The Ambiguity of Sacrifice: Understanding Pi’s Change of Character

Equivalent exchange, an absolute law in nature, dictates that one must give up something so that one may gain something that is equal in value. By this logic, sacrifice is, at its very core, a necessity in life; however, it is also a gray area with no definite lines for good or bad. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi illustrates this overarching theme throughout Piscine “Pi” Patel’s struggle to overcome the daunting task of survival in solitude. After a storm washes away all hints of life and hope, Pi, alone and scared, struggles to come to terms with the fact that the life he once lived is now gone, such that neither religion nor family can help him anymore. Equipped with sparse supplies and miles of water between him and land, Pi is set adrift on a lifeboat for two-hundred twenty-seven days, with only a Bengal tiger to keep him company and the constant threat of insanity and death shadowing his every action. Each sacrifice Pi makes is a price he must pay to keep himself alive, even if the outcome can be considered worse than the alternative based on differing perspectives of the situation. Despite his formerly principled lifestyle and faiths, Pi soon learns that he must leave behind or look past his core beliefs and step out of his comfort zone in exchange for survival, exemplifying the necessity of sacrifice and its ambiguous nature.

Richard Parker is such an important figure to Pi’s survival that Pi purposely sacrifices his own safety and comfort to keep the tiger and, by default, himself alive. After the other animals are killed, Richard Parker offers Pi something that nothing else can during his lonely journey: companionship. Stranded in the middle of the ocean with no hope for rescue, it is in this deep loneliness that Pi realizes his fear of insanity spurred by solitude overpowers his fear of Richard Parker; this epiphany allows him to choose Richard Parker’s survival over his own immediate safety: “It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness” (Martel 162). In quelling Pi’s need for companionship and keeping him occupied and alert, Richard Parker fills Pi’s empty days with work rather than allowing him to dawdle his thumbs. This allows Pi to focus on keeping both of them alive rather than waste away, hopeless. However, by keeping the tiger alive, Pi endures the constant fear of having Richard Parker turn on him and kill him; still, to him, this outcome is much better than being completely alone. Pi’s sacrifice to keep Richard Parker alive in the form of depleting supplies and psychological horror pays off in the comfort of knowing he might not die alone on the ocean. This toxic relationship between the tiger and Pi progresses until Pi admits that “without Richard Parker, [he] wouldn’t be alive today to tell you [his] story” (164). Despite Richard Parker constantly terrorizing Pi and making his life on the boat a nonstop game of paranoia and walking on eggshells, Pi realizes that his nemesis is also his savior. The fact that both of them are stuck in the same situation together brings comfort to Pi, who sees no hope in his survival, and Richard Parker is always there to motivate him to continue on—if not for the tiger, then for himself. He considers the tiger so valuable that he is willing to cohabitate in order to subvert the threat of loneliness that he predicts will kill him if left alone for long enough. Pi admitting that Richard Parker is a “good” thing for him despite the obvious discomfort he feels augments just how deep his trauma is, therefore highlighting the significance of his sacrifice. In this case, while his survival can be considered “good,” the trauma he receives because of it leads this particular sacrifice to err more on the side of negligence.

In surviving, which is always a “good” thing, Pi now has to live with permanent trauma for the rest of his life. As such, keeping Richard Parker alive is both “good” and “bad,” thus illustrating the unclear nature of sacrifice. Pi also says while looking back on the events that transpire throughout the novel, “Richard Parker has stayed with me. I’ve never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart” (6). Pi’s dependency on Richard Parker throughout his time on the boat morphs his perception of him to the point where he looks back with fondness in spite of the tiger’s antagonistic role. Pi finds that despite Richard Parker’s nightmarish existence on the lifeboat, he remembers him as the one thing that kept him alive, busy and focused. This is proof that Pi has been psychologically scarred by the tiger, so much so that he has recognized his own dependency on Richard Parker and openly accepts it as evidence that his decision to keep Richard Parker alive was a good one. However, this is not the case. Both scenarios of cohabitating with Richard Parker despite the mental strain and the alternative of solitude are classified as “bad” because they offer different types of anguish either way. Just because one choice seems better than the other does not mean that it is a “good” choice. Without Richard Parker, Pi would have been alone and without much work to keep him occupied, which he admits to, but with Richard Parker around, Pi still receives trauma that does not disappear even into adulthood. Although Pi’s choice of sacrifice does bear fruit and proves to be crucial to his survival, it cannot be so easily colored black or white. It blurs the lines between “good” and “bad,” laying down a gray area that concludes his sacrifice to be neither singularly good nor bad but, rather, both.

Contrary to his religious beliefs, Pi turns a blind eye to his faith in order to survive. Born and raised a Hindu, Pi still conforms to the Hindu vegetarian values that disapprove the act of harming and eating other living animals, even after he accepts Christianity and Islam as a part of himself. These beliefs prevent him from killing or eating meat. On the lifeboat, however, as supplies dwindle and desperation sets in, Pi realizes that he must kill and eat sea life in order to survive: “It was simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even killing” (185). He ultimately forgoes his Hindu values and kills a dorado when he finally accepts that his life is at stake. He weeps in anguish at first, but he easily moves past his disposition towards killing and eating meat when it proves to be an invaluable act of survival. This keeps him alive, even at the expense of desensitizing him to violence and betraying his Hindu teachings. Even Pi himself considers his actions deplorable, but that does not keep him from repeating it. Any act of heresy is considered to be culturally shameful and “bad,” but Pi’s actions keeps him alive, which makes the sacrifice of religion both “good” and “bad” rather than one or the other. Eventually, when killing becomes second nature to Pi and he is able to cope by compartmentalizing survival and religion, he narrates, “I laid hands on so many fish that my body began to glitter from all the fish scales that became stuck to it. I wore these . . . like tilaks, the marks of colour that we Hindus wear on our foreheads as symbols of the divine” (196). He mentions his faiths very rarely after he begins his carnivorous diet, but he still ironically relates the proof of his misdoings to the tilaks of Hindus, as if to mock how far he has fallen.

