Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations.

As Pi explores the defining struggles of animals in the wild, comparing them to their captive counterparts, he sets up concepts that are important for the reader to understand in order to fully appreciate his story. While most people bemoan holding animals in captivity as limiting their quality of life, Pi points out that wild animals, like humans, live constrained by their basic needs for food, shelter, and safety. As Pi knows the psychology that guides wild animals, he manages to tame Richard Parker and coexist in a small space with the tiger.

The display of ferocity, of savage courage, made me realize that I was wrong. All my life I had known only a part of her.

Pi registers his surprise at discovering a new facet to an animal he thought he knew. When the hyena attacks Orange Juice, an orangutan who had only shown a gentle, nurturing nature, she fights back with vigor and violence. Their battle makes Pi begin to appreciate the fierce survival instinct of animals, whether wild or in captivity. Like the zebra that resisted dying, Orange Juice turns to violence for self-defense. Further, if the reader chooses to believe Pi’s second version of his survival story, Pi himself harnesses a violence that he did not know he possessed.

“She shouted, ‘I saw you! You just ate a piece! You said it was for bait! I knew it. You monster! You animal! How could you? He’shuman! He’s your own kind!’”

In the alternate version of Pi’s story, Pi’s mother catches the cook eating a piece of the dead sailor and resoundingly attacks him for his actions. Her words emphasize the breakdown of humanity on the lifeboat. The cook, in his cannibalism, reverted to an unacceptable animalistic state—animals, not people, eat their own kind. The cook feels no shame at his actions, and the people on the lifeboat must live in a world in which the normal order no longer prevails. Instead, the rules of the natural world take over—the strongest member of the pack exerts his authority over the weak.