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Life of pi: Close READING

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Sally Thai

on 28 July 2014

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Transcript of Life of pi: Close READING

Life of pi: Close READING
Works Cited
Sally Thai
Mrs. Smith
The Narrator
Life of Pi is much unlike any other novel. It consists of multiple layers, and an almost confusing narrative. This is called a "frame narrative" (cla.purdue.edu), which is defined as a story within a story. This type of style is found in
Forrest Gump
. The beginning of the story is told by the author himself, on his quest for a story that would be a hit. This creates an illusion that the story is factual, when in fact it is entirely fictitious. The illusion is called "verisimilitude" (literarydevices.net). The author continues to write afterwards in the perspective of Pi Patel, and ends with a transcript of the interrogation between Pi and the Japanese officials. Frame narrative also allows readers to create suspension of disbelief. They try to accept the story is reality and ignore anything suspicious to understand the gist of the novel. The novel is told in First Person (Peripheral Narrator) and First Person (Central Narrator) because the author (not Pi) tells the story pretending to be Pi.
Figurative language
The typical connection first made in the plot of the novel after finished reading is the similarities between the story of the animals and the story of the humans surviving the wreck. The parallels between the characters of both stories are significant, and are even stated, “The Taiwanese sailor is the zebra, his mother is the orangutan, and the cook is the hyena—which means he is the tiger!” ().
When the group of animals initially stay on the boat, a fight for survival ensues. The description Martel made was horrifically detailed and gruesome, contrasting against with Pi's original interactions with the animals at the zoo. Richard Parker, the Bengal, arrived at the zoo as a cub and had no experience of killing. Just like any other zoo, he was presented food regularly, eliminating the necessity to hunt. The zebra, when living in the zoo, would “crunch loudly on the treats” () that Mr. Kumar and Pi would offer it, and was described as “the Rolls-Royce of equids. […] A wondrous creature.” (), stark contrast to its final moments of life. Immediately, when placed in a life-or-death situation, the animals change personalities. Pi describes the hyena's devouring of the zebra, where the skin “came off the zebra's belly like gift-wrap paper” (). This triggers readers into wondering the state of humanity depending on life conditions. Humans experience the same provisions as zoo animals, such as the security of police officers, the ease of access to food from supermarkets, the routine days found in work and school. However, if these conditions were removed, would humanity amount to the savagery that the zoo animals did?
piscine molitor patel
Pi is an interesting character to examine. He displays many different characteristics throughout the novel. Initially, in India, he was a cheerful and inquisitive, however at sea, he is much more animalistic. In his first story, he separates his different personalities into animals. It is understood by the Japanese officials that “he is the tiger” (177), however, what does Pi represent in his first story? After coming to the conclusion that Richard Parker symbolizes Pi's human mind, the more savage and animalistic side of him, it can be understood that Pi is representative of a soul. Pi, a number found in geometry, is a transcendent number—it never ends. What is incomprehensible and limitless to the human mind? The soul. This is the definitive thing between humans and other animals. The soul trains the mind, leading into spiritual development. This is seen when Pi attempts to tame Richard Parker.
richard parker
Dependent on the story readers choose, Richard Parker is either a live Bengal tiger or a part of Pi's story to cope with the reality of his life at sea. However, whether you believe the first story or the second doesn't matter, because it is clear the author intended for readers to examine both characters closely together. The tiger cub was originally deemed “Thirsty” by the hunter named Richard Parker that had found him, however “all the papers […] received with the cub clearly stated that its name was Richard Parker, that the hunter's first name was Thirsty and that his family name was None Given.” (65). This is interesting, because Pi had also nicknamed himself “Pi”. The tiger's name was switched, the predator being mixed with the prey. This is symbolic of the similarities between humans and animals, again, implying that Richard Parker is representative of a portion of humanity. Of course, this portion is dangerous, just as Richard Parker naturally is. Richard Parker is symbolic of the human mind. The human mind, if allowed to, will consume the soul. However, just like Richard Parker and Pi needed each other to survive their tumultuous journey, the mind and the soul need each other as well. Without soul, humans are just like any other animal. Without the mind, the soul could never survive as it needs the physical materials needed for the body.
the other animals...
