Life of Pi: The Will to Survive Despite Insurmountable Odds
Yann Martel's novel, the Life of Pi is an awe inspiring story which provides the heroism and the plight of a young orphaned boy named Pi and his journey of being lost at sea. Although Pi was named after a swimming pool (Schnell), his strength and desire to live far exceeds the odd origin of his name. The Life of Pi is a story about struggling to survive, where religion, animal knowledge and the ability to adapt oneself plays a role.
At the beginning of this novel, Martel shared a very in-depth look into Pi's life which made his journey on the open sea one of great sadness, sorrow and heroism all at the same time. Pi's wit and desire to live coupled with his love of God, his understanding of zoo animals and the ability to do shameful and barbaric things ensured his survival. At the beginning of the novel, Martel shared with us the challenge that Pi faced when he wanted to build a relationship with God. Before Pi's misfortunate of being alone at sea, his journey of finding God began when he saw three hills within Munnar (Martel 64). On the right hill was a Hindu temple high on its side; the hill in the middle...held up a mosque; while the hill on the left was crowned with a Christian church (Martel 64). Pi learned to love each religion equally and began practicing at each one. Pi's simplistic yet uplifting perspective on religion is tainted by the external conflict held between three religious communities (Schnell). Pi learned to avoid the parishioners that felt it was treason to worshiped at various religions. He would attend church, temple or the mosque when people were too distracted to come between God and... (Martel 90) Pi. Throughout this Pi's love for God and his relationship with him grew. This relationship with God proved to be paramount for Pi's survival on the open sea.
Pi is drifting in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean with a zebra who has a broken leg, a hyena with a ferocious appetite, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker whose paws are the size of volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica (Martel 166). At the moment that the Tsimtsum sank Pi was calling out to Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu (Martel 121). The first week was exceptionally traumatic for Pi as they all battle for survival however Pi's belief in God saves him from death both physically and emotionally. Pi made God part of his daily life in every way; even when he found the locker full of food in the lifeboat. Pi painstakingly made a complete list of all it's contents. At the end of the list, Pi also added something else that was paramount to his survival: 1 God (Martel 184). The connection that Pi made between the lifesaving contents of the locker and God shows just how important God was to Pi. In Pi's journal he also noted when he prayed each day; sunrise to mid-morning (Martell 240); Mid-morning to late afternoon (Martel 240); Late afternoon to early evening (Martel 240); Sunset (Martel 241) and finally at Night (Martel 241). Pi confirmed that he prayed to God all day long. Pi's faith in God is always on his mind and in his heart (Schnell). Pi even confirms this when he says to himself during a storm that the blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. And I would go on loving (Martel 264). During his ordeal Pi even practiced religious rituals that (he) adapted to the circumstances (Martell 263). For example he performed solitary Masses without priests or consecretated Communions 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 (Martel 263). Pi summed up his reliance on God when he said Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love (Martel 263). Could any person survive this sort of experience without faith in something bigger than themselves and find the will to go on (Schnell)? In the article, New Centre to Promote Studies of Effects of Prayer they quote Dr. Deepak Chopra where he says Even though prayer has existed in every spiritual tradition, only recently has science begun to validate that prayer 'works' (Abend and Pingree). Pi was proof that prayer indeed works and it saved his life.