Even though Pi is willing to look past his religious beliefs to survive, it still makes him feel guilty, but that is not enough to make him stop. He subconsciously acknowledges this and always seems to feel ashamed in the back of his mind despite never officially confronting this conflict. Throughout the first part of the novel, Pi tells the audience that his religious beliefs are very important to him, enough to cause tensions within his family. Even so, not even his attachment to religion lasts in the face of starvation. In fact, this is one of the first things Pi overlooks, starting with his consumption of the biscuit made from animal fat, believing that the higher powers will overlook his act of desperation. As the novel progresses, Pi moves farther and farther away from religion until it is one of the last things on his mind. In sacrificing his devoutness, Pi ensures that he survives starvation. However, while Pi’s survival is a good thing in that his life is saved, he also personally considers his actions “bad.” The reverse—Pi dying instead of betraying his religious beliefs—is also a “bad” outcome, but if he starves to death rather than eat meat or the biscuit, this can also be considered “good” because his devoutness stays true. In one case, he dies because of staying true to his Hindu values, and in the other, he stays alive by betraying them. Death is inherently “bad,” but so is becoming a heretic; thus, neither of Pi’s choices can be classified as wholly good or bad since both have their vices. Ultimately, either choice Pi makes is subject to different views of religion and life and, depending on which side one favors, can be seen as ambiguous in nature.

Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi features an intimate take on the necessity and dual perception of sacrifice. Throughout his journey, Pi learns that the things he had once valued in the past are both worthless to uphold when his life is at stake and invaluable tools for his survival when betrayed. His sacrifice takes the form of keeping Richard Parker alive in order to satiate his loneliness and betraying his Hindu upbringing to eat meat. In both cases, Pi’s choice keeps him alive in mind and body; however, in keeping Richard Parker alive, Pi lives in constant fear and paranoia, stressed with every move the tiger makes, and eating meat causes him to betray his beliefs, which already have an established importance in his life. These trade-offs make his choices “bad” in that he attains deep psychological damage and turns his back on the lifestyle he lived. Even so, it is still “good” that he is ultimately kept alive. By this double standard, Pi’s sacrifices and the outcomes they produce augment the fact that not all sacrifices are singularly good or bad but, rather, gray and subject to opinion.

Works Cited

Martel, Yann. The Life of Pi. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001.

Life of Pi: Spiritual Survival under Physical Stress

Throughout the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the protagonist, Pi Patel struggles with survival yet manages to maintain a level-headed outlook on his situation. He does not lose his belief in God, in whatever form He may take, although physically he begins to lose hope. He is able to remain rational through believing the irrational. He maintains his humanity throughout the entire novel, and as a result is able to survive both physically and emotionally and eventually be assimilated back into society and normal life.

As one’s physical body breaks down, his or her mind automatically turns to survival and only survival. This change in mindset has caused people throughout history to make choices in a time of distress that they otherwise would never have even considered. The body and mind turn to the most basic needs: food, water, and shelter. Basically, anything other than those three essential elements of survival loses precedent in terms of overall priorities in one’s existence. There have been many historical instances where a boat sank and people became stranded, and they turned to cannibalism to survive. One of these cases was the case of Richard Parker, a cabin boy who was eaten by two other crew members after they became stranded in a lifeboat together. That case became famous after the crew members were tried and convicted for murder, and the cabin boy is the partial namesake of the tiger Richard Parker in Life of Pi.

Pi has many “tactics” that he uses during his time at sea in order to maintain his sanity, morals, and humanity. He constantly occupies his brain with a wide range of thoughts, from God to new methods of fishing. He turns to believing the irrational, but instead of allowing it to construe his perception of reality, he uses it as a portal to escape from his current existence, and as a way to occupy his brain with thoughts other than the barbaric thoughts of survival that he is trying to avoid. According to Pi himself, “Only fear can defeat life,” and so he uses these irrational thoughts and ideas, as well as his love and belief in God, to avoid fear and occupy his days (Martel 161). It is possible that his entire journey was a case of him believing the irrational, as he presents a new story without a tiger after he reaches Mexico. Because he is an introvert and has an ability to occupy himself through only his thoughts, he is able to survive and maintain a stable state of mind throughout the ordeal.

There are times, as there would be with any human, that Pi’s faith waned and he struggled to uphold his morals. The difference between him and people of other doomed journeys who reverted to things such as cannibalism was that he was able to recognize and immediately put a stop to these moments of barbaric behavior. At one put he recognizes his eating habits are becoming animalistic, and he states, “It came as an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the day I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that was this noisy, frantic, unchewing, wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate” (Martel 225). It is said the first step, and the most important, to solving a problem is recognizing it, and Pi is able to recognize this problem of him becoming animalistic, and take steps to solve it. One of his methods for solving this problem is he makes sure that whenever he is forced to eat an animal, he always says a prayer for it before he eats it. This helps him to accept that he is eating a living creature.

Although it took him somewhat of a heroic effort, Pi managed to maintain his humanity throughout his journey. His belief not only in God, but also in the irrational, occupy his time without distorting his reality. Although he does lose sight of his humanity and begins to revert to barbaric methods, he is able to keep these actions under control, and when he finally reaches Mexico, he is still a sane and rational person. Many people might say he did not maintain his humanity, but because he was assimilated back into normal life, and still had a sense of morals, there is no argument that he was not able to. His ability to right his course when he begins to lose sight of his humanity is essential to his mental survival, and he uses it to enable himself to remain sane and keep his mind sharp.

