religious inclinations. Just as people misunderstand the nature of animals in the wild, they also misunderstand what it means for a person to be “free” of any religious system of belief. The agnostic (someone who is uncertain about the existence of god and does not subscribe to any faith) may think he is at liberty to believe or disbelieve anything he wants, but in reality he does not allow himself to take imaginative leaps. Instead, he endures life’s ups and downs the way an animal in the wild does: because he has to. A person of faith, on the other hand, is like an animal in an enclosure, surrounded on all sides by a version of reality that is far kinder than reality itself. Pi embraces religious doctrine for the same reason he embraces the safety and security of a zoo enclosure: it makes life easier and more pleasurable.

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2. I can well imagine an atheist’s last words: “White, white! L-L-Love! My God!”-and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

Explanation for Quotation 2 >>

Spoken by Pi, this quotation-chapter 22 in its entirety-emphasizes the important distinction between facts and imagination, the crux of the entire novel. Previously, in chapter 21, the author used the phrases “dry, yeastless factuality” and “the better story” after a meeting with Pi in a café; the repetition highlights this dichotomy. Religion is aligned with imagination, while lack of faith is linked to accurate observation and rationalism. In short, Pi is giving us a simple, straightforward explanation for the variants of his own story: the one with animals and the one without.

The quote condemns those who lack artistry and imagination, the inability to commit to a story. Pi himself is a consummate artist, a storyteller, and he believes all religions tell wonderful tales, though not literal truths. Pi believes that atheists (who do not believe in God) have the capacity to believe; they choose to believe that God doesn’t exist. At the end of their lives, they could embrace the notion of God and devise a story that will help them die in peace and contentment. Pi despises agnostics for their decision to make uncertainty a way of life. They choose to live a life of doubt, without any sort of narrative to guide them. Without these stories, our existence is “dry” and unpalatable as unrisen or “yeastless” bread.

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3. [W]ithout Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.

Explanation for Quotation 3 >>

This line is spoken by Pi approximately halfway through the book, in chapter 57. The “you” in this sentence is the author, to whom Pi relates his story over the course of many meetings in Canada many years after the ordeal. Of course, the “you” is also the reader, for Pi is aware that he is telling his story to a writer who has the intent to publish. By this point, we know that Richard Parker is a Royal Bengal tiger, an adult male, who weighs 450 pounds and takes up about one-third of the lifeboat. At first, it might sound ludicrous that such a menacing creature should get credit for keeping alive a slender, adolescent Indian boy, but Pi explains himself compellingly. The presence of Richard Parker, though initially terrifying, eventually soothes him and saves him from utter existential loneliness. Moreover, the necessity of training and taking care of Richard Parker fills up Pi’s long, empty days-staying busy helps time pass.

The quotation can also be considered in the context of Pi’s second story, the one without animals, in which Pi himself is the tiger. Pi has chosen a tiger to represent himself because of its conflicting qualities: nobility and violence, grace and brute force, intelligence and instinct. In a way, these qualities are very human. But on a day-to-day basis-for example, as we go to school, drive to the supermarket, and watch TV at night-the elements of violence, brutality, and instinct are blunted. Instead of catching and killing fish, we purchase plastic-wrapped filets; rather than hunt animals for meat, we buy steaks at the deli counter. Stripped of these conveniences, Pi must return to nature and reassert his animal instincts. He must overcome his squeamishness in order to eat. He must embrace aggression in order to kill the cook who might otherwise have killed him. In crediting Richard Parker’s existence for his own survival, Pi acknowledges that it is animal instinct, not polite convention or modern convenience, that protects him from death.

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4. Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.

Explanation for Quotation 4 >>

This comment appears about halfway through Part Two, as Pi adjusts to life at sea and philosophizes on the nature of being a castaway. In an endgame in chess, most of the game has been played out and the majority of the chess pieces knocked off the board.

Similarly, after the sinking of the Tsimtsum, only a handful of survivors (Pi, Richard Parker, Orange Juice, the Grant’s zebra, the hyena) remain. The few that are left are forced into a strategic battle of wits to see who will ultimately prevail. The tensions between the lifeboat’s inhabitants immediately after the ship sinks are high; each inhabitant knows that the game is “sudden death” and that each move must be considered with special care. The zebra, the orangutan, and the hyena all make missteps and lose. But Pi painstakingly charts out his plan of action, and his diligence and foresight save his life.

Life on a lifeboat is simple, but, stripped of all else, the stakes become considerable: life or death. Pi’s life in the middle of the Pacific has no luxuries, no complex processes to participate in, and no obscure signals to follow. Faced with numerous physical dangers-Richard Parker, sharks, starvation, the blind castaway-his only real choice is whether to fight to live or to give up and die. Though he considers doing otherwise, Pi chooses to fight.

The distilled quality of Pi’s existence is similar to the kind of bare-bones life lived by many religious mystics, for whom stripping down to the essentials is necessary for communion with God. A full, varied life with many distractions can cloud faith or even make it unnecessary. However, within a spare and even monastic existence, God’s presence becomes palpable. To put it another way, within the confines of a lifeboat, spirituality looms as large as a nearly 10-foot, 450-pound Bengal tiger.

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5. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.

Explanation for Quotation 5 >>

Pi narrates these words in chapter 93, toward the end of his ordeal at sea and as he is reaching the depths of his despair. As Pi mentions just before this, his situation seems “as pointless as the weather.” Up to now, Pi’s tedious life at sea has been alleviated somewhat with sporadic new activities: killing fish, taming Richard Parker, creating drinkable water using the solar stills, and so on. More notably, the blind French castaway and the days spent on the floating island gave Pi a change in routine. But now the novelty has worn off. This section, in which nothing is expected to happen, drives Pi into utter hopelessness, yet he must continue living.

At this point Pi turns to God and, Martel implies, invents the story that we have just read. His mind is desperate to escape the physical reality of continued existence on the lifeboat, and so it soars into the realm of fiction. At his lowest point, Pi reaches for the only remaining sources of salvation available to him: faith and imagination. Through the plot’s remaining action, Martel emphasizes that such a strategy for self-preservation can actually be astonishingly effective. Immediately after this moment in the text, Pi lan

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