The fact that Pi was able to tame, and at the same time, rely on Richard Parker proved important to his survival. Pi's journey centers on being able to control Richard Parker and thus human suppression of their animalistic characteristics, though it is really the tiger that helps Pi stay alive because it is these primal animalistic instincts that allowed him to get food and water over other needs. Pi realizes that it is with coexistence with Richard Parker that he will be able to survive (Wikipedia). Pi is the son of a zookeeper and underwent various instructions from his father, some harsher than others. Pi learned a valuable lesson from his father on the violence that a wild animal can inflict when he watched the desecration of a goat by Mahisha, one of the tigers at the zoo. Pi knew how powerful Richard Parker was which was why he needed to show him that he was the master over him. In order to survive Pi had to make him understand that (he) was the top tiger and that his (Richard Parker) territory was limited to the floor of the boat, the stern bench and the side benches (Martel 211). Pi made the comment that Survival had to start with me (Martel 212). Pi started fishing to catch food not only for himself but also for Richard Parker to show him that he could only eat if Pi provided it. ...tigers ate on average ten pounds of meat a day (Martell 212) which would be no easy feat for Pi. Richard Parker also proved to be sea-sick, which Pi used to his advantage. When Richard Parker would leave his territory and venture into Pi's, Pi would blow a whistle and rock the boat. This would signal to Richard Parker that if he tried to enter Pi's territory, Pi would cause him to become sick along with hearing a piercing noise made by the whistle. Richard Parker caught on quickly and Pi only had to show the whistle for Richard Parker to resume his rightful position. This training allowed Pi the freedom to roam the boat and live harmoniously with Richard Parker, although he continued to fear him; he was still a tiger nonetheless. Pi also assumes the position of a Circus Ring Leader where he trains Richard Parker to jump through a hoop (Martel 345) that he has made out of thin branches while on the carnivorous island. 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 (SparkNotes). The fact that Richard Parker was used to being dominated allowed him to be trained, thus saving Pi's life. Pi soon realizes his own reliance on the beast that shares the lifeboat (Schnell). Pi commented that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose (Martel 204). Poor Pi was so alone and this was his only source of companionship. Richard Parker pushed me to go on living (Martel 207), Pi said. The impact of having Richard Parker as a companion was of gigantic proportions. Pi was ...grateful. It's the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn't be alive today to tell you my story (Martel 207). It was true; Pi's survival depended on this big cat more than any of us could ever imagine. As Pi plainly put it, We would live-or we would die-together (Martel 207). Pi needed Richard Parker and they would be together whether in life or in death.
The final contributing factor to Pi's survival was the fact that he was able to adapt to the circumstances that he was in and put aside his own fears and conscience. Pi has been a lifelong vegetarian however in order to survive he battles his own internal demons and puts them aside. Pi expressed his inner conflict when pressed on by hunger and he had to kill a fish - A lifetime of peaceful vegetarianism stood between me and the willful beheading of a fish (Martel 231). That first kill was done without beheading the fish but by wrapping it in a towel and breaking its neck so Pi wouldn't have to watch its eyes bulging out. Pi was traumatized by this act of violence so much that he wept heartily over this poor little deceased soul (Martel 231). After that, hunger forced Pi to ignore his conscience and devour the souls of others like an animal (Martel 284). Pi resorted to picking at fish heads (Martel 268) and sucking out the fresh-tasting fluid (Martel 268) from their eyes. Pi learned to rip open a sea-turtle's belly and devour the contents. He even made a sea-turtle dinner out of A chopped-up mixture of heart, lungs, liver, flesh and cleaned-out intestines sprinkled with fish parts (Martell 268). Hunger led Pi to unspeakable acts, including eating Richard Parker's feces (Martel 269) and eating small pieces, little strips of the other man lost at sea that was killed by Richard Parker. Pi acknowledged the transformation that he had made from vegetarian to carnivore and cannibal when he said It came as an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the one day I noticed...that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic, unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate (Martel 284). The locker that held hundreds of provisions also provided relief for Pi, but was short-lived due to the duration of his journey of 227 days, he only had food rations to last (him)-31 x 3 - 93 days (Martel 182)! Pi was able to use the tarpaulin as shade; the 12 solar stills (Martel 183) transformed sea water into fresh water; 2 fishing kits (Martel 183) to fish with; 2 hatchets (Martel 183) to kill the fish with and 2 rain catchers (Martel 183) to catch as much rain as Pi could drink. Of course with time, these provisions ran out and decayed due to the unrelenting sun and salt-water conditions however without them, Pi would never have survived the first week.
In conclusion, Martel makes it very clear in his novel that living creatures will often do extraordinary, unexpected, and sometimes heroic things to survive. However, they will also do shameful and barbaric things if pushed too far. Pi was pushed beyond his own limits. He was a young boy that had the will to live and he had the desire to ...fight and fight and fight (Martel 186). This determination served Pi well however there was much more that ensured Pi's survival. The survival of Pi was dependent upon his relationship with God, taming and relying on Richard Parker for support and going against his own conscience to adapt to his surroundings.
Abend, Lisa and Geoff Pingree. New Centre to Promote Studies of Effects of Prayer. 9 Jul. 2004. The Christian Science Monitor. 21 Aug. 2008.
Analysis of Major Characters. 2008. SparkNotes. 19 Aug. 2008.
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Canada: Random House of Canada, 2001
Schnell, Lisa. Discussion Questions. 20 Mar. 2008. University of Vermont: Lisa Schnell Blog. 21 Aug. 2008.
Life of Pi: Richard Parker. 19 Aug. 2008. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 20 Aug. 2008.