Taming One’s Id in Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” Term Paper
The novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a captivating chef-d’oeuvre that features three main parts, which follow the life of Pi and a tiger that is referred to as Richard Parker. From the beginning, it is evident that the novel is about God, spirituality, religion, soul, and mind. The events that unfold throughout the novel put these themes to a great test. Further, the novel covers the biological survival process, which is pitted against the previously mentioned themes. One of the greatest fears that Pi faces is death, which is also greatly tested. Pi’s will to survive is evident by the end of the novel. In many ways that will be discussed, Richard Parker, the tiger, represents the issues that Pi fears. Consequently, Parker acts as an important representation of how Pi manages his Id. Hence, as the paper confirms, Richard Parker represents a complex analysis of taming one’s id.
According to Lapsley and Stey, id is one of the three human psychological states that include the ego and superego (1). These states represent the innate desires that are focused on survival. The id is unconscious. It is the only personality component that is present at birth. It acts as the main driver of people’s personality. The component strives not only to fulfil the most basic urges in an individual that are largely tied to survival but also is an important provider of the energy that is necessary for driving personality. The id is based on the pleasure principle, which points out that every desire should be satisfied immediately without consideration of the consequences (Lapsley and Stey 1).
For instance, at infancy, even before other personality components develop, infants are dominated and guided by id. At their tender age, the basic needs of food, drink, and comfort are of utmost importance. If they are not provided, crying is the only way the kids express their dissatisfaction. After the needs are met, the children are likely to stop crying (Lapsley and Stey 2). However, the children’s approach to demanding satisfaction of their needs, as per their id, is not applicable in real-life situations. For instance, as people get older, it becomes clear that acting out to satisfy the needs of the id whenever they arise can be problematic and hence the need and importance of the other personality components of ego and superego (Lapsley and Stey 4). In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Pi faces insurmountable situations, which require him to act to the desires of id for his survival, yet his companion, Richard Parker, is the main hindrance towards these desires and hence an important representation of how Pi manages to control his id.
Adjusting to Life without Family Protection
When the young Pi and his family begin their journey across the pacific, he comes on board with great admiration and love for the family, humanity, and all prescriptions of religion (Ketterer 80). However, his fear of death is revealed when he is shown by his father that despite the animals that are put in cages seeming friendly, they are dangerous and that they should never be taken for granted or wrongly be seen as friendly (Ludwig 226). By the end of the journey, Pi’s fear of death, desire for survival, and his morality and religious beliefs are put into immense test. To some people, Richard Parker represents all Pi’s fears and consequently, his weaknesses (Ketterer 82). During the journey, the ship that Parker uses is caught between bad sea weather. After a long battle with the weather, the ship is unable to cope with the situation. Ultimately, it sinks. His whole family dies. Besides, many of the animals that his father had brought on board from the family zoo die (Nilsen 115). At the end of the disastrous events, Pi finds himself the only person who survives together with several other animals, including Zebra, Hyena, Orang-utan, and the Tiger (Richard Parker). In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Pi is instantly ushered into adulthood where he has to make critical decisions regarding his wellbeing, amid the turmoil that is present in the confines of the lifeboat. The confusion brings together various beings that would otherwise not coexist for a single minute in normal circumstances (Duncan 167). Before the shipwreck, Pi is a young boy who has thrived in the confines and protection of a family. He has good relationships with his parents, especially his father, who teaches him many activities and experiences in handling animals as a zookeeper. Since the cushioning of parents is not available anymore, the next 227 days will test the young boy’s maturity to the core.
Religion and its Role in Pi’s Personality during the Early Stages of his Life at the Sea
In the first part of the novel, a young boy who believes in three religions, namely Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism is introduced, thus setting a complex personality, which is built upon strong beliefs in religion and God (Wolf 107). In other words, the young boy, Pi, has a strong sense of spirituality and morality, which, to a great extent, guides his actions and interactions with people and nonhuman subjects such as animals. Indeed, when he interacts with a nonbeliever, Mr Kumar, the biology instructor, Pi’s strong religious convictions are laid bare through his interpretations of what the teacher delivers. For example, when the teacher points out that religion is darkness, Pi takes the very opposite viewpoint by pointing out that he sees religion as light instead of darkness (De Cunha 235).
