Is the tiger a figment of Pi’s imagination?

The ending sequence provides two plausible explanations: one in which the tiger and all the other animals existed exactly as Pi relates his story, and one in which the animals all serve as a coping mechanism for the extreme trauma Pi faced while surviving at sea. Though the book never explicitly answers one way or the other, Pi does admit that the latter scenario is more likely.

Why is the tiger named Richard Parker?

The tiger was named Richard Parker due to a clerical error, resulting when the zookeepers incorrectly gave the tiger the name of its human hunter, Richard Parker. Due to the tiger’s ferocity while drinking water, Richard had planned to name the tiger “Thirsty.” When Pi’s father received the tiger, he found the name mix-up amusing and kept Richard Parker’s name as it was. The tiger having a human name lends support to the idea that the animals are representations of their human counterparts.

Why does Pi believe Richard Parker helped him survive?

Pi is forced to endure a host of unthinkable events during his time on the lifeboat. The tiger Richard Parker offers Pi a companion, though a dangerous one, and helps alleviate Pi’s crushing loneliness. Training and learning to control Richard Parker helps Pi maintain his sanity over the course of his many days at sea. Most overtly, Richard Parker dispatches several threats, including the Frenchman. If we consider Richard Parker to be a stand-in for Pi (if, indeed, the tiger is merely a figment of Pi’s imagination), then these events suggest Pi is both a danger to himself and also his own greatest asset, and learning to work with Richard Parker implies Pi learned survival skills and self-reliance.

In the second version of Pi’s story, what do each of the animals represent?

The graceful zebra represents the beautiful young Chinese boy, whose leg was broken upon getting in the lifeboat. The hyena, for his horrific and violent actions, represents the cruel cook who killed the other passengers. The orangutan, with her maternal affection and willingness to fight against the hyena, represents Pi’s mother. Lastly, Richard Parker stands in as Pi. By tapping into the animal survival instinct within him, Pi learns not only to cope, but to survive.

Why does Pi offer two different versions of his story?

One of the strongest running themes throughout the book is the power of storytelling—not just for sentimental purposes, but as a necessity for survival. There are a few possibilities as to why Pi offers multiple versions of his story. Any version he tells Okamoto and Chiba will still be a translation of actual events and still prone to narrative trickery or the fallibility of human memory, regardless of whether Pi tells the truth or lies. In this way, it can be inferred that there is no “true” version of the story; only one which is truer than another. Alternatively, it’s possible the horror of Pi’s journey resulted in a reliance on extreme coping mechanisms, and that it was easier for Pi to conceptualize his experience, including actions he committed and events he had to endure or witness, by way of allegory. Though Pi alludes to the more fantastical story being the one that isn’t real, the ongoing ambiguity suggests that actually living through an experience is the only true way to understand the source of a story, regardless of how closely its teller adheres to the truth of what happened.