The other animals, similar to Richard Parker, were given human traits to make living with the memories of the events easier for Pi. However, in more general terms, they represent human characteristics that everyone possesses.
The Japanese officials found the hyena to represent the cook on the ship. If the story is analyzed more carefully, this makes sense. What logical reasoning is there for the hyena to consume the broken leg of the zebra first, instead of attacking the flesh where it is still fresh? There is none, unless it was used as a coping mechanism for Pi. However, the hyena possesses not only characteristics of the cook, but of humanity itself. Put into simpler terms, the hyena is representative of human evil and the obsession with self-preservation.
The orangutan, as stated in the novel, represents Pi's mother. Orangutans are known to be excellent mothers, as their babies tend to spend on average 8-9 years with them. This is significantly longer than other ape species. She is symbolic of safety and protection, and can be seen as Holy Mary, the mother of God. The orangutan was even described as the "matriarch, zoo star, and mother of two fine boys." (78).
The zebra, representative of the young sailor whose leg was broken, also symbolizes the vulnerability of humans. Because of the brutality of its death, it reminds us the savagery that humans are capable of. This further emphasizes the evil in the hyena, as we pity the zebra for its unnecessary suffering.
Pondicherry, India
Although this setting mostly appears to serve as a back story, it drives the conflict of the novel significantly. This novel was set in India in the 1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency (wikipedia.org). Pi's father was disappointed in Gandhi's leadership, and decided to take the family to move to Canada. The Pondicherry zoo, however, served as a way to allow Pi to get to know the animals that would later appear in his story. He grew up around this zoo, as his father owned it. It foreshadows the upcoming battle he would face out on sea with a 450 lb Bengal tiger.
Pacific ocean
Naturally, this is where the majority of the novel takes place. On multiple occasions, it nearly destroys Pi and Richard Parker, and inevitably killed his family. The waters were "surging from below like a riotous crowd. [...] The ship was listing badly." (). However, it also fed Pi and Richard Parker on the lifeboat, providing fish and other comforts. The ocean is the reason for Pi's rebirth. Although the events that ensued after the ship sinking was traumatic, it transformed him as a soulful human. Many times, he longed for death. He could not stand the suffering much longer, as the ocean represents the harsh realities of life and the pain he must endure to live in faith.
the lifeboat
The lifeboat was Pi's beacon of hope in surviving the ordeal. Without it, he would have sunk with the ship and the rest of his family. However, he shared this lifeboat with a full grown tiger, which was established earlier on that it is symbolic of Pi's mind. Naturally, the lifeboat therefore is a symbol of faith. It is on the course of the ocean, which is the hardships in life and religion. It does not have much ability to steer itself, except for the guidance of the oars. It is subject to follow the waves of the ocean, and hopefully end on this journey on shore in safety.
Algae island
Representation of reality
close reading
passage #1
passage #2
rating of novel
Pi describes the island him and Richard Parker encounter as "carnivorous" (94) after discovering human teeth in the leaves of a tree. The island is therefore representative of the commercialism in society (newdream.org). Humans are absorbed by material goods, whether it be producing them or purchasing them. This is life lacking God and religion. We are literally consumed by the obsession for materialistic possession, just as the island consumed its inhabitants eventually. Although a materialistic life is pleasing initially, it destroys us. The meerkats are representative of humans, who are mindlessly falling into line of this lifestyle.
"It was a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in." (11)
"My life is like a memento mori painting from European art..." (5)
"Do you hear this whistle? TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! You heard right. Swim, swim!" (165)
"There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God as if it was their ultimate reality." (70)
"Life on a lifeboat isn't much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn't be more simpler, nor the stakes higher."
But I don't insist. I don't mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both. (1.4.14)
I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted to doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. (1.7.21)
This is an example of a hyperbole, and is a quote said by Mamaji when describing the pool Pi was named after. It expresses the love that Mamaji has for the pool, which extends onto Pi. Thus, it develops the relationship between Pi and Mamaji from more than just a mentor, but similar to a loving father-figure.
