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.