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Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Piscine Molitor Patel

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.

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.

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Symbolism of The Algae Island

by davidtoc, December 30, 2012

Quick summary:

Pi's lifeboat = faith
Island = Religion
Sea and Sun = harsh realities of real life, scrutinizing your faith
Trees = clergy/priests/rabbis/imams, etc.
Meerkats = followers of religion

The overall message of the chapter is that although religion (organized faith) can aid us and stabilize us and nourish us spiritually in the short term, it is not a viable long-term answer to our spiritual questions, and will ultimately kill us mentally and spiritually.

Pi discovers the island when "

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The algae island

by abuyi, March 15, 2013

They are two versions of the story. The one with animals which reprsents the humans and the one with out animals, in both versions pi narates his experience symbolising his journey and the events that took place with in. In the version of animal; Pi reprsent himself as the bengal tiger as the animal and his humanity as himself trying to tame the animal. In human version, there are only 4 survivors on the boat but with the animals there were 5. The whole journey in each version are parallel to each other .

The island symbolizes Pi' mot... Read more

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Overview: The Question

by MitziDadford, May 29, 2013

Pi, who is named for an irrational idea that is used to pose and solve scientific whims, presents two parallel stories--he describes as one's perception of the world--to explain his survival on the Pacific for a remarkable 227 days. This is itself a momentous reflection of one's theological beliefs. This novel promises to make one believe in God, and it does. The animal story, with its far-fetched aspects, is much more difficult for the investigators to believe than the human story, as Pi says clearly annoyed, they want a story they already ... Read more

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