In fact, Pi does not seem to take Mr Kumar’s assertions serious. Instead, he claims that the teacher is trying to test him. With reference to Mr Kumar’s statement that faith is darkness, Pi thinks to himself, “was the testing me? Was he saying, religion is darkness, the way he sometimes said in class, things like Mammals lay eggs, to see if someone would correct him”( Martel Life of Pi 27). Although the atheist teacher sometimes convinces Pi with his virtues of science, Pi regards science as complimenting, but not opposing religion, as the teacher would view it.
In the initial stages of the disorderliness that is present in the lifeboat, it is evident that the fight between humanity, spirituality, and survival take centre stage from the start. For instance, when he first sees Richard Parker swimming towards the lifeboat, he exclaims, “Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you Richard Parker” (Martel Life of Pi 95). In this statement, while he is overly confused on how to react to the fact that a tiger is coming his way, he is delighted that the tiger is alive, owing to the fact that it is his much-loved animal in the zoo. His humanity, innocence, and spirituality push Pi into helping Richard Parker while in the lifeboat (Thomas 182).
He is happy after helping the animal into the boat. Consequently, the kind act saves its life. However, his joy is short-lived. Soon, he realises the grave danger he is in by having Richard Parker (Stephens 41). While trying to exercise his desires and his humanistic feelings, Pi cannot stand Richard Parker dying in the water. He acts instinctually to bring the animal onboard without due consideration of the events that may follow if the animal acts on its instincts of eating him for survival purposes.
Upon the realisation of the great danger that Richard Parker poses on his survival, Pi acts impulsively on his id by fleeing from the boat and hanging on the edges of the lifeboat. For several days, Richard Parker and Pi behave suspiciously towards each other. Pi seems to be getting the most negative consequences out of this ordeal. He later makes a raft and takes some food off the lifeboat with the mission of staying as far as possible from the tiger to ensure that he can survive for as long as possible. He ties the raft to the lifeboat. For the next few days, he is satisfied that he is not in danger any more.
However, being on the raft exposes Pi to other unexpected complex problems that he could not have considered. Firstly, upon the exposure to extreme sunlight and seawater penetrating his raft since it (raft) is not watertight, Pi realises that the two agents, that is, seawater and the sun, conspire to cause him sores and boils (Fiamengo 56). The infections are serious on his body sides that are near the water, such as the backside. As he notes,
“Saltwater boils-red, angry, disfiguring- were the leprosy of the high seas, transmitted by the water that soaked me. Where they burst, my skin especially sensitive; accidental rubbing an open sore so painful I would gasp and cry out” (Martel Life of Pi 187).
Such a sorrowful narration shows the complex sufferings that young Pi is undergoing, yet his quest for survival cannot allow him to give up. He also gets much inspiration from religion, especially Jesus, whose misfortunes he can relate to and hence purpose to overcome them just as Jesus did (De Cunha 237). He must strive to ensure that his sores heal by remaining dry, or else his survival will be a very difficult challenge, especially when he has to make all the decisions on his life. His survival or lack thereof lies in his hands.
Religion offers the young boy Pi hope and faith that guide his many actions, despite the presence of the strong id-driven instincts for survival. For an instant, while he is still a Hindu, he is introduced to Jesus Christ, or Christianity, when he meets Father Martin. Through his interaction with Martin, he becomes a Christian, although not in the real sense, as he does not abandon his Hindu faith. As a young convert to Christianity, he learns about Jesus Christ’s sufferings and his death out of love for the human race and the creation (Fiamengo 58). However, Pi is perturbed. He deeply questions why a supreme being would want to die and suffer.
His kind gesture to save Parker comes in his mind and claims that he should be treated the same way he handled Parker. However, the situation is complicated because a big deal of his suffering results from Parker’s failure to let the two creatures share the same environment in the boat. However, his questions only lead to the beauty of Christianity. Indeed, his Christian beliefs prove very important and critical lessons for his survival on the lifeboat, as he is ready to bear the sufferings and show love to even the greatest of his adversaries, the tiger (Wolf 108). Instead of taking the path Mr Kumar would have taken by disowning God, Pi takes it as a divine example and hence seeks to stay focused and loving even in the face of death and strong sense of the desire to survive, which would have otherwise pushed him to act irrationally and instinctively in response to Parker’s id. For this matter, Christianity has given him the confidence, courage, and affection Richard Parker ends up enjoying and consequently surviving in the impossible conditions of the sea and misery of living in the confines of a lifeboat (Dwyer 9).
