“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”
Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Release Date: September 11, 2001
Rating: 3/5 stars
The Life of Pi, written by Yann Martel, is a story about a boy, a tiger, and a lifeboat. These may seem like three things that have nothing to do with each other, but after turning the last page, one understands that those three things are connected in ways deeper than any reader expected when first picking up this book.
Part 1 serves as the introduction for the story and character. Instead of making use of normal chronological order, the author decides to use the end as the beginning. The author meets Pi in Canada, a proud graduate of Zoology and Religious Studies. The author notes many symbols of Pi’s love for religions, such as the prayer mat and Budha statue.
By placing such a scene at the start of the book, a scene most would expect at the end, the author leaves many clues for the reader to pick up themselves. The famous ‘show, not tell’ technique is displayed here, where the reader sees that Pi loves religion instead of the author outright explaining it.
All in all, the first scene and author’s note (which conveniently blurs the line between reality and fiction) serve as bait for readers to lure them in, or as an appetizer to give readers a taste of what’s coming.
In Part 1, we see how Pi is introduced to religion. This is where the reader truly realized how much Pi loves God and how devout he would become. Pi’s faith becomes a golden thread that weaves throughout the novel and it’s one of the main reasons Pi survives his ordeal with Richard Parker.
Pi demonstrates a rare open-mindedness by choosing to partake in multiple religions. Instead of scoffing at other religions, he chooses to embrace them lovingly. It is as if he is trying to find every possible way to display his love for God, despite many adults looking down on him for it.
In contrast to Pi’s unwavering belief, he is also an incredibly logical person. His namesake, Piscine, might originate from a French pool that his uncle loves, but the nickname he chooses for himself, Pi, indicates his love for reason and logic.
Part 2 wastes no time before jumping into action with a simple but effective sentence: The ship sank.
Despite containing much more action than Part 1, Part 2 remains philosophical. Both sides of Pi, his logical and spiritual sides, are shown in different ways as he tries to survive on the life boat. One could argue that being so logical but spiritually driven at the same time was what helped him survive.
His mind kept busy by keeping tally of his supplies and always planning ahead to the next day. How long his water would last, how long his rations would last, and keeping a diary in the small notebook. Despite the fact that the reader later finds out about the real story, that Richard Parker was never real in the first place, Pi’s mind keeps him alive by forcing him to tend to the tiger and find a solution to the wild animal he finds himself with .
He is also strangely self-aware of his own thoughts, fully understanding what he feels and how he might be nearing the edge of insanity with a detached sort of tone.
It is in this part of the novel that we see Pi’s darker side. As he witnesses the savagery of the hyena and the unfairness of the deaths of the orangutan and the zebra, he remembers his father’s lesson that wild animals are ferocious. Later on, Pi abandons his vegetarianism in order to survive and eats meat to satisfy his hunger and even drank turtle blood, but the fact that he hesitated before killing his first fish showed that he was unwilling to give up his humane side.
If it was his logical mind that kept him alive physically, it was his faith that helped him to survive mentally and emotionally. By choosing to believe that God is with him, Pi believes that he has a reason to go on and that he is not alone in the vast ocean. By believing that his survival of the Tsimtsum’s sinking was an act of God, he has a reason to continue with his journey and not give up.
The strangest yet most intriguing part of Part 2 was the floating island. The floating island could have been seen as both his savior and his ultimate test. It saved him by providing him with sustenance and security for a short time, but had he stayed there for an extended time, he would have died. By being able to leave the island, a place one could consider a safe heaven compared to everything he had been to, Pi once again demonstrates his incredible willpower to continue to live on.
In Part 3, we come to the conclusion of Pi’s journey.
He is denied the opportunity to say a proper fairwell to Richard Parker before the tiger disappears into the wilderness, but this only adds to surrealism the author has integrated into the story. The story that Pi tells to the Japanese officials and the more reasonable story he later then offers, gives the reader clarity on what could actually have happened, but Pi insists on his first version being the true version.
The reader realizes that the first story was probably made up by Pi’s mind in order to save his sanity and keep him alive, which only adds to the tragedy of an already sad novel.
In conclusion, I believe that there are two main threads that bind the parts of this novel together.
The first being religion. We see how Pi is introduced to multiple religions and how he falls in love with them, how he believes that God is the reason for his survival on the lifeboat, and how after his ordeal, he goes on to study Religious Studies and Zoology. Without religion, Pi surely would not have survived his journey.
The second being Pi’s innate goodness and innocence. His curiosity sprouts from his innocence as he begins to explore religions. Despite being bullied for having a strange name, Pi never took vengeance or tried to hurt his aggressors, but rather found a smart solution: giving himself a new nickname. He never took action against the hyena after it killed the orangutan and the zebra (though in the true version he did), only grieved the losses of his fellow crewmates. He was conflicted before killing his first fish and took care of Richard Parker, even though he did not have to. He told the Japanese officials two stories and told them to believe what they wanted to, despite him already believing one.
Pi could have chosen to never have a family or to turn away the writer looking for a story, but he did not. Pi did terrible things to survive, yet not once during the novel did I think that Pi was a bad person. Pi started out as a good man and ended the story as a good man, despite horrifying circumstance, and I believe that is a true testament to his character growth.
What did you think of Life of Pi?
Till we meet again!