The Issue of Mortality in the Life of Pi

In Life of Pi, Yann Martel juxtaposes issues of morality alongside the primitive necessity of survival. Pi’s life-threatening experiences while stranded on the Pacific Ocean threaten the integrity of his morals and beliefs. His pluralistic faith demonstrates that morality is less about one specific religion, and more about the preservation of one’s dignity, humanity and self-respect. As Pi finds himself in a dire conflict between faith and reason, Martel asks the reader to consider what actions are moral or immoral when facing potential extinction. Pi’s transformation from a benevolent human being into a bestial survivor—as well as his ultimate redemption— suggests that morality is likewise malleable according to the circumstances, and that a moral code itself is a flexible entity which is preserved in the mind of the individual according to free will and perception.

Pitted against deadly circumstances, Pi fights to survive while clinging to his sense of morality through various means, including illusory storytelling that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Upon telling two stories to investigators in the third part of the book, Pi asks, “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” (Martel 295). Martel suggests that the true depths of human nature can be too grotesque and frightening to face without a shield of altered perception. This need for adaptation is demonstrated when Pi offers two accounts of his experience at sea. Martel purposefully leaves the reader unsure of which story is true, attesting to the hazy line between what is real and what is not. While his faith in multiple religions offer him the strength and courage to overcome his horrific ordeal, his altered means of recollection mimics another strand of religion that lends him not only increased strength, but also a sense of morality and dignity in the face of unfathomable conditions. Furthermore, Pi relegates the darker elements of his character, such as “selfishness, anger, ruthlessness,” into Richard Parker (391). The reader is left uncertain as to whether the tiger is an actual separate entity or merely a facet of Pi’s own personality that emerged at the threat of extinction. Richard Parker serves as an indication of the need to distinguish between opposing sides of one’s character by outwardly projecting darker aspects of the personality. In this way, Pi is able to associate cruel acts with the predatory nature of the tiger, while preserving the purity of his moral code. Though perhaps based on fabrication, such illusions enabled him to overcome circumstances that had the potential to destroy him. By asking the investigators which story they believe is the better story, Martel suggests that the better account is not necessarily the one that is true. In this case, only by remembering his voyage at sea with animals rather than people is Pi able to preserve his humane, God-fearing character. Furthermore, he infers that though Pi is aware that the first story is true, he still chooses to believe the second—even to the extent that he feels loss and pain at the desertion of Richard Parker.

Pi never loses his faith in God even as his beliefs are severely threatened, and as a result, a new kind of faith and conviction is birthed. Pi expresses early in the book that, “If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on” (28). This very doubt is introduced in Pi’s own experience when his faith is severely challenged by horrendous circumstances. With basic necessities available in perpetually unstable quantities, he loses the strength to practice his religious routines, while permitting the need to survive to subjugate his ethical code of compassion and love. Previously a vegetarian, he finds himself consuming meat, barbarically killing living animals, and possibly even partaking in cannibalism. The brutal, animalistic nature of Pi’s survival instincts are distinctive from the morally conscientious persona previously adopted and reinforced through the practice of multiple religions. Martel thus suggests that a moral system may not be fixed and concrete, but rather adaptable to whatever circumstances are being faced. Some actions may, in fact, be justified when the individual is faced with unthinkable crises. What would have previously been deemed to be highly immoral acts are suddenly seen in a different light. Furthermore, in the face of severely dire circumstances, both mentally and physically, Pi appears to have garnered a new facet of his humanity in which he acknowledges the baser, but perhaps also equally as necessary, aspect of human nature: the selfish need to continue one’s life at all costs—others’ lives included. In the act of overcoming his doubts and standing firm in his religious convictions, Pi is able to transmute his faith into something that is more whole and comprehensive. He is able to accept all parts of his nature instead of just the outwardly moral, and to feel love and compassion for aspects that had once seemed horrendous and unjustifiable. Thus, Martel’s concern remains less about obliging the reader to pursue belief in God, but rather about offering a non-threatening kind of solace and comfort for those who are seeking to understand all aspects of their nature.

The transformation that takes place in Pi’s character is a symbol with which Martel is less concerned about any particular religious discourse, but rather one in which he uses Pi’s experience of tragedy and the loss of innocence to examine the grander scope of human nature and its need for faith, hope and purpose. “And so it goes with God,” Pi expresses, affirming the idea that belief and faith is far grander than the adherence to any one religion (399). During his reflection after his voyage at sea, the reader is introduced to the idea that belief in not only religion, but in any story that requires a leap of imagination, has a uniting effect on one’s relationship with the world. There is a divine coalition that occurs within when one is open to the possibility inherent in a story. Religion is merely different tales and explanations of how the universe works and the purpose for human existence. Likewise, imaginative stories that tell of struggle, beauty, hope and faith equally provide understanding of our true nature. These inherent, unifying facets of our persona are what truly add value to our lives in a way that concrete facts and empirical evidence alone cannot. Martel thus suggests that the balance between faith and reason gracefully meets when there is a leap of faith into that which seems impossible to the naked eye and to the bare intellect. In the face of gruesome circumstances, Pi is forced to balance faith with reason, demonstrating the need for both to not only survive, but to thrive. Such newfound awareness is what enables him to keep his sense of morality intact. Therefore, just as faith in God provides human beings with a sense of structure, purpose and incomparable hope, the belief in stories that, at first glance, seem fanciful and untrue is what enables a person to expand beyond limited awareness and step into vast understanding.

