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.

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