Life of Pi

Yann Martel

Part One: Chapters 21–36

Summary Part One: Chapters 21–36

That additive quality—of heaping layers on layers, spices on spices—also helps explain why Pi practices multiple religions simultaneously. As we see during the confrontation with the priest, pandit, and imam, normal born-and-raised Hindus do not adopt two additional faiths. However, something in Pi drives him to need more stories, more versions of reality, more options. Each faith brings with it its own unique myths and fables, its own assortment of rituals and customs, and its own take on God. Pi explains that the essence of every religion is love, and by practicing multiple religions at once he is able to surround himself in layers of affection, acceptance, understanding, and affirmation.

The similarities between Pi and Robinson Crusoe, which the Pi’s mother gives him in this section, are also striking. Like Pi, Crusoe is shipwrecked. Both characters keep journals of their daily activities, develop survival skills, and train animals. As time goes on, both fall ill and hallucinate and encounter cannibals on an island. However, though the activities of both men are quite similar, the differences in their characters are great. Whereas Crusoe seems incapable of deep feelings, Pi embraces them, ricocheting from the deepest levels of sorrow at the loss of his family and his difficult situation to great heights of joy at the thoughts of rescue, food, and God. Though Pi tries to train his classmates to pronounce his name correctly, his dominance extends primarily over Richard Parker. Crusoe takes this mastery one step further and enters into a master-slave relationship with Friday, a victim of the cannibals whom he rescues. Pi is ultimately the more appealing protagonist, a product of modern times, connected to and caring about the world and others in a way that Crusoe never does.