The influence of Parker and other religions on Pi’s behaviour and actions while at sea is also evident. He never leaves his Hindu faith, just as he decides to stay with Parker, despite the consequences that he (Parker) might bring to him. Instead, he combines his knowledge with that of Christianity and later with his Muslim teachings. Hindu teaches him about love, while Islam teaches him about brotherhood (Stratton 11).
These morals combine with the teachings of Christianity on endurance and suffering such that he can survive and/or show love even to the greatest enemy, Parker. For instance, while Christianity pushes him to show love, faith, and endurance even in the midst of great tribulations, which would otherwise prompt hatred between Parker and him, Hinduism and Islam teach him to extend love and comradeship to all, including the enemy (Tai 96). His approach to the three religions is also a very important depiction of his personality, which seeks to find the good where others would find the bad (Thorn 3). Pi takes the best out of each religion hence getting a better understanding of divinity, which the three religions seek to provide (Mensch 135). He takes the perseverance of Christianity, love of Hinduism, and goodwill of Islam, to explain many happenings in his life, hence increasing his ability to act differently and to survive even when it would have been logical to act otherwise (Martel How I Wrote Life of Pi 80).
Parker is the sole beneficiary of Pi’s efforts. Although he is rescued from dying in the sea, he ends up creating an environment where Pi has to seek divine interventions for both to survive. Parker’s harshness makes him survive in the boat because of Pi’s lessons from the religions that teach him not to react to Parker, even when he (Parker) is a threat to him. In the end, he gets inspiration from the principles of each religion and uses them to make important decisions that ensure that he can survive for longer than what would be possible in a death-life situation that Pi finds himself in a while in the sea and/or boat with Parker. Parker survives the dangerous conditions of living in a lifeboat for 227 days in the open sea and in the company of Pi who would have otherwise used in human instincts to kill him (Parker).
Overcoming Id’s Fear
Martel depicts Parker as a fierce animal that disrupted Pi’s peace in the sea (186). In fact, Pi’s fears while at sea are captured well when he points,
“I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging above me” (Martel Life of Pi 105).
Everywhere, he was surrounded by great dangers to his survival. Only the provisional raft seemed to provide him with the necessary motivation to keep going and to remain alive (Georgis 165). This observation is a major irony, owing to how he would have never imagined in real life that such a simple structure could make the difference between life and death. His ordeal definitely has taught him to overcome great tribulations, a key indicator of id in action by opting for survival against all the odds (Cole 24).
In his words, he used the impermanent device for a very long time until it was almost completely gone. He imagines a situation where Parker could have decided to disrupt his peace while in the oar. This situation would have marked his end of the journey since he could have dropped in the sea and probably encounter other fierce sea animals. The young boy recognises the dangers that surround him but chooses what to prioritise. In this case, the tiger is not an immediate threat compared to the ocean (Burns 165).
Focusing on the id, in an ideal, he would have acted unconsciously, owing to his fears of the dangers that surround him, and effectively fled to the unknown to his eventual death. However, he learns to hold down his instinct, id-driven desires and makes deliberate decisions on what his best approaches to survival entail (Spall and Martel 4). For now, as long as Richard Parker remains hidden in the side of the lifeboat under the tarpaulin, no immediate danger comes from him since he does not know that Pi is just some few metres from the boat. Parker is indeed oblivious of Pi’s presence, something that gives Pi’s imagination some comfort and less stress that would otherwise be present if Pi ever thinks that Parker knows he is around. The scenario is a battle between fear and reason where reason triumphs, and hence a major win over id (Cole 25). Capturing this fight between reason and fear relating to the consequences of Parker being so near, Pi says,
“Fear and reason fought over the answer. Fear said yes. He was a fierce, 450-pound carnivore. Richard Parker could shred it with his claws with a little time and effort, but he couldn’t pop through like a jack-in-the-box. And he had not seen me…Since he had not seen me, he had no reason to claw his way through” (Martel Life of Pi 106).
