The ship sinks, and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat in the midst of utter chaos. He sees a Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker in the water, near drowning, and urges him to save himself. Richard Parker boards the lifeboat and suddenly Pi realizes the danger in sharing a tiny space with a vicious animal. He throws himself into the roiling water.
The narrative moves back a few moments to the point just before the sinking of the Tsimtsum. Pi is sleeping when a loud noise, perhaps an explosion, wakes him. He tries to wake Ravi so they can go exploring together, but Ravi stays asleep. Pi passes his parents’ cabin door and climbs up to the main deck, where he sees that it is raining. The boat is listing considerably to one side and making awful groaning noises; Pi begins to feel afraid. He tries to run back down to the level of the ship where his family is, but the stairwell is full of water.
Pi goes back up to the main deck, where he hears animals shrieking. Three Chinese crewmen put a life jacket on him and throw him over the side of the ship. He falls forty feet through the air before landing on a tarpaulin partially covering a lifeboat hanging from the ship’s side. A Grant’s zebra jumps into the lifeboat after him, smashing down onto a bench. The lifeboat falls into the water.
The narrative moves forward again to the moment just after Pi jumps from the lifeboat into the water to escape Richard Parker. A shark cuts through the water nearby and Pi is terrified. He looks into the boat but sees only the zebra, not the tiger. He slips back into the water but sees another shark and quickly hoists himself up onto an oar hanging off the edge of the ship. He dangles a few feet above the water, holding on for dear life.
The ship continues to sink until it disappears. There are no other survivors, as far as Pi can tell. After some time passes, Pi decides that he needs to change position to prevent further soreness and help him spot other lifeboats. He climbs up onto the lifeboat’s tarpaulin cover, under which he believes Richard Parker is hiding. Pi is frightened, expecting the tiger to appear and attack him at any moment. But, the tiger stays hidden. Pi notices that the zebra is still alive but has a severely broken back leg.
A hyena appears and Pi rationalizes that Richard Parker must have drowned, for a tiger and hyena could not both be on the lifeboat at the same time. Pi realizes that the crew members must have thrown him into the lifeboat as bait for the hyena, hoping to clear the lifeboat for themselves. Pi is fearful of the hyena but decides that the upfront aggression of a dog is preferable to the slyness and stealth of a jungle cat.
An orangutan named Orange Juice, once a star animal at the Pondicherry Zoo and the mother of two male orangutans, floats up to the lifeboat on a raft of bananas tangled up in a net. She boards the lifeboat, seemingly in shock. Pi saves the net but loses the bananas.
Perhaps the strongest message of this section is the fierce, unrelenting power with which life will fight to stave off death. Again and again in the aftermath of the ship’s sinking, we bear witness to close calls and near-fatal incidents, and yet life continually surprises us with its might and will power. Pi survives his forty-foot fall through the air and lands unharmed on the lifeboat’s spongy tarpaulin cover. The zebra survives a much less graceful fall and a broken leg. Richard Parker, in a state of shock and panic, swims through turbulent ocean waters to clamber aboard a lifeboat. And Orange Juice, having somehow evaded the ocean’s gravity and the suction of the sinking ship, magically appears out of nowhere to join this group of survivors. In retrospect, Pi says, “Had I considered my prospects in light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten.” But the sheer will to live outweighs logical thought, and so he clings to the oar, and to life.
This vitality is drawn in stark contrast to the loss of lives—both human and animal—that the Tsimtsum’s sinking caused. The appearance of Orange Juice is particularly moving, since she is the most humanlike of all the creatures that manage to board the lifeboat; her presence emphasizes the loss of human life. Moreover, she is a maternal figure. Pi tells us that she gave birth to two boys at the Pondicherry Zoo, and the parallel between Orange Juice and Mrs. Patel (who also has two sons, Pi and Ravi) is striking.
Taken another way, Pi’s untenable position could be interpreted as the turning point in an adolescent boy’s life, when he must navigate the rough waters between the security of family life and the independence of adulthood. Certainly there is a great deal of material in Part One about the difficulty of growing up, the teasing from childhood friends, and the existential questioning of early adolescence. Just before the sinking of the Tsimtsum, Pi hesitates and then walks past his parents’ cabin door, a hint at his desire to become independent. But the loss of his family leaves him inconsolable and unsure of what to do. However, life goes on, with muscle aches to match emotional pain, and he must figure out how to fend for himself in a lonely, confusing, and even violent world.