In conclusion, Martel sheds light on the delicate relationship between intrinsic survival instincts and morality. Pi demonstrates the ability to draw strength and hope from religion and faith when in the midst of horrendous tragedy and life-threatening circumstances. He also offers hope and understanding to any reader who is grappling with all sides of his or her true nature, and what that means in regards to moral uprightness. Pi’s metamorphosis from a compassionate human being into a savage survivor—as well as his ultimate restitution—demonstrate Martel’s idea that morality is not a fixed concept, but rather something that is dependable upon the circumstances and the tractable ideals of the individual.

Religious Allegories in Life of Pi

Religious Allegories in Life of Pi

Religion is a subject that has always been prevalent in literature. The most popular book of all time, and the first ever printed, is the Bible, which is comprised of many stories of faith. In Life of Pi, Pi is an Indian boy whose faith is his life. He is lost at sea after his family’s ship to Canada sinks. He is alone on a lifeboat in the Pacific ocean , save for a Bengal tiger. The story of his survival is a story of perseverance by faith in the face of overwhelming adversity. Authors have always used religious allusions and metaphors to hint at the overall allegorical meaning of their story, and in Life of Pi, Yann Martel does just that. Martel symbolizes the ocean and the island to represent life with and without religion, and he uses Pi’s experiences to draw contrasts between them.

Yann Martel uses Pi’s journey as an allegory for the spiritual journey of finding faith, and his encounter with the island represents the doubt that one must overcome. Before Pi comes to the island, he is alone with Richard Parker on the Pacific ocean, and he has only his faith to motivate him. Once he’s been on the island for a while, he believes that he has all the essentials for a happy life. “What reason could I have to leave the island? Were my physical needs not met here? Was there not more fresh water than i could drink in my entire lifetime? More algae than i could eat? And when I yearned for variety, more meerkats and fish than I could ever desire? If the island floated and moved, might it not move in the right direction? Might it not turn out to be a vegetable ship that brought me to land? In the meantime, did I not have these delightful meerkats to keep me company?” (Martel 279). This quote is used to illustrate how the island meets all the requirements for a healthy life exceptionally. While Pi is at the island, he makes no mention of God, but once he decides to leave the island in search of humanity, he returns to his faith. Earlier in the book, Pi says that doubt is necessary for everyone, and in order for your faith to be strong, at some point you must question it. Pi looks to the meerkats for company while on the island, in place of the humans he longs for. Later, Pi decides to leave the island in search of humankind again. “By the time the morning came, my grim decision was taken. I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island.” (Martel 283). The quote embodies the thesis. Yann Martel uses it to demonstrate the atheistic qualities of the island, and show that Pi has realized that life on the island would not be a life worth living. While he has all the necessities on the island to sustain his life (the physical comfort) , is it worth living without any human interaction (the spiritual death) ? Is it worth living a life with no higher purpose whatsoever, save survival? Yann Martel uses this doubt to compare Pi’s lonely life on the island to atheism, and life without religion.

Yann Martel uses Pi’s descension from human to animal while on the island to prove that the only real difference between humans and animals is religion. When Pi first encounters the meerkats on the island, he sees Richard Parker running through the crowds of meerkats and killing as many as he could. Pi remarks that this is the very definition of animals, killing without necessity. “He killed without need. He killed meerkats that he did not eat. In animals, the urge to kill is separate from the urge to eat. To go so long without prey and suddenly have so many- his pent-up hunting instinct was lashing out with a vengeance. He was far away. There was no danger to me.” (Martel 269). Before the ship sunk, Pi was a vegetarian. Once necessity in the form of hunger drove him to compromise that particular moral value, he could hardly bring himself to kill the fish that he had caught, and once he had, he was beside himself with guilt. Now he witnesses Richard Parker killing all of these meerkats, and his only thought is of his own safety. This shows the psychological progression of Pi’s descension from man to animal. A few weeks later, after Pi has been living on the island for a considerable amount of time, he kills meerkats to attempt to ease the pain of his foot, which was burned by the acidic island. “I took the knife and killed two meerkats and tried to soothe the pain with their blood and innards.” (Martel 281). Yann Martel uses this quote to demonstrate that Pi has become an animal by his own definition. He kills without need for nourishment, but simply to attempt to ease the pain of his foot. These quotes lend credence to the observation because as Pi lives longer on the island, he loses his religion and moral character, and becomes more and more animalistic by the day. In this way, Yann Martel contrasts the versions of Pi on the ocean and on the island, and proves that religion is what separates humans from becoming animals. Without a higher purpose to live for, man becomes predator.

In Life of Pi, Yann Martel uses Pi’s experiences with the ocean and the island to represent life with faith, and life without faith. Pi’s experience with the island is an allegory to the inner struggle with doubt on the spiritual journey of finding religion, and the ocean represents life with religion, where Pi is only able to persevere by faith alone. The island takes away Pi’s humanity, and with it he loses his faith. Without these defining traits, Pi descends into an animalistic existence. Yann Martel makes this particular theme of the book abundantly clear: without religion, we are no more than animals. If you take away all of the technological advances that we have made, all of the governments, societies, and communities that we have made for ourselves, we are just animals without faith.

Religion as a Coping Mechanism in Life of Pi

In the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Pi Patel too uses his faith in God as a vital coping mechanism to survive in the vast Pacific Ocean. His faith in God proves to be a crucial part in Pi’s survival as it guides him through his ordeal. Pi, a religious individual uses his knowledge of religion to cope being stranded alone on a lifeboat with no other sign of human life. Therefore, Pi uses his faith in God to obtain the strength and willpower to survive, for companionship and to seek important answers.