The most important lesson here is that while instinct, as evidenced through fear, can aggravate the situation, it is important to think and act rationally. This claim shows how the presence of Parker is forcing Pi to find ways of taming id by acting rationally, as opposed to the irrational manner that his id would demand (Mensch 135). Although the above reasoning gives him peace of mind during impossible times, his comfort is short-lived. He is aware that he will have to face Richard Parker eventually by killing him, being killed by the tiger, or learning how to coexist.
Deciding the best way to deal with the beast that Richard Parker is revealed an important battle between id and rationality. Firstly, Pi comes up with five strategic plans on how to handle the beast. However, all strategies seem to lead to one problem: how to execute them without Pi being the casualty (Thorn 4). The beast is definitely born to be a predator. All odds indicate that the predator wins in every battle of the killer and the target. Pi is definitely not going to take such drastic measures to put himself on the leeway. Hence, he comes up with a sixth plan, which involves letting Richard Parker die a natural death out of hunger and thirst. However, he soon realises that Parker can swim. Definitely, there is no way he can escape death if Parker decides to swim across the short distance that separates them. He sums the fear that he would face when faced by Richard Parker when he decides that Pi is the next meal when he says,
“I have read that there are two fears that cannot be trained out of us: the startle reaction upon hearing unexpected noise, and vertigo. I would like to add a third, to wit, the rapid and direct approach of a known killer” (Martel Life of Pi 256).
Such a statement, which in is in reference to Richard Parker clearly shows the kind of fear that Pi had to overcome order to face Richard Parker, if he had any chance to survive more than what the raft had offered him. He makes the decision that he must come out of his raft, hold onto the lifeboat, and use the dominance skills that his father had taught him at the zoo to subdue his enemy by establishing himself as the dominant being over the other animals, including Richard Parker on the lifeboat (Tai 96). When he finally subdues the beast, it is evident that in the quest for his survival, overcoming his fears is an important milestone towards overcoming and taming his id, which would have otherwise pushed him to take drastic measures that would have instead jeopardised his ability to survive at the sea.
In the process of dominating the enemy, creating boundaries is of great importance. This strategy is evident in the novel where Pi demarcates the boat using his urine, following the weird behaviour of Richard Parker. Such behaviour might be evident in an animal, rather than a human being. Instead of killing the tiger, Pi views the animal as an essential part of his survival. Although Parker is a dangerous creature he can become a very important companion when he is tamed (Stratton 11). Amidst his domination on the lifeboat is disorderliness, especially from the other lifeboat members who are also trying their best to survive. Apart from the danger that is posed by the tiger, which he has now tamed, Richard Parker is also weary of the presence of the hyena and the orang-utan, which are very docile during the day. However, at night, his fear is evident when he says,
“Darkness came. There was no moon. Clouds hid the stars. The contour of things became hard to distinguish. Everything disappeared, the sea, the lifeboat, my own body. The sea was quiet and there was hardly any wind, so I couldn’t even ground myself in sound. I seemed to be floating in pure, abstract blackness. I kept my eyes fixed on where I thought horizon was while my ears were on guard for any sign of the animals…I couldn’t imagine lasting the night” (Martel Life of Pi 116).
The confusion that is present on the lifeboat is evident, especially through the way the animals kill each other for a meal. The zebra is badly injured. He becomes an easy meal for the hyena that then goes on to eat the Orang-utan. Finally, the tiger kills the hyena. When all other animals are dead, Pi has to find ways of avoiding becoming the next meal for Richard Parker. Hence, his goal is to not only coexist but also to keep him alive for as long as possible without jeopardising his chances of survival (Mensch 136). In his quest, he aims at ensuring that he establishes a relationship with Richard Parker by becoming his source of livelihood. He ensures that Parker is dependent on him, hence erasing the possibility of him becoming the next meal. The plan works well. However, Pi does not forget the retaliation nature of the tiger since he is still an animal, despite being docile and respectful towards him after he establishes himself as the dominant in the lifeboat (Tsai 96).
