How Meta Fiction Influenced "Life of Pi"
To this day storytelling is the most important tradition humans can have. Family and friends pass down knowledge from generation to generation. Every story contains a lesson that can affect the audience differently in their own way.
Stories can teach us about appreciation of other cultures, languages, and religions. They also can offer insights into values and encourage creativity. Yann Martel’s novel contains metafiction where versions of Pi’s survival compete for the reader’s belief and imagination. As the author is wandering through India on his own adventure, he was in search of a theme. He meets an older man who tells him I have a story that will make you believe in God. Life of Pi is about a religious boy whose faith in God saves him from a tragic experience that becomes a story. Pi claims “”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?”” (Martel 3. 99)
Metafiction usually occurs in fictional stories and is when the story examines the elements of fiction itself. Metafiction can be playful or dramatic but always forces the reader to think about the nature of storytelling and how they are made. This literary device draws attention to the work of imagination, rather than reality, allowing the reader to constantly be aware that the novel they are reading is untrue. The Metafictional frame has an estranged effect, you are always reminded: don’t forget, this is only a story I am telling. Throughout the novel Life of Pi, Pi tells two different stories of his survival. This is an example of metafiction because Pi presents the stories both as true but asks which one seems more realistic and which one you would rather hear.
Pi’s first story was a fun fictional tale that made the reader believe in strength and willpower of a man trapped in the middle of an ocean with animals. His original story is with a tiger named Richard Parker, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan named Orange juice. They all escaped the sinking ship and ended up together in the lifeboat. Throughout the first few days the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan. Richard Parker then kills the hyena and eventually Pi tames him with a whistle. By the end of the story Pi considers Richard Parker his companion until they reach land in Mexico. Pi’s adventure ends once he is finally resting in a hospital bed where he is interviewed. The agents tell Pi that his first story is too unbelievable for them to write about and asks Pi for a more believable story, a story that makes sense. Pi claims “”I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.”” (3.99.224) Pi tells them a second story which is more violent and realistic, exposing the darker side of a man and what survival drove him to do. Pi compares the animals from his first story to the people in the second who were actually on the boat. The hyena represents the cook who gave trouble to Pi’s mother from the beginning because he was opposed to her being a vegetarian. The zebra represents the sailor, and Orange Juice represents Pi’s mother. Richard Parker stands for Pi himself, and all the lessons Pi’s father gave him about animals when he was a child. The second story Pi told, the cook killed the sailor and his mother, then Pi killed him. This story is much more gruesome and leads to the question which story would you rather hear? Pi presents the idea that both stories hold truth, and that truth changes perception of what you’ve previously read. In both he was stranded for 227 days and was deprived of food and water. He constantly relied on God and his three religions to get him through his survival. Regardless of what story you decide to believe, the same lessons were learned.
Since I was a young girl my family has read to me the three little pigs in many versions which is also an example of metafiction. If you are aware you are a character in a book, you can even escape your own story and make a different reality. In David Wiesner’s Three Little Pigs the big bad wolf comes and the pigs get out of their stories allowing the reader to follow the three pigs on their own. In the true story of Three little pigs it’s told from the wolf’s point of view on why the wolf isn’t so big and bad. The wolf speaks directly through the text and claims he was headed to each pigs house for a cup of sugar so he could bake his granny’s birthday cake. He claims the huffing and puffing was just coughing and sneezing due to being sick. In the end of the story the wolf speaks from the jail cell claiming he was framed and is innocent. In the other version of The Three Pigs this story is told from the pigs point of view and focuses on the adventures the pigs have with other storybook characters rather then the ultimate goal of overcoming the wolf. Although this version takes out violence like the Life of Pi, they both hold truth. In both stories the pigs built houses out of straw, sticks, and bricks. The ending is the pigs settling in the brick house after they learned their lesson.
Yann Martel’s whole argument (a story that will make you believe in God) is that most readers prefer the version of Pi’s survival with the animals on the boat. If you choose to believe that story, you are choosing to believe in the impossible by having faith which is God. Asking to choose which story you rather believe in was for the purpose of serving a theological reflection. Whether you are a person who only believes in things that make sense or someone who has an imagination. Either way, there is no correct answer to that question because Life of Pi intentionally leaves it unanswered.
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