Pi Patel uses his special faith in God to obtain the necessary strength and willpower to survive independently in the vast Pacific Ocean. For example, when Pi is stranded alone in the limitless ocean without any significant help at hand, he turns to a being much more powerful and resourceful than himself in order to cope with the situation at hand. When Pi creates an orderly list of the things which are available to him for survival purposes such as the 12 solar stills, 1 survival manual and 1 signalling mirror, he includes “ 1 God” (Martel 145-146) into this list. Adding the term ‘1 God’ into a list of survival essentials which are present with Pi throughout his journey clearly shows that Pi finds it a necessity to have God with him at all times in order to survive.

Like the other items on the list which keeps Pi alive throughout his ordeal, God also keeps Pi alive by giving the continuous supply of strength and willpower for Pi to carry on. Furthermore, Pi says, “Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, he was watching. Even when he seemed indifferent to my suffering, he was watching. And when I was beyond all hope of saving, he gave me rest. Then he gave me a sign to continue my journey” (Martel 184). This proves the fact that God was always present in Pi’s heart and mind throughout his journey. Pi uses God’s presence to gain physical and mental strength as well as the willpower to continue in his horrific journey. In Pi’s mind, not only was God present with him, but God also saved his life by giving Pi inner peace and indications to continue his journey. When Pi was at his breaking point, God gave him the strength and willpower to continue towards his survival.

In addition, Pi says, “Mindful practice of religion slowly brought me back to life” (Martel 3). Pi explains how his constant but careful practice of religion slowly revived him during his time at sea. While at sea, Pi still carried out religious rituals which were essential to Pi’s survival as he obtained the confidence and strength to continue. Pi also states that, “ Religion will save us” (Martel 27). Pi emphasizes on the fact that religion will ultimately be the deciding factor between life and death. Without his staunch faith in God, Pi would not have gained the willpower required to prevent him from meeting his demise at sea. Research suggests that 43% of US citizens use prayer for health concerns (Wachholtz and Sambamoorthi 69). These people used the power of prayer to gain the strength and willpower to regain their health. Therefore, Pi’s strong faith in God gave him strong will to survive as he prays during his ordeal to gain in strength because he believes that God is with him.

Secondly, Pi uses his belief in God as a form of companionship during his 227 days in the Pacific Ocean. When Pi is left surrounded with nothing but endless water, he seeks to find companionship in order to stay alive as companionship plays a significant role in human survival. When Pi talks about his experience with the Virgin Mary, he says, “The presence of God is the finest of rewards” (Martel 63). Pi is saying that the mere presence of God with him provides him with the companionship that he desperately needed during his ordeal. Pi also says, “ I practised religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances and they brought me comfort that was certain” (Martel 208). Pi practises and improvises religious rituals to adapt to his situation and pull God closer to himself so that God could be his much needed companion. Because he practices three religions simultaneously, Pi is able to be in the companionship of more than one God. He says, “I feel at home in a Hindu temple” (Martel 48). This clearly explains the fact that Pi is at his highest level of comfort when he is in the presence of God – thus his lifeboat itself becomes a place of worship and thereby a place of comfort.


Lastly, Pi uses his faith in God to seek answers for important questions. When Pi is left alone in the middle of the ocean, he is left with many unanswered questions such as the whereabouts of his family. When Pi is talking to Mr. Kumar about the existence of God, he argues, “To choose doubt as a philosophy is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation” (Martel 28). Pi argues that religion gives the answers that a person seeks. He shows his frustration at agnostics who do not have a definite answer on whether God actually exists or not. This proves that Pi believes that his faith in God will give him the answers that he needs. Pi also says, ““God, I give myself to you. I am your vessel. Whatever comes, I want to know. Show me” (Martel 285). Pi is surrendering himself to God to end his misery. Pi is seeking an answer to where God would take him hoping that he would be brought back to his family to end his misery in the ocean. Pi also asks Father Martin, “What kind of a god is that” (Martel 56). Pi seeks answers to the origins of Christianity and facts about Jesus. Pi is curious about the fact that a God is willing to sacrifice his own son for the sins of other people. With knowledge of Christianity at hand, Pi uses this knowledge to gain answers by asking God for help during his ordeal.

In conclusion, Pi Patel makes full use of his religious and spiritual beliefs to help him in many various ways throughout his 227 day ordeal in the ocean. Pi uses his beliefs to gain the raw strength and mental willpower to survive, to use God as his companion and guide.

Works Cited

Wachholtz, Amy and Usha Sambamoorthi. National Trends in Prayer Use as a Coping Mechanism for Health. research thesis. Massachusetts: American Psychological Association, 2011.