When the lifeboat lands on a mysterious island, the food and fresh water that exist there provide an important opportunity for id to take root in Pi’s ordeal. He can choose to remain there forever with Richard Parker. However, at night, the island becomes a killer trap. Creatures that manage to climb on trees can survive. Even Parker has to seek refuge on the boat, although the move greatly shakes Pi to the core. While id would have required Pi and Parker to remain in the island, Pi sees it as a way of postponing the inevitable death. He decides to set voyage to the unknown, instead of dying on the mysterious island, a major victory over id (Dwyer 10).
Richard Parker’s Role in Pi’s Taming of Id
The way Pi was brought up was not to face or be friendly to animals such as Richard Parker. Indeed, when his father finds that Pi has been sneaking to feed or entertain the tiger on the ship, he is shown the immense brutality of the tiger when he is forced to watch a goat being devoured. From the beginning, he is curtailed to avoid a tiger and if possible never be with the beast in a small space such as the one the lifeboat offers. Indeed, such deep-rooted fear for the tiger pushes him to stay in the raft for very many days until it becomes impossible to stay any longer and hence the need to face the tiger. Overcoming such great fears definitely requires a major disowning of the id-guided instinct of fear and fleeing from danger to actually mastering how to find comfort and solace in the danger (Ketterer 85).
While the fear for Richard Parker is still present, Pi does not opt to flee, as it would be required in a fearful situation, but instead focuses on acting with reason. Hence, Pi has to think critically concerning the ways through which he can prevent himself from becoming Richard Parker’s next meal. Firstly, he has to establish dominance, which he has already achieved by utilising the skills he has gained from his father who was a zookeeper (Nilsen 116). Secondly, he must keep in mind that Richard Parker is still an animal that needs food. Hence, no amount of dominance can prevent the animal from eating him (Nilsen 116).
With this awareness, Pi strives to ensure that Parker is fed as it the only way he can become a tamed animal. Without food, Parker will become hungry and thirsty to the extent of acting on his animal instinct of survival where he may make Pi his next meal. It is out of these reasons that Pi finds purpose in keeping Richard Parker alive for as long as it takes. If he is hungry, Pi will probably be his last meal. What Pi does in order to ensure that he can feed Parker and consequently ensure his survival leads to many questions and doubts on his interpretation of religion as he has depicted himself as a person who has a deep love for God, especially with his deep knowledge relating to three religions, which he sought in his quest for God.
The depth he is willing to go to survive is evident in the second narration where he substitutes the animals for humans. This plan clearly depicts his brutality. Hence, he is not different from Richard Parker, the tiger. In one of the conversations with the French cannibal who is brutal and ready to live and kill for his survival, Pi views the man as the exact description of a subconscious creature. However, the description comes to reflect on Pi when he kills the French cook in the second story. Worse, he does not feel sorry or remorseful for his actions. Instead, he points to his actions by responding and indulging in the momentary and soothing nature of revenge, which he ironically finds satisfying and not evil (Duncan 168).
He is becoming used to evil. To reflect his current state, he says that the frightening reality about wickedness is that an individual ends up copying with any situation, even to the level of becoming comfortable with evil. He adopts this survival tactic to avoid the great evil, that is, Richard Parker.
In his quest for retaining sanity on the boat and keeping himself alive, Pi’s actions are greatly at odds with his spirituality and the teachings he has gained from his religious endeavours. By not viewing his killing of the French cook as evil, he goes against what he has learned from religion relating to love for one another. Earlier in the novel, he justifies this behaviour as a form of madness that often leads one into doing actions that challenge his or her beliefs to the core. He reveals a degree of lunacy that steers life in bizarre but ferocious paths. This insanity due to the suffering and hunger on the lifeboat turns Pi into an animal that can murder others for survival. In the start of his life on the lifeboat, even killing a fish is such a guilty-causing endeavour where he is only comfortable and settled when the fish is alive (De Cunha 238).
With time, the drive for survival makes him more and more brutal to the extent of killing bigger and bigger animals until at last he is ready to kill human beings and actually justify it, as opposed to feeling guilty. He reaches a point where he is now questioning God’s true nature and love, which he has greatly focused on in his learning of the religion. In his own words, Pi says that it is difficult to demonstrate love in some situations. However, unlike other people’s reaction of disowning God, just like his biology professor who became an atheist when he could not get answers for his polio bedridden childhood, he instead complains that God was not available to intervene. In this statement, it is evident that he believes that God is still present, although he takes too long to hear or respond. Consequently, Pi has to act according to his convictions to ensure survival until the time when God will respond.
