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Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Part One: Chapters 7–20

Part One (Toronto and Pondicherry): Chapters 1–6

Part One: Chapters 21–36

Summary

We return to Pi’s Pondicherry narrative, and he remembers his favorite teacher, Mr. Satish Kumar. Mr. Kumar is an atheist communist with whom Pi feels a deep kinship. In fact, Pi says, atheists are simply people of a different faith, with strong beliefs. It is agnostics, full of doubt and uncertainty and devoid of faith, whom Pi cannot stomach.

Pi describes in vivid detail the day his father fed a live goat to a caged tiger to teach Pi and his brother, Ravi, about the danger posed by wild animals. But, according to a sign in the zoo, the most dangerous animal of all is man. Piscine explains flight distance—the minimum distance at which an animal will tolerate a potential predator or enemy. Getting animals used to the presence of humans, he continues, is the key to the smooth running of a zoo and may be accomplished by creating a good enclosure, providing food and water, and knowing each animal well. Taken care of in this way, zoo animals rarely if ever run back to the wild. On the exceptional occasions when they do, it is usually because someone or something has invaded their territory and frightened them away.

Pi discusses territoriality at greater length, explaining that animals are fiercely defensive of their particular area. They also respect the territory of other creatures, which is why lion tamers enter the cage first, establishing their dominance before the lions are brought in. Pi shifts into an explanation of why socially inferior animals—omega animals—tend to be the most obedient, loyal, and faithful to their masters. They have the most to gain from a good relationship with an alpha creature.

The author reasserts his voice and describes the Patel house in Canada, which is full of various religious iconography. He sees Hindu, Christian, and Islamic paintings, statues, devotional articles, photographs, clothes, and books. Pi keeps the Bible on his nightstand.

Pi says he was born into Hinduism, becoming involved in its rites and rituals as an infant. He describes his constant hunger for Prasad, a Hindu offering to God, and the way his hands automatically move into prayer position. He discusses the Hindu philosophy of life, which he embraces: “That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing.” Pi states that he has always been and will always be a Hindu.

Pi describes how, one day on holiday, when he was fourteen, he came across a church and, although he had never been in one before, stepped across the threshold. Inside, Father Martin told him the story of Christ on the cross, which Pi found very strange. When he asked to hear another story, Father Martin responded that Christianity has only one story, and the crux of it is love. Soon after, Pi decided to become a Christian; Father Martin told him he already was.

Pi then explains how he became a Muslim at age fifteen. It began when Pi met a Muslim baker and mystic, a second Mr. Satish Kumar, who, in the middle of a conversation with Pi, excused himself to pray. Pi watched the routine and returned later to ask the baker about his religion; the baker explained that Islam is about the Beloved. Pi began to pray with Mr. Kumar and to visit a local mosque.

Analysis

From the animalistic rites and rituals of the earlier zoo section of the novel, the novel has transitioned into a section about religious rites and rituals. In these chapters we witness, through Pi’s eyes, many examples of pious routine, from Christian church-going to Muslim prayer and chanting. We also see the objects that lend comfort to the faithful on a daily basis: paintings of religious figures, like Christ on the cross or of Lord Ganesha, and devotional articles such as sticks of incense and a copper spoon. A central message of the book is becoming clearer and clearer: religion is a method humans have developed of making their lives more pleasurable, more meaningful, and more understandable.

But lest the reader interpret Pi’s focus on rites and objects as merely superficial, Pi lets us know that he understands there is more to faith than ritual. He is well aware that without something bigger and more significant, a religious custom is a hollow act. He says as much when he calls the miracles of Jesus Christ “minor magic, on the order of card tricks,” and Muslim prayer “hot-weather yoga for the Bedouins.” These slights come before he has gained a true understanding of and appreciation for the heart and soul of each religious faith, and once he embraces the essence of each religion, he embraces their rituals with enthusiasm as well.

As is made abundantly apparent throughout the text, both Martel and Pi are fascinated in particular by the intersection of zoology and religion. Pi studies both subjects at college, and chapters on zoology are interspersed throughout Part One with chapters on religion and philosophy. Pi makes multiple references to the ways in which zoos are like religion—both are in people’s bad graces these days, he says at one point, because of prevailing notions about freedom. In other words, people sometimes resist what they perceive as constraints on their liberty. Religion, with its many dictates and rules, may be seen as intrusions on personal freedoms. But Pi defends religion the same way he defends zoos earlier in the book, by examining the very definition of freedom and imagining what life would be like without religion. Life inside the walls, as it were, is cozy and comfortable, and people prefer not to leave; life outside is bleak by comparison.

Tucked between these chapters on Hindu, Christianity, and Islam and the earlier chapter on the atheist Mr. Kumar, of whom Pi is extremely fond, falls the section on the ferocity of tigers and the intense territoriality of animals. The placement of this chapter might seem odd, but in fact it is very relevant to its neighboring scenes. Pi’s father allows a tiger to attack a goat in front of his two sons to teach them to never get too close to the tiger cage. Wild animals, even if they’ve been domesticated and trained, are still wild animals at heart. Their intrinsic nature is deep-seated and always ready to boil up to the surface.

The dramatic violence of the tiger-and-goat chapter leads naturally to Pi’s declaration that he once believed that Christianity was about great violence, and Islam about even greater violence. Martel establishes a vague and yet undeniable connection here between the feral acts of wild creatures and the sadistic brutality that humans have inflicted upon other humans for centuries, often because of religious conflicts. Pi soon comes to see that Christianity and Islam are, in fact, about love rather than hatred or violence. But he remains puzzled by certain religious tenets that seem to go against the foundation of love, such as God’s decree that Christ be punished for man’s sins. Pi senses this ominous and mysterious aspect of religion even as he embraces God in all his guises.

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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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