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Monica Kempski Life of Pi Analysis

How does the characterization of Pi present how to live a life?

Yann Martel is a diligent author whose exceptional work has paid off in the world

of literacy. Martel was Canadian born, but traveled frequently to various places. His most

influential travel was a thirteen month venture in India. Here, he was inspired by the

country and its culture. It only saw fit that he make India the setting of his book, Life of

Pi. Martel took great measures to prepare his novel. During his stay in India, he visited

mosques, temples, churches, and zoos. In the story, Pi frequently visited all of these

places in his homeland. Martel also examined religious texts involving Christianity,

Islam, and Hinduism and studied biology and animal psychology. These studies not only

captivated Martel, but his character Pi. Because of these visits, the reader can trust that

the setting and philosophies found in the novel are accurate.

After Life of Pi was published, controversy erupted. The press had claimed that

Martel had plagiarized off of an earlier novel, Max and the Cats by Maacyr Scliar. Both

stories had similar plotlines involving a human stowed on a lifeboat with a ferocious

animal. Martel did admit to be influenced by Scliar’s work, but argued about the

difference in the depths to the stories. He won his case, and his novel continued to be

published.

Subsequent to the controversy, Life of Pi impacted millions of readers when it

won the Man Booker Prize in 2002. Since then, it has been translated into thirty different

languages for all to enjoy its intense plotline. (“How I wrote Life of Pi”)
Life of Pi is an extensive account of the fictional Piscine Molitor Patel. During his

childhood, “Pi” lived in India with his family. Here, he enjoyed spending time at his

father’s zoo and practicing religions. Pi had become multi-religious in Hindu, Christian,

and Muslim beliefs on his own accord. Then, in 1977 India became corrupted. Pi and his

family were forced to travel to Canada to escape and continue their zoo. Unfortunately,

the ship sinks. Pi is fortunate to survive on a lifeboat, but finds himself accompanied by

an orangutan, hyena, zebra, and tiger. Soon the animals die off and only the tiger,

“Richard Parker” is left with Pi. During his terrible struggle, Pi manages to semi-tame

Richard Parker. Months later, he finds an island of algae and leaves it after it poses a

threat to his life. Finally, he lands in Mexico where he meets the Japanese Ministry of

Transport who are sent to discover what became of Pi’s ship. Pi tells the men two

separate versions of his voyage, one involving the animals, and another gruesome

adaptation where the lifeboat is occupied by humans.

The central theme of the novel is life. Pi has certain characteristics that allow him

to live a life in the most hazardous circumstances. With his courage, Pi manages to

substitute his lack of human interaction on the lifeboat with the vicious tiger. He has no

family or other human to support him. During his time spent with the tiger, Pi realizes the

tiger is struggling as well, and they are in the same “boat.” Pi accepts the tiger, and starts

referring to him as “Richard Parker”, his name and identity. During their time together,

Richard Parker becomes Pi’s driving force and friend to stay alive. “I love you, Richard

Parker. If I didn’t have you now, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I would

make it…..I would die of hopelessness. Don’t give up…..I’ll get you to land, I promise!”
(236.5) In addition, Pi had to find his courage when he presses himself to eat the algae on

the island.

Pi has incredible conviction. He strongly believes in his many religions. During

the periods on the lifeboat when all hope seemed lost, Pi prayed to the gods of his faiths

and asked them for aid. His belief in a higher power settled his mind and gave Pi

something to hold on to and believe in when survival seemed slim. “The lower you are,

the higher your mind will want to soar. It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was,

in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God.” (283.9-284)

However, Pi’s conviction in his belief of what he thinks is best for him turns him

against his Hindu faith. On the lifeboat, Pi ran out of his food supply and nearly starved.

In result, he resorted to fish and sea turtles. Then on an island, he discovers meerkats and

kills again for food.

Pi faced a major internal conflict because the killing of animals is taboo to the

Hindu religion. His two options included following his faith and starving, or dishonoring

it and surviving. Ultimately, Pi chose to disregard the Hindu belief in the sacredness of

animals because of the life threatening circumstance. Pi eventually killed his prey, but

not without attached emotion. “I wept heartily over this poor little deceased soul. It was

the first sentient being I had ever killed. I was now a killer.” (183.7) Eventually, this

violation of his conviction became mundane. With his newly developed routine, Pi

learned to detach himself from the mess of emotions involved in murder. Pi had

dishonored his religion in order to survive.

Martel utilizes an extended metaphor to enhance the theme of the will to live. In

the closing chapters of the story, Pi wass questioned by the Japanese men about his
ordeal. At first, Pi tells the story that the reader has followed throughout the novel. This

story illustrates Pi’s voyage involving Richard Parker and the other animals. However, Pi

tells a different version of the story involving humans when the men dismiss the animals

as unbelievable. This human account is very gruesome. Pi recollects that there were no

animals and that he was not the only person on the lifeboat. His mother, a French cook,

and a Chinese man had all survived the sinking with Pi. As Pi narrates his tale, the

Japanese men begin to see similarities, linking each person and a certain animal between

the two versions of the story. In the animal story, the hyena kills and eats the orangutan

and the injured zebra. The French cook parallels the hyena in his horrific actions. The

cook had killed, chopped up, and ate the injured Chinese man. Because both the Chinese

man and the zebra both shared a severely injured leg, they can be paired together. In

addition, the cook had murdered Pi’s mother as the hyena killed the orangutan in the

opposite story. The orangutan and Pi’s mother can be compared to one another in their

motherly and protective natures and their fatalities from the cook. Lastly, Pi can be

paralleled with Richard Parker. Throughout the lifeboat venture, Pi could be seen as

having a ferocious nature that was much like a tiger. In revenge for his mother and for his

own safety, Pi killed the threatening cook. Richard Parker had murdered the hyena in the

animal story, as Pi did the French cook. Pi notes that “This was the terrible cost of

Richard Parker. He gave me a life, my own, but at the expense of taking one.” (255). In

analysis, Pi’s murderous nature that is similar to a tiger saved him from succumbing to

the French cook. In addition, Pi admits his nature in the quote “A person can get used to

anything, even killing.” (185.9)


This extended metaphor can be linked with the will to live because Pi used the

animal version of his story to cope with his traumatic experience. By accepting the

animal tale as true, Pi is attempting to cope with his past. He knows he has seen murder

and has murdered himself. Any experience of murder and starvation would truly

massacre a person’s mind. With a horrible mind state, Pi could end his life by depression

or insanity. When Pi accepts his false reality, he is displaying his will to live. Here, he is

acknowledging a false reality to keep his sanity and happiness. Pi has a will to continue

with life after his ordeal, and will make the most out of his life that he struggled to

preserve. Thus, Pi shows the reader how to cope with a life full of traumatic experiences.

Life of Pi is worthy of high literary merit because of the in-depth analysis that the

plot and theme require. With the extended metaphor of the animal and human versions of

the story, the reader will question which story is true. Determining on which story they

think to be accurate, the reader discovers what they believe about human nature. If the

reader favors the animal story, they believe that humans are generally controlled under

life threatening circumstances. Pi is an example of this because Pi retains his emotions

and the stimulus of violence in the animal version. In contrast, the human story proves

the belief that people can be barbaric and have no morality. The cannibal cook and Pi’s

violent attitude can validate this idea. Amid this multifaceted thinking, the reader finds

himself questioning human nature. The complex philosophical thought involved in Life

of Pi is of ingenious thinking on the author’s part, and deserves high literary merit.

Works Cited

“How I Wrote Life of Pi.” Original Essays Powells.com. 16 Oct. 2008.


<http://www.powells.com/fromtheauthor/martel.html.>.