A Matter of Perspective: The Invention of a Story in Martel’s Life of Pi

In Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, Piscine “Pi” Patel is forced to relay his life story to condescending Japanese skeptics who refuse to believe his tale; they refer to it as nothing more than a fictional invention. Pi somewhat agrees with the men, but challenges their disbelief by saying, “Isn’t telling about something—using words, English or Japanese—already something of an invention? Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention?” (Martel 302). Through this statement, the reader is reintroduced to a theme of the novel: the overall power of storytelling. Life really is a story, the invention of one’s own mind; Pi knows this, and the events of the novel show that his life is certainly a colorful, albeit seemingly hard to believe, tale.If life truly is a story, then the different aspects of this story are certainly a matter of perspective. One of the largest debates young Pi Patel must face is the nature of his religious practices. Instead of following one set of religious principles, Pi finds comfort in three completely different religious sects: Christianity, Islam, and the religion somehow instilled in him by his overly non-religious family, Hinduism: “So it went the first time I saw a Muslim pray—quick, necessary, physical, muttered, striking. Next time I was praying in a church—on my knees, immobile, silent before Christ on the Cross—the image of this callisthenic communion with God in the middle of bags of flour kept coming to my mind” (60). Upon confrontation by the local leaders of his three religions as to why he feels the need to practice multiple belief systems, Pi asserts “I just want to love God” (69). Being as young as he is, Pi does not see anything wrong with worshiping in three different ways; he only feels a drive to have a connection with a higher power through whichever means make this happen. At first, Pi is fascinated by the many stories the different religions have to offer. In this respect, the religious themes of the novel seem to play into the powerful influence that storytelling has to offer. Though these stories are widely accepted as a factual basis on which religion is based, this was certainly not always the case. Because of these stories, told countless times to innumerable amounts of people, an invention was created: a complete religion with dedicated followers.Another aspect of Pi’s life that is powerfully affected by the influence of stories is his relationship with animals. Having grown up in a zoo run by his father, exotic animals were a common sight to young Pi, and he formed his own relationships with them. These seemingly simple and childish relationships are stretched thin by his father: I learned the lesson that an animal is an animal, essentially and practically removed from us…” (31). By showing Pi how violently a tiger kills a goat for food, his father instills a sense of fear into his son in hopes that he will never take a situation with a potentially dangerous animal like a tiger lightly, because they are “very dangerous” (34). During his time stranded on the ocean with the Bengal tiger, humanized by the name Richard Parker, Pi is able to form a sense of mutual respect with the tiger. This could potentially be due to his father’s extensive training with the animals over the years. A more likely explanation for this seemingly unbelievable phenomenon, though, is the fact that Pi apparently did not heed the warning in his father’s story and gave human qualities to the animals around him, mainly Richard Parker. With no human companionship to associate with, one is prone to make due with one’s surroundings and anything with which some type of bond can be made. No matter which case is more correct, Pi is able to survive because of the relationship he forms with Richard Parker. Life of Pi is a work of metafiction. There is story upon story, upon yet another story involved within this novel. In the Author’s Note at the very beginning of the novel, Martel is approached by a man promising that his story will make one believe in God. The story of Pi’s upbringing is told, alongside a journalist’s attempt at getting a story from an older Pi. Even in regards to Pi’s story of survival itself, he is asked by the Japanese men that visit him after he is found to change what really happened with the animals to something more believable involving human beings. There are several different layers to this novel, yet they all seem to play together in an altogether successful way to reveal aspects of the story that would otherwise have been left out.Stories, inventions created by their authors, no matter how big and involved or small and simple, play a large role in how we see our everyday lives. In fact, just living out our lives on a daily basis and processing the massive influx of information we receive makes us the authors of our own stories. What happens to us is completely different in someone else’s eyes. Pi states this fact in a very clear way: “The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?” (302). Stories can be as basic or as outlandish as we feel the need to make them. As proven by Pi Patel, though, life truly is a story; all we have to do is tell it.

