Life Of Pi: A Story For The Atheist
Storytelling in Life of Pi by Yann Martel seems to fit the common formula for a survival story, however the twist on reality and perception of religion in the ending leaves many questions unanswered. Mr. Okamoto’s and Mr. Chiba’s attempt to fathom the reality of Pi’s experience makes it impossible for any reader to get a clear understanding of the true ending. Nevertheless, for an atheist reading Life of Pi, the reality of what happened after the TsimTsum sank is clearly interpreted as the human story being true. The strong tie to reason and in some cases cynicism with atheism makes the animal story nothing more than a dark fairy tale and the human story the harsh reality.
Although religion plays a major role in the story in Life of Pi, the more subtle and strong theme in the novel is reason and atheism. One of the most forward expressions of this theme is none other than Pi’s father, who is noted to be a rationalist and atheist. In the exposition of the novel he makes many attempts to break Pi’s faith with moments of cynicism. In chapter 8 of the novel, Ravi and Pi are forced by their father to watch a defenseless goat get devoured by Richard Parker, the zoo´s tiger. This was Pi’s father most extreme attempt at trying to reach Pi with reason and a more secular view on life. A great way to sum up faith in Life of Pi is when Pi’s father says “I suppose that’s what we’re all trying to do – to love God. ‘ (Martel 69). Going deeper into this quote, he is basically saying that everyone is aware that religion is a façade but they’re choosing it to make themselves feel content. This ties perfectly into the end when Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba choose the animal story despite the stronger realism in the human story. Pi’s father’s pragmatic attitude is Martel’s personal hint that this story is not truly about trying to make someone believe in god. For an atheist reader, they would find the most connection and respect with Pi’s father, and see him as a refreshing character in a book centered around a religion addict. But is atheism really that connected to religion in Life of Pi? The answer is yes. By definition atheism is “Either Lack of Belief in a God or Goddess, or a Denial of their Existence”. To sum it up, it is a lack of faith in a higher power; which will lead the majority to believe more materialized concepts like reason and science. Cynicism around topics like miracles is key to most atheists as these topics defy all science and reason.
When listening to both of Pi’s stories it is very clear which story has a much stronger bond to an atheist. The human story is constant with realistic dark events that are accepted by anyone with a lack of faith in religion. In contrast the animal story is unrealistic and many details of it could be attacked for their fiction-like situations. The disparity of the two stories is the allegory of religion vs atheism, and of course the atheist would support their side in this debate. Martel includes Kumar in part 1 of the novel to give another insight to the atheist perspective which foreshadows the disputable ending. In chapter 7 Mr. Kumar shares his dissimilar perspective on god and reason: “Reason is my prophet and it tells me that as a watch stops, so we die. It’s the end. If the watch doesn’t work properly, it must be fixed here and now by us. One day we will take hold of the means of production and there will be justice on earth”(Martel 28). This quote says a lot about Mr. Kumar and the polarizing bond between reason and religion. Mr. Kumar is saying that most of our problems are solved by material things, or better yet, reason. But due to the circumstances in time where religion is prominent, concepts of atheism are ignored by the mass majority. However he also states that one day atheists will control the most important material things in the world, and there will be “justice” against religion. The most significant discussion of religion vs reason in Life of Pi is in the final 4 chapters included in part 3 of the novel. In chapter 96 Pi is confronted by two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, they are addressed as Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba. Their assignment is to determine the cause of the TsimTsum sinking based on Pi’s point of view, however Pi has different intentions for their chat.
After telling the story that tells nothing about the cause of the sinking and is full of animals and unrealistic events, both Okamoto and Chiba are blown away by how fictional it all sounds. They make many reasonable points about how the story makes no sense and has many details that are impossible; they then tell him to tell them the real story. Pi accepts their wish and states that he will tell another story. After telling a gruesome, dark, and realistic story with humans instead, Okamoto and Chiba are dazed and disturbed by the brutal ungodly details of this story. They then choose to believe the animal story. This is the perfect example of how despite the animal story is favored in the story, the human story is the true and chosen story by any atheist. The whole “animal story vs human story” is a complex allegory to religion vs reason. Although religious stories and the animal story have many unrealistic and fictional details, they are the most favored and believed stories. When it comes to reason and concepts like atheism, they are much harsher yet realistic, but they are denied by many due to how much more comfortable religion is. For an atheist reading Life of Pi they would easily pick the human story due their ability to handle harsh truths rather than soft lies.
Life of Pi is a story for the atheist. Although it is a novel centered around a boy who’s faith lies in 3 religions rather than none, the book reassures the atheist’s faith in their own beliefs and connection to those around them. Not only does the novel give the atheist insight to other people’s religious faiths and strengthen empathy, but it gives them strength in their own beliefs. The atheist’s interpretation of all the points made at the ending in the novel leads them to choose the human story; but this is not only due to their current state with faith, but rather their personality. One who chooses to be an atheist has a strong bond to reason and science, two things that contradict the animal story, and with that, the reality of Life of Pi is the human story.
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