A Severe Life Conflict in Life Of Pi And The Odyssey
The Effects of Conflict in Human Life
Every human has faced conflict – of various intensities – in their life, no matter their age. Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey and Piscine Patel from Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi are special cases though. They faced severe adversities in their time, and against all odds made it through. The conflict in their life did indeed force them to change for the better. They changed for the better because the conflict forced them to humble themselves, consider the perspectives of others, and adapt their views on life after the conflict was resolved.
Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey was a determined, persistent man – this is a given. He was the leader of a mighty country (Ithaca), and also the leader of the country’s powerful military. However, on the way back from a lengthy war, Odysseus’s determination was pushed to its limits as he was forced to have a troublesome journey home. He faced many conflicts during the Journey, one of which was his encounter with Polyphemus the cyclops. Odysseus and his small crew of men were trapped in a cave with this frightening beast of a creature, and needed to find their way out. Odysseus, being the strategic mastermind that he is, found a way out (with the help of the goddess Athena). As Odysseus was escaping the cave, he arrogantly gave his name to the monster Polyphemus, thus dooming the rest of his journey home: “Cyclops, if any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you say so- say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye!” (Homer IX.558-660). Odysseus was humbled by this experience because he realized that sometimes it was better to not take credit for something. By giving his name to Polyphemus, the cyclops had a name to give the gods – therefore Poseidon put a curse on Odysseus, prolonging his difficult journey even further. When Odysseus arrives to his homeland of Ithaca, he is a much more modest man; he even goes so far as to disguise his appearance rather than announce that he has returned home. This is a direct result of his conflict. This mindset presumably stays with him for the rest of his life: the Odysseus from before the Trojan war is significantly different than the one that arrives home after 20 years.
In Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, Piscine (or Pi) Patel was also a very strong man, although in a different way than Odysseus. After a series of unfortunate events, Pi is left stranded at sea for 227 days with only a bengal tiger to keep him company. This conflict/journey affected him very much, both mentally and physically. One mental change that Pi underwent during this journey was more self-awareness – he was humbled. Pi was already a very religious child beforehand (he practiced 3 religions after all), but this experience made him even more aware of how insignificant he was in the grand scheme of the planet. In one part of the story, there is a giant storm, bigger than any Pi has seen before. And as he is in the middle of the sea rather than safely on land, Pi gets to experience the full wrath of it; in fact, he was almost struck by lightning: “The water was shot through with what looked like white roots; briefly, a great celestial tree stood in the ocean. I had never imagined such a thing possible…it was something to pull me out of my limited mortal ways and thrust me into a state of exalted wonder…I was dazed, thunderstruck-nearly in the true sense of the word” (Martel 233). With such a spectacle unfolding right before Pi’s eyes, he is instantly reminded of how unimportant he truly is. The conflict changes him for the better because, in this case, he is grounded to Earth instead of being arrogant like others may be. Another example of Pi being changed by his experience is when he is hallucinating talking to Richard Parker, his bengal tiger companion. In his dazed, starving, dehydrated state, Pi imagines a full conversation with an animal incapable of holding one:
“‘Would you eat bleeding raw beef?’ I asked.
‘Of course! I love tartar steak.’
‘Would you eat the congealed blood of a dead pig?’
‘Every day, with apple sauce!’
‘Would you eat anything from an animal, the last remains?’
‘Scrapple and sausage! I’d have a heaping plate!’
‘How about a carrot? Would you eat a plain, raw carrot?’
There was no answer.”
With the last comment, Pi realizes that he is indeed talking to Richard Parker and not another human. This whole encounter, of course, is a figment of his imagination. What is truly happening is that Patel’s mind is having a raging debate with itself: his traditional, vegan mindset versus his survivalist, carnivorous mindset. By being stranded on a boat with essentially no food, Pi was forced to do something he has never done his whole life: eat meat. This instantly spawns on a conflict inside his very own mind: does he stick to his own beliefs, and most likely die? Or does he commit a sin in his religion and try to stay alive, no matter how unlikely it is? Ultimately, Pi chooses become a carnivore with the hope of living. This is a very big turning point in Pi’s life. The first time he killed a fish, he broke down in tears and began praying for the fish and apologizing to God. The faux-schizophrenic discussion in his mind was him subconsciously considering the perspectives of two different groups. And although he chose to eat meat, it was in a time of necessity – after the ordeal was through, Pi reverted to a life of pacifism and veganism. He will also have the wisdom and knowledge from his tribulations, which are very valuable.
In conclusion both Odysseus of Ithaca and Pi Patel faced severe conflicts during their stories. Despite the hardships, both men prevailed and their lives were the better for it. The two became much more humbled, more empathetic, and were significantly changed by their experiences. Homer’s The Odyssey and Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi masterfully presented the stories of these two characters and are essential reads for anyone who enjoys good literature.
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