Living a Lie: Yann Martel’s Pi and his Dissociation from Reality

Piscine Molitor Patel, the protagonist of Yann Martel’s acclaimed novel Life of Pi, survives a horrific 227-day ordeal trapped aboard a directionless lifeboat with only a 450-pound Bengal Tiger, named Richard Parker, for company. Pi’s account of his misfortune spans the majority of the work, and it takes him hours to recount it to the Japanese investigators at the novel’s conclusion. His description is so vivid, so extensive, and so detailed that it would seem, despite its admittedly outlandish elements, deeply founded in actual events. Indeed, to fabricate something of such intensity would be unthinkable—and this is in fact the case. Pi almost unthinkingly constructs a fantasy alternative to the appalling truth of his experience in order to shield his psyche from the truly dreadful circumstances of his survival. Pi alters the actuality of his time on the lifeboat in such an unwitting manner as to be able to believe this figment of his imagination without hesitation, insistent on the truthfulness of his original account. It is only after a “Long silence” that Pi is able to bear witness to the actual facts regarding his experiences on the lifeboat (381). Author Joan Didion suggests that we must “tell ourselves stories in order to live.” This statement bears a special significance to Pi’s situation on the lifeboat, and his subsequent subconscious confusion between the story of cannibalism, butchery and murder that rang true, and his more pleasing, fantastical construct in which all of the negative elements of the true account are projected onto a tactless wild animal. Didion would argue that this “story”, including the array of wild animals accompanying Pi on his drift across the Pacific, is merely the one he tells himself in order to live, and in order to protect himself from going entirely mad. Pi’s survival on the lifeboat, beginning July 2nd 1977 and not ending for some 227 days, continues due only to the absolute ruthlessness with which his fellow survivor, the Frenchman, conducts himself. In addition to the Frenchman, Pi’s mother and a badly injured Chinese sailor are also aboard the lifeboat at first (382). Immediately identifying the sailor as a weakness, the Frenchman quickly maneuvers Pi and his mother into “helping” the sailor by aiding the Frenchman in amputating the sailor’s leg (383). Immediately after this, however, we learn the Frenchman has done so only in order to secure bait for his fishing lines (384). Over the course of the ordeal, Pi witnesses increasingly horrid acts of inhumanity, all in the name of survival: the Frenchman promptly butchers the sailor’s body once he dies, including “pull[ing] off his face” (387). When fishing proves not immediately successful, the Frenchman begins to eat the sailor’s corpse: “‘Tastes like pork,’ he muttered” (388). As the situation onboard deteriorates, the cook resorts to murder to feed himself:”They were fighting. I did nothing but watch. My mother was fighting an adult man. He was mean and muscular. He caught her by the wrist and twisted it. She shrieked and fell. He moved over her. The knife appeared. He raised it in the air. It came down. Next it was up—it was red. It went up and down repeatedly. I couldn’t see her. She was at the bottom of the boat. I saw only him. He stopped. He raised his head and looked at me. He hurled something my way. A line of blood struck me across the face. No whip could have inflicted a more painful lash. I held my mother’s head in my hands… He appeared when he threw my mother’s body overboard. His mouth was red.” (389-390)The cook’s depravity and the unimaginably macabre concept of holding one’s own mother’s decapitated head would doubtless have far-reaching effects on a developing child’s mental state. As scarring as that could be, however, it could only be compounded by subsequent murder and cannibalism—“I stabbed him in the throat, next to the Adam’s apple. He dropped like a stone… His heart was a struggle—all those tubes that connected it. I managed to get it out. It tasted delicious” (391). This cataclysm of psychologically devastating occurrences would no doubt cause irreversible damage to anyone forced to face them without some sort of coping mechanism. Pi, as we see, develops a very effective mechanism of his own.“We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices” states Didion. This is directly applicable to Pi’s situation. He sees, of course, the grisly events on the lifeboat committed not only by the Frenchman, but also by himself. Despite this seemingly immovable pillar of fact, Pi “interprets” what he sees into a more palatable form, one that gilds over the scenes of desperation and human depravity he witnesses. He refuses to accept the actual circumstances of his survival, and instead fabricates an alternate reality he steps into whenever the truth becomes too unbearable. He replaces the people around him with things familiar to him; in his case, these are wild animals from his father’s zoo in India. The similarities between the two stories Pi tells have inescapable parallels: with himself playing the role of Richard Parker, a crippled zebra in place of the Chinese sailor with the broken leg, Orange Juice the orangutan in place of his mother, and the French cook doing double duty as both the hyena and himself. Pi relays his fantasy with such striking imagery and unhesitating confidence that it seems entirely plausible: the wicked cook cuts off the sailor’s leg, using it as fishing bait, but later consumes the entire sailor, much as the hyena did with the crippled zebra. Later, the Frenchman also kills Pi’s mother, just as the hyena killed Orange Juice. In the end, Pi ends up killing the Frenchman, just as Richard Parker had dispatched both the hyena and the Frenchman. These parallels between the two stories are very apparent, and this fact brings additional credence to Didion’s statement. Pi “select[s] the most workable of the multiple choices” of stories, preferring the one which he creates for himself as a safe haven against the mental torment of the human depredation around him. This subconscious disconnect from reality is likely what preserved Pi’s sanity, or at least some of it, during the tumultuous 227 days he was at sea. By choosing the “most workable choice,” Pi manages to survive his ordeal with his psyche intact. Indeed, Joan Didion’s assertion that we must “tell ourselves stories in order to live” is perfectly demonstrated by the protagonist in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Without existing within a wholly fabricated story of his own creation, Pi Patel could have in no way survived the immense mental and physical hardships that beset him at sea. Either from madness or by suicide, Pi would have certainly perished had he been forced to accept the events that occurred at face value. The unbelievably tortuous experiences of watching a man be butchered for fishing bait, of watching one’s mother murdered, decapitated, and feasted upon, of oneself committing murder, would be impossible to overcome without some sort of psychological aid; Pi’s fanciful story of orangutans, carnivorous islands, and Bengal tigers become this aid. It acts as a sort of security blanket, something to retreat into when difficulty arises. The fact that it takes Pi some time to recall the actual events onboard the lifeboat point to how thoroughly he has espoused this construct of his. To have retreated so fully into his world of fantasy, Pi must certainly have subconsciously recognized the danger to his psychological state that such grisly occurrences posed. He truly had to tell himself this “story” in order to live.

Life of Pi: The Symbolism of the Color Orange

In Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, Piscine Molitor Patel, an Indian boy who is living in Pondicherry, is the main character of the story. From an early age, he is exposed to three different religions: Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Due to political problems, his father’s business, a zoo, can no longer provide income for the family. Therefore, the family plan to move to Canada. En route to Canada, Pi’s family is in a shipwreck. Unfortunately, the sole survivor is Pi. He survives for two-hundred-twenty-seven days while stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean, with only a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker as a travel companion. During Pi’s travel, the presence of orange objects gives Pi hope to survive. Secondly, he forms a close relationship with two orange animals that help him give the endurance to live and emotional support. Lastly, the color orange represents faith which enables him to feel that he’s not alone. In the story of Life of Pi, the color orange is used repeatedly in physical, relational, and spiritual ways to symbolize hope, which results in Pi’s survival.

