The Life of Pi


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The Life Of Pi

227 days out at sea. Rations and water supplies are rapidly draining when Piscine Molitor Patel, an Indian boy also known as Pi, is stuck on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger named Richard Parker, when the cargo ship he was on sinks, leaving him the only human survivor.  Or is he?

There are two versions to his story when he tells it to officials trying to figure out why the boat sinks. In one version, there are animals on the boat with him, savagely ripping each other apart. In another version of his story, there are humans on the boat with him, ripping each other apart, just as the animals did. Each animal represents a human from the story and they all have matching counterpart. All of the animals except for the tiger. Who does the tiger represent? Did Piscine include Richard Parker for the sake of the story, or does he represent Piscine himself?

All animals can be domesticated with the right training at the right age with enough time. Likewise, all humans can become feral when left to their own devices. I believe that Richard Parker is not Pi as a whole, but he is Pi’s wild side slowly emerging as he deteriorates from his civilized side into his feral one. The state of the tiger throughout his story directly reflects his own body and his wildness.

For example, as Pi is growing accustomed to life on the boat, he realizes there is a pressing issue that he must deal with as soon as possible in order to stay alive, the tiger (158). He goes through some possible options, most of which utilize some kind of tool to kill Richard Parker. However, he soon realizes that these methods are not very wise to do. In the end, he decides to wait it out and let Richard Parker do his own thing, letting “the unforgivable laws of nature run their course” (158). What this really is symbolizing is his decision to not repress his feral side, which is slowly emerging, but also not to completely give up on his civilized side either. This is shown more so when a short while later, he gives up his previously unadulterated vegetarian habits, but remaining as civilized as possible under the given circumstances as he hunts and kills fish (185).

Richard Parker soon becomes more rowdy as Pi grows into his new lifestyle. Again, as Richard Parker grows more rowdy, Pi’s feral side becomes dominant and his civil side is almost non-existent. His desperation to survive brings out an animal that is arguably just as dangerous as Richard Parker himself. So desperate for food, he will do anything to eat. When he captures fish, it’s no longer out of for the sake of eating, it’s for his life. When he catches a fish, he cannot afford to let it go, so he desperately fights for its life. This is shown when he fights a fish and “sticks fingers into eyes, jammed hands into gills, crushed stomachs with knees, [and] bit tails with teeth”. Any traces of dignity or the boy with the morals that he used to be are completely gone and he has become an animal. At one point, he even tries to eat Richard Parkers feces, just like animals tend to do (213).

As the story progresses, Richard Parker becomes sicker and sicker. Likewise, Pi’s civilized side emerges again while Richard Parker becomes anthropomorphized by developing human characteristics and even gaining the ability to speak. Desperate socialization, he begins to have lengthy conversations with Richard Parker (242).Turning to his religion, Pi praises Allah for an amazing show of thunder and lightning (233), another sign that his civilized side seems to be re-emerging.

His slow progression into his re-emerging civilized side has a brief setback when he reaches the island of carnivorous algae. On that island, Richard Parker’s “weight went up, his fur began to glisten again, and he returned to his healthy look of old” (272). Richard Parker was gorging himself on the meerkats who seemed to be indifferent to their own fates. He killed beyond the need of hunger and seemed to kill just for the sake of it (269). Because the tiger is presumably nonexistent in reality, Pi must have killed the meerkats himself. After being cooped up on a boat for so long, Pi lost his mind and he massacred the meerkats, setting back the progress towards sanity that he achieved as his wild side grew stronger and stronger just as Richard Parker did.

When he finally reaches land on the shores of Mexico, Richard Parker leaves without a word and disappears into the jungle, never to be seen again. This is meant to show that when Pi hits dry land, he realizes that his wild side will not be necessary anymore, and that it’s time for his civilized side to come out in full again, in order to survive in what will be both an old and new lifestyle for him. He expresses regret over not being able to thank Richard Parker properly, which shows that his human side was always within him.

This novel brings up much about what humanity really is. What really are morals? Are morals only for those who have the luxury of being able to afford them? Why even have morals when circumstances can tear away a life of strict rules you follow? How much of us are really wild? Are we no better than animals? All of these questions are related to personal conviction. Our own morals are the thin wall protecting us from becoming animals ourselves. This book has taught me that though our humanity can be dampened, nothing can destroy what makes us really human.