‘Life of Pi’, written by Yann Martel, is an adventure Novel about a 16 year-old boy called Pi who , along with his family, gets shipwrecked. The theme is about struggling to survive against all odds. Only Pi and some animals survive. The book is divided into three parts: After the author’s note, part 1 tells about Pi’s young life and his love of animals and religion. Part 2 is the main part of the book which describes the sinking of the ship which is carrying Pi, his family, the crew and some zoo animals. Pi’s family perish and Pi is left alone to survive with some animals. Eventually he manages to reach land. In part 3 he tells the story of his adventures but is not believed and he retells the story using humans instead of animals. The reader is left to make his own mind up regarding which is the more credible story. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, symbolism plays an important part.
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Throughout the story, the color orange appears many times. The color orange symbolizes survival and hope. Pi himself keeps hope when he is all alone on his lifeboat. He wants to survive no matter what happens. When the ship (Tsimtsum) sinks the Chinese crewman help him by giving Pi a lifejacket with an orange whistle; the lifeboat which was essential for his survival was also orange. In a flash forward at the end of part one before the ships sinks the narrator describes visiting adult Pi and his family at Pi’s home in Canada.
She’s holding an orange cat in her arms. Two front legs sticking straight up and deeply sunk head are all that is visible of it above her crossed arms The rest of the cat is hanging all the way down to the floor. The animal seems quite relaxed about being stretched on the rack in this manner.(page 89)
Usha (Pi’s daughter) holds an orange cat. This gives the reader a confirmation that Pi will survive the catastrophe. The orange cat symbolizes Richard Parker the Bengal tiger, who helps Pi to survive during his 227days at sea. The tiger, the lifeboat and the whistle (all orange) all contribute to the survival of Pi and give support during emotional difficult times.
Pi explains how closely religion and zoology are aligned and he uses zoos as a symbol for religion.
I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.(page 29)
Some people consider themselves to be ‘free’ from any belief or religious system, just like others misunderstand that the wild is not free for an animal. Zoos are often critized because they take wild, noble animals from their natural habitat and put them into boring domesticated cages. Pi vehemently disagrees; he finds that animals are creatures of habit and will adjust to their new caged environment. In the zoo they have all their needs compressed into a safe environment. This is, according to Pi, heaven for animals. In the same way religion offers people boundaries within which they feel secure and safe. When Pi was desperate on his lifeboat he turned to religion. He had in fact three, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
Pi explains: I practiced religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances- solitary Masses without priests or consecrated Communion hosts, darshans without murtis, and pujas with turtle meat for Prasad, acts of devotion to Allah not knowing where Mecca was and getting my Arabic wrong. They brought me comfort. (page 187)
When you believe in God or have faith in something you are certain of yourself. Unlike atheists who do not believe in anything which makes them uncertain, Pi embraces religion to gain certainty The quote above bears this out.
Another symbol in the book is ‘Pi’ which is the main character Piscine’s nickname. Pi’s full name is Piscine Molitor Patel. When he was still in primary school kids sometimes used to tease him by calling him ‘Pissing’ instead of ‘Piscine’. Pi got his name from the swimming pool of Paris, Piscine des Tourelles and therefore children found Piscine hard to pronounce.
My name is
Piscine Molitor Patel
Known to all as
-I double underlined the first two letters of my given name-
For good measure I added
When Pi started going to secondary school he decided that to prevent people from calling him Pissing he decided to call himself Pi (see quote). The name Pi is a very unusual name and it also brings a great deal of symbolism with it. Pi is the Greek number for sixteen and Pi was sixteen when he got shipwrecked. The number Pi is used to determine the circumference of a circle with the formula: . There is also symbolism behind this because the correlation between the linear journey to Canada and the cycles of doubt and faith are experienced by Pi. The number Pi is a very complex number. In fact, it has so many decimal places that it is too difficult for human minds to accurately comprehend it, just as it says in the book that some realities/situations are just too difficult to face. Pi’s experiences are explained rationally by Pi. Pi uses pi () to figure out the circumference of the algae island.
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In brief it can be said that symbolism plays a big role in the story ‘Life of Pi’. The symbols help us to truly understand Pi’s fight for survival. The color orange, the animals, religion and pi are just a few examples of how symbolism is used in the story. Even though Pi changes his account of the sinking of the ship and his survival, (by substituting people for animals) the events remain consistent with his original story. Storytelling (with symbolism incorporated) helps Pi to rationalize his dramatic experience and overcome despair.
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