[W]ithout Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.

This line is spoken by Pi approximately halfway through the book, in chapter 57. The “you” in this sentence is the author, to whom Pi relates his story over the course of many meetings in Canada many years after the ordeal. Of course, the “you” is also the reader, for Pi is aware that he is telling his story to a writer who has the intent to publish. By this point, we know that Richard Parker is a Royal Bengal tiger, an adult male, who weighs 450 pounds and takes up about one-third of the lifeboat. At first, it might sound ludicrous that such a menacing creature should get credit for keeping alive a slender, adolescent Indian boy, but Pi explains himself compellingly. The presence of Richard Parker, though initially terrifying, eventually soothes him and saves him from utter existential loneliness. Moreover, the necessity of training and taking care of Richard Parker fills up Pi’s long, empty days—staying busy helps time pass.

The quotation can also be considered in the context of Pi’s second story, the one without animals, in which Pi himself is the tiger. Pi has chosen a tiger to represent himself because of its conflicting qualities: nobility and violence, grace and brute force, intelligence and instinct. In a way, these qualities are very human. But on a day-to-day basis—for example, as we go to school, drive to the supermarket, and watch TV at night—the elements of violence, brutality, and instinct are blunted. Instead of catching and killing fish, we purchase plastic-wrapped filets; rather than hunt animals for meat, we buy steaks at the deli counter. Stripped of these conveniences, Pi must return to nature and reassert his animal instincts. He must overcome his squeamishness in order to eat. He must embrace aggression in order to kill the cook who might otherwise have killed him. In crediting Richard Parker’s existence for his own survival, Pi acknowledges that it is animal instinct, not polite convention or modern convenience, that protects him from death.