Life of Pi

by: Yann Martel

Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi)

I am not one given to projecting human traits and emotions onto animals, but many a time during that month in Brazil, looking up at sloths in repose, I felt I was in the presence of upside-down yogis deep in meditation or hermits deep in prayer, wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were beyond the reach of my scientific probing.

While speaking about his study of the sloths, Pi introduces the idea that he sees human characteristics in animals, contradicting his denial that he indulges in such imaginings. Pi lives closely attuned to the natural world. In the lifeboat, he comes to consider a tiger to be his friend. Even the second, “human” version of the story correlates to the connection between animals and humans, as Pi sees in humans a wide range of wild, savage behavior.

And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge.

When he begins secondary school, Pi changes his name from Piscine to the Greek letter, pi. An abbreviated version of his given name, the wordpialso has a great deal of significance. The number itself, familiarly known as 3.14, goes on forever. Such a never-ending quality reflects Pi the character, a boy who doesn’t end and survives against insurmountable odds for 277 days at sea. Butpi also calls to mind the Latin wordpisces, which means fish. Pi’s comfort in the water contributes to his miraculous survival.

“Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.

When the adults discover that Pi has been practicing three religions—Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam—they state that he must choose, but Pi rejects this notion. Here, he makes a clear expression of his personal religious belief. He does not adhere to any one practice or believe any one origin story. Pi investigates these religions, ferrets out the best they have to offer, and incorporates the tenets into his own worldview in which love must prevail.

“Canada, here I come!” I shouted as I was soaked and chilled. I felt very brave.

Mere moments before the ship sinks, Pi, awakened by a noise, goes out to the deck and calls out these words. Pi stands at the cusp of embracing his family’s new adventure, but in reality, his words serve as a grim premonition. Pi will need to harness all his courage to survive his ordeal at sea. Pi’s bravery, coupled with his ability to find new qualities in himself, will eventually lead him to Canada under very different circumstances.

With the very first rays of light it came alive in me: hope. As things emerged in outline and filled with colour, hope increased until it was like a song in my heart. Oh, what it was to bask in it! Things would work out yet. The worst was over. I had survived the night. Today I would be rescued.

After his first night on the lifeboat, Pi awakens filled with hope instead of despair. Despite being trapped with an injured zebra, a shocked orangutan, and a savage hyena, Pi’s optimism buoys him, filling him with confidence that he will escape his situation. This optimism comes from Pi’s natural inclination toward faith and away from darkness and fear and allows him to overlook the numerous obstacles in his path to safety.

Despite the tragedy afflicting me, despite not feeling well, I let out a laugh. Everything about Orange Juice at that moment spelled one word:seasickness.The image of a new species popped into my head: the rare seafaringgreenorang-utan. I returned to my sitting position. The poor dear looked sohumanlysick!

In the lifeboat after the hyena attacks the zebra, Pi recognizes his dire straits but still sees and responds to the humor in his situation—in this case, Orange Juice’s seasickness. His ability to transcend his own situation will be important in the duration of his time on the lifeboat. Pi rarely wallows in hopelessness. When his belief that he will survive flags, he turns to faith and his particularly wry sense of humor, which give him the strength to persevere.

Lord, to think that I’m a strict vegetarian. To think that when I was a child I always shuddered when I snapped open a banana because it sounded to me like the breaking of an animal’s neck. I descended to a level of savagery I never imagined possible.

In this scene, Pi reflects on how he has changed from a nonviolent, vegetarian boy to become a hunter who kills living creatures for food. Pi savagely traps and guts sea life, despite the initial difficulty he had with such actions. However, his reference could easily relate to the second version of his story, in which Pi actually killed and ate another human being. Either way, Pi’s transformation underscores the extent to which humans will go to survive.

It came as an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the day I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic, unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate.

As time passes at sea, Pi sheds more and more of his previous self, and here he explicitly compares himself to an animal. His words show the thin line that exists between humans and animals, and the fragile veneer of civility worn by humans falls to the wayside when survival calls. Pi’s self-observation also gains significance at the end of the novel, when the alternate version raises the possibility that Pi might actually be Richard Parker.

I could not abandon Richard Parker. To leave him would mean to kill him. He would not survive the first night.

When Pi flees the carnivorous island, he chooses to bring Richard Parker along with him. Pi knows that to leave Richard Parker on the island means certain death, and he has developed a close relationship with the tiger and can’t bear the thought of being the cause of harm to him. At heart a humane person, his decision also reflects his loneliness, which causes him to imbue human characteristics in the tiger.

I wept like a child. It was not because I was overcome at having survived my ordeal, though I was. Nor was it the presence of my brothers and sisters, though that too was very moving. I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape.

After the lifeboat reaches the shores of Mexico, Richard Parker leaves Pi without a backwards look, and Pi mourns his loss. Here Pi’s expression of his ideas about form and order make clear that, like the author, Pi thinks like a natural storyteller. Instead of simply sharing the events of his life, he narrates them. As such, he would prefer that his own story have all the necessary elements, including a resolution.