As Pi drifts on the Pacific Ocean, he is in contact with several objects that help him survive and are all of the color orange: lifeboat, lifejacket, whistle, buoy, and tarpaulin. Before Pi is thrown onto the lifeboat, Pi says that “One of the men interrupted me by thrusting [an orange] life jacket into my arms… I noticed an orange whistle dangling from the life jacket”(Martel, 115). The color of the life jacket symbolizes hope of survival. This allows the readers to know that the life jacket will keep him safe from drowning. Pi later jumps into the water to get away from Richard Parker, the tiger. Then Pi sees some shark fins; he reaches for an orange lifebuoy that will help him safely reach the lifeboat. The buoy is one of the objects that is symbolic of hope. He says, “If there hadn’t been the lifebuoy I wouldn’t have lasted a minute”(117). Upon reaching the lifeboat, Pi secures himself to the bright orange tarpaulin by using an oar and the buoy. This gives him hope of surviving by being away from the dangerous animals that are surrounding him as he is on the boat. When Pi is in desperation for food and water, he looks inside of the tarpaulin and finds some food and more orange life jackets. He believes “[the orange colour] is the colour of survival because the whole inside of the boat and the tarpaulin and the life jackets and the lifeboat and the oars and most every other significant object aboard was orange”(153). Finding food and water under the tarpaulin, relieves a great part of the stress in his mind because he is extremely hungry. Pi is not sure how long he is going to survive, so seeing food gives him hope that he will able to last “93 days” and water rations will last him “124 days”(160). Pi uses a whistle, in an effort to control Richard Parker. He blows the whistle and rocks the boat to induce nausea in the tiger. This training allows him to have access to the lifeboat without completely risking his life. Pi uses the life jackets and the buoy to create a raft and he tethers it to the lifeboat. All of the orange objects within the story are symbolic of hope; hope for Pi’s present and his future and that Pi will survive even though he may find himself in tough situations.

As the story develops, Pi meets some animals whose fur colour is orange and he forms relationships with them; this gives Pi hope by providing him companionship. The orangutan named Orange Juice is one of the animals that are with Pi on the lifeboat. Pi considers her to be a great mother. Pi describes Orange Juice to be “as lovely as the Virgin Mary”(Martel, 123). Her warmth and radiance outshine the recent tragedy of the sinking ship. After Pi rescues Orange Juice from the ocean, he sees her feeling sick. Pi is the one who laughs and describes her as follows: ” laughter was like a volcano of happiness erupting in me. And Orange Juice had not only cheered me up; she had also taken on both our feelings of seasickness. I was feeling fine now”(135). Orange Juice provides emotional support to help Pi maintain hope in the face of horrific tragedies; seeing her makes him feel relieved. After the sinking of the ship, Pi feels emotionally threatened. He is afraid of the predators on the boat and sad because he does not know what happened to his parents. Seeing Orange Juice reminds Pi of the importance of laughter because it makes him forget his unhappiness for a short while.

Richard Parker, the orange tiger, also becomes an example of hope throughout the book. While stranded in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, Pi manages to care for and tame Richard Parker. Taming the tiger is a sign of hope that he will have a better chance of surviving. Richard Parker is a vital part of Pi’s survival. First of all, Richard Parker is the only other being that experiences the same journey as Pi. Because of this, Pi is less lonely. Also, he keeps Pi attentive. At any moment, the hungry carnivore could turn on Pi. This knowledge keeps him alive: “[Pi] is always looking for distractions, and Richard Parker provides the necessary distraction from despair”(164). He pushes Pi to go on living: “It’s the plain truth, without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story”(220). Pi truly loves the tiger: “I love you!..truly I do. I love you, Richard Parker” (298). These emotions are expressed because Richard Parker helps Pi pass the time and not lose his mind. Without the constant challenges and distractions of the tiger, Pi could lose hope and give up on survival because he would be thinking about miserable events that have happened to him; this would lower his will to live. Both Orange Juice and Richard Parker are able to form a camaraderie with to Pi; their relationships enable his survival.

Religion plays a big part of Pi’s life and the color orange represents faith, and faith creates hope. From a young age, Pi believed in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Christianity comes into play when Pi views Orange Juice as the Virgin Mary floating on bananas. Seeing her brings him great comfort. Pi believes that all creatures are one entity of Islam. Pi knows he has to coexist with Richard Parker in order to survive. In Hinduism, the color orange is the color of the second chakra where a person can collect energy in religion. Wearing or having something orange symbolizes the quest for light. A quest of help from “a greater being”, is just like Pi who is wanting to get help from the gods by having faith. An example would be when Pi catches his fish. He thanks Vishnu, who came as a fish to save the world, and then came again to save him. At the start of his journey, when Pi is mentally unstable, the color orange is everywhere. After Pi is able to tame Parker, a heavy storm comes. Pi loses his raft and notices that the lifeboat has sustained some damage. When the color orange appears or is present in the story, Pi is seeking help. Losing the raft means losing some of the color orange. This means that since Pi is slowly able to adapt to his new environment and is becoming more comfortable with Richard Parker, Pi needs less help from the gods. This shows the readers why the author makes Pi lose his raft. Whenever Pi feels anger, desolation and weariness, he elevates himself, points to Richard Parker and says, “THIS IS GOD’S CAT!”(Martel, 231). This quote symbolizes faith in one of the gods in the Hindu religion. According to the Hindu religion, many animals including the tiger, are used for transportation, support, and a friend of the Indian god. Durga, who is one of the Hindu goddesses, is a friend of the tiger. Together they fight for what is right. When Pi points at Parker, he is having faith in Durga. Also, when Parker is with Pi, it seems as if the goddess is helping him by having the tiger look after him. Having faith, allows Pi to trust the gods and ask for help. It allows Pi to rely on someone other than himself. Faith will take away Pi’s loneliness and will stop him from thinking about sorrowful situations; the color orange that represents faith helps Pi be hopeful of survival.

In Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, as Pi embarks on a journey across the Pacific Ocean, he faces extraordinary challenges that one would not normally be able to overcome. However, his inexhaustible hope drives his will to survive. The color orange is symbolic of the hope that Pi needs to face challenges. The physical orange objects that are symbolic of hope are the lifeboat, life jacket, whistle, buoy, and tarpaulin that encourage him to survive. The relationships that Pi forms with Orange Juice and Richard Parker give him emotional support and attention. Physical items that are mentioned in Life of Pi, along with the companionship and the spirituality of the color orange create faith and prove that the color orange is a symbol of hope, which results in survival.