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“Life of Pi” was written by Canadian author Yann Martel. It was published in September 2003 by Random House of Canada. In 2002, Life of Pi won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. “Life of Pi” appeared on the New York Times best seller list in 2003. Yann Martel was born in Spain and now is a Canadian author best known for the “Life of Pi. Martel’s other published works include “Seven Stories”, “The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios”, “Self”, “We Ate the Children Last”.
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“Life of Pi” is a story about a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper named Pi Patel. In an Author’s Note, Yann Martel begins to blur fact and fiction by explaining how he traveled to India from his Canadian home because he was feeling restless. At a café in the town of Pondicherry, he met an elderly man who presented an incredible story that would give him faith in God. The story the man told him is the story of Pi Patel.
Yann Martel uses the story based on Pi’s experience to approach and reveal epistemological truths. The story confronts issues involving what we believe in as truth. The novel does this by describing the information Pi has gathered with his five senses. In this piece of fiction, the truth about religion and fiction itself are explained beautifully. The importance of religion is just like that of fiction. They both use literary devices and storytelling to improve our understanding of human existence.
The exposition in “Life of Pi” takes a good portion of the book. In the first 1/3 of the story, we learn about the situation Pi and his family are in. Pi especially goes into detail about religion and zoology because it ties in directly to the rest of the story. In part 2 of the story, Yann begins by writing, “The Ship Sank.” This is the main conflict in the story as it kills Pi’s family, the crew, and most of the animals. This leaves Pi with two types of conflict- Externally, Pi must survive on a lifeboat with a tiger on board. Internally, Pi must maintain faith to survive on his long and harsh journey.
The beginning of the book makes a reference to something disastrous in Pi’s life. He explains how his religious and zoology studies helped him get back on his feet when he arrived in Canada. This foreshadows the main conflict of the boat sinking. Pi is the narrator and protagonist in the story. The antagonists of the story are both nature and Richard Parker. After the boat sinks, Pi’s hardships begin with Richard Parker and move on to fighting nature. As time on the lifeboat progresses, Pi is not attacked by Richard Parker because he shows that he is the dominant creature. The suspense in the story comes from Pi just trying to survive, whether it is avoiding Richard Parker at first on the lifeboat, or being on a cannibalistic island. The climax takes place in the third part of the book when Pi is talking to the Japanese officials and resentfully tells them a second story that lacks both animals and faith. Pi gives consent to the Japanese officials to believe in the second story, but implores them to choose “the better story.” The climax is resolved by the Japanese men including the story with animals in the official report.
The crews of the ship are the stock characters in the story because they don’t play a major role. The foil characters include: Pi’s older brother, Ravi and Pi’s atheistic biology teacher, Satish Kumar. In contrast to Pi, Ravi prefers sports over school work; He also teases Pi about his loyalty to three religions. Satish Kumar contrast Pi by being atheistic. This allows Pi to reveal some of his thoughts on atheist and agnostics. The flat characters in the story include Pi’s mother, Gita Patel. Father Martin, Satish Kumar, and the Hindu Pandit are the three religious figures in the novel. They heavily influence Pi, but do not go under any change throughout the story. In very brief flash forwards, Meena, Nikhil and Usha Patel are mentioned so the reader knows Pi has a family. Pi Patel is a round character because he changes throughout the story. Richard Parker, the tiger aboard the life boat and a symbol of Pi’s animalistic changes, is a dynamic character. Pi and Richard Parker were both motivated to stay alive at sea after the ship they were on sank. Pi’s name is significant because pi is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter. The number is irrational so the digits continue in no specific pattern until infinity. This is a hard concept to grasp for people, just as some realities are.
Pi is a participating narrator in “Life of Pi.” Pi is a middle-aged family man in the flash-forwards that make the backbone of the story. The author’s note is written in first person by the author, Part one and two of the story is told in first person by Pi, and most of Part three is a transcript of the conversation Pi has with the Japanese officials. When Pi narrates in first person, he is an objective narrator.
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The two main themes in “Life of Pi” are the will to live and the importance of storytelling. Living creatures will sometimes go to great lengths to stay alive, even if barbaric actions are called for. Every living thing on the life boat fought against death. Orange Juice, the orangutan on board did everything it could to fight against the hyena. The injured zebra battled to stay alive at sea. Pi, who was a strict on his vegetarian diet, ate fish to avoid starvation. The actions of the hyena, the blind Frenchman, and Richard Parker were all examples of how creatures will do horrible and vicious things when faced with death. These actions of survival fall in the category of amorality.
In Part three of the novel, when Pi’s reveals a possible true story in which he spent the days at sea with people and no animals at all, the importance of storytelling is clearer than daylight. Each story holds a different perspective of truth. The second story Pi gave to the officials is too horrible to consider. The color orange appears numerous times in Pi’s story and it symbolizes hope and survival. Richard Parker, a tiger who is orange helps Pi stay alive at sea. The crew of the ship gave Pi a life jacket with an orange whistle. Pi finds an orange lifebuoy on the lifeboat, and Orange Juice provides emotional help that keeps Pi hopeful.
The novel starts of in Pi’s hometown Pondicherry, India. The ship that the animals and his family are on sinks in the Pacific Ocean. This happens on July 2nd, 1977, and last for 227 days. Pi arrives in Tomatlan, Mexico after the 227 days at sea. In the flash-forwards, Pi has a wife and family in Toronto, Canada. The exposition takes place on land while most of the story takes place in the ocean. The atmosphere when Pi is at sea is tragic and suspenseful. On the contrary, in the flash-forwards with Pi and his family, the mood is calm and peaceful.
Pi’s tone throughout the novel various from humorous to philosophical. The story was narrated in a conversational and informal. Yann Martel uses imagery, metaphors and similes throughout the story. For example, Martel uses simile to compare the different sounds of a tiger to something soft, but reminds us that both should be feared. He also uses imagery to precisely describe The Algae Island. When Pi first steps foot on the island, he says “My foot sank into the clear water and met the rubbery resistance of something flexible but solid. I put more weight down. The illusion would not give. I put the full weight of my foot. Still I did not sink. Still I did not believe.”
“Life of Pi” deals in the philosophy of epistemology. The epiphany comes when Pi says “the better story” to the Japanese officials. Once he says these three words, it is understood that the novel is about how we choose the truth, and how imagination and can be used for self preservation. In part three of the book, Pi is fully aware that there are two versions to the story. The story that involves animals is much more pleasant to hear. The story that involves humans in place of the animals is a horrifying and shocking tale that exposes the cruel side of our nature. In summary, Life of Pi was a powerful story about fiction. Both fiction and religion serve a similar purpose. They take the simple biological imperatives-we are born, we live, we die-and color them with narrative in an effort to make them more personal and understandable.
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