The presence of Richard Parker and the evident slow response of God to Pi’s predicament in an unlikely twist leads him to seeking to know God more and to have faith and optimism, which are important virtues of being religious. In the vastness of his problems, which are represented by the lack of food and water, despite being surrounded by a massive water body and uncountable sea creatures that are underneath the lifeboat, Pi’s faith is tested to the core. How could it be so difficult to find food and water when the two resources were just an arm reach away?
In the midst of this despair, he ought to have given up and surrendered to the slow death of hunger and thirst or to the fast death of the tiger’s claws and teeth. Instead, he responds to his suffering with affection, confidence, and hope. He realises that despite his fears and drastic measures he has taken to ensure his survival, only confidence and optimism can see him through. In his deepest conviction, God is looking unto him with a good purpose and hence the reason why he and Richard Parker survive for this long out of the many other people and animals. The parallels of his interpretation of suffering can easily be drawn between Pi and his teacher, Mr Kumar, the nonbeliever and biology instructor. When Mr Kumar faces a life-death situation through polio sickness, he asks himself daily, “Where is God? Where is God? Where is God? Where is God? God never comes” (Martel Life of Pi 27). On the contrary, when Pi faces the same situation, he does not interpret the lack of God’s manifestation as to indicate absence but rather a delayed response, and hence the reason why he remains hopeful and has faith that beyond the suffering, God will see him through.
To show his strong belief in the presence of a supreme being in his problems, Pi resolves to continue extending his love to his friends and enemies. Such a statement has varied interpretations. However, as it relates to the context on this section, he seems to indicate that he will continue to love not only God but also Richard Parker. It is also a clear indication that he would continue to have faith and hope. Through his faith and hope for survival at the end, he has been stayed alive for this long. His situation does not allow him to love easily. Although he shares a great misery with Richard Parker, he resolves to take care of him (Wolf 108).
In the first story, Pi’s faith has taught him to love his neighbour, Richard Parker, despite him being a dangerous animal. On the other hand, the consequences of not having trust, confidence, and love are evident when he loses all of them and acts irrationally to the extent of killing the French cook at his most miserable point. From these two parallel stories, it becomes clear that having faith and hope is very important in helping one to share his or her love with others.
Throughout the novel, the protagonist, Pi, faces major problems that threaten his strong beliefs and most importantly, his life. Richard Parker contributes a great deal to these problems. However, he manages to survive against all odds. How he manages to overcome these challenges is the most fascinating part of the story. It indicates a combination of many aspects such as his strong belief in God, faith, love, and a strong desire to survive. From the start, Pi is a brilliant young boy whose explorations lead him to read widely, especially on matters of religion, where he takes up the teachings of three religions, which include Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. He is also a student of science.
Although he does not believe in atheism, he takes up the important segments of the teaching of science, as well as the three approaches to religion and the subject of God. He has also taken up important lessons from his father, a zoologist, on how to handle and interact with animals. When his family becomes shipwrecked, a battle of survival begins. Survival is an important part of id, the personality trait, which focuses on the pleasure principle.
If it is untamed, id makes it difficult for an individual to coexist with others due to its selfish connotations. In the small space that is available in the lifeboat, it becomes evident that Pi has to make important decisions to ensure that he survives and that he does not end up being a meal for the tiger, Richard Parker, who is also confined in the lifeboat. It is indeed the presence of Richard Parker that Pi learns how to tame his id. At first, Pi flees from the boat, a response to his survival instinct, and lives on a raft, to ensure that he is as far from Parker as possible. However, he later learns that he will have to face Parker eventually.
Hence, he has to face his fears. Overcoming fear is his first lesson and triumph over his id because of Richard Parker. However, he cannot overcome his id completely. This situation leads him to act in ways that he would not otherwise approve. For instance, he has to kill fish to feed Richard Parker. He also has to kill the French cook. These acts are a clear indication of id in play. However, using his religious background, he has to show love, have faith, and hope that all will be well. Any reader who follows keenly the proceedings of this work will declare Yann Martel’s Life of Pi an informative piece of masterwork.
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