This quote is not only an allusion, but a simile as well. Memento mori means "remember that you will die", and the painting signifies mortality (schmoop.com). This indicates that events from his life only serve as a reminder of his death. He then says that he mocks the skull, signifying that he does not believe in death. Could this have been because he survived whatever tragedy he faced earlier on? This comparison highlights a developing theme in this novel: mortality.
This quote from the novel said by Pi to Richard Parker is an example of onomatopoeia. The sound of a whistle is represented by "TREEEEEE!". Even reading this passage, readers can hear the shrillness of a whistle in this simple word. This offers a bit of comic relief, so readers can settle down from the particularly gruesome events that took place earlier on.
This quote is an example of a simile. Pi is questioning whether he is similar to the people who have found their one sole purpose in life to be dedicated to God. Is this a life that he wishes to pursue? This shows sign of character development, as Pi finds more respect for religion on his spiritual journey.
This quote is a simile, comparing the end of a chess to Pi's life out at sea on a lifeboat. Pi is philophizing his journey as a shipwreck survivor. In the end game of chess, most of the game (as expected) has already been played and most of the chess pieces aregone. This is similar to the fact that the majority of the inhabitants of the Tsimtsum ship have died, leaving only a few survivors. The rest are left to battle for their lives. These words demonstrate to readers the danger Pi faces, and that he is completely aware that he could die if he doesn't play his chess pieces correctly.
Life of Pi
was described as a story that would "make you believe in God." (3) However, some readers may find difficulty in linking together two incommensurables. How do animals have anything to do with God? To understand this connection, we must first remember all the projections that Martel had made in humans onto the animal characters. Pi's father stated this simply in a painting on a wall behind the zoo's ticket booth: "Do you know which is the most dangerous animal in the zoo? An arrow pointed to a curtain to be pulled, behind which was a mirror" (34). Pi also says, "The obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything is the bane not only of theologians but of zoologists" (34). We view animals with the characteristics, such as a tiger being powerful and mighty, a hyena being savage and merciless, an orangutan being maternal and caring, a zebra being vulnerable and exotic. However, we make these connections but do not see these characteristics that are derived from ourselves. So how does this tie into God? Does that mean God is merely a projection of human characteristics? The fact that it is a matter of projection does not deem it as not being realistic. Our brutal barbaric side leaves us in the presence of civilization, the same as our spirituality leaves us in the presence of a narrow mind. With the animals being symbolic of human traits, the ocean representing the turmoils of life, the lifeboat being faith, and the island symbolizing a materialistic life without belief, the story of Pi's survival is no longer just a story of survival out at sea. It becomes a spiritual journey, and a story of rebirth. It is a story of a boy who learned of the significance of religion.
With ideas such as the "American Dream", fascism and commercialism (newdream.org) existing, it is hard to find time to keep in touch with our own spirituality. Science and technology continue to make advances to better explain the world that we live in, and we are gradually finding ourselves losing faith in God. Martel, through Life of Pi, teaches readers the importance of religion and spirituality to live a complete life. Readers must let go of some of their rationality and allow suspension of disbelief to continue on fruitfully. Having hope in a higher power gives us a sense of safety, which is much better than suspecting that there is nothing out their beyond our mortal world. Pi says about the number of pi, "In that eusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge." (27). Religion and God is something beyond what the conscious and unconscious mind can understand. Martel's telling of Pi's time out at sea encourages readers to allow religion to surpass the conscious mind (the logical side) and to stand above reason.
literary devices
"But one thing is clear: atman seeks to realize Brahman, to be united with the Absolute, and it travels in this life on a pilgrimage where it is born and dies, and is born again, and dies again, and again, and again, until it manages to shed the sheaths that imprison it here below." (53-54).
These words are said by Pi when explaining his experience being a Hindu. It is one of the many examples of the usage of repetition in this novel. Repetition emphasizes the purpose of the quote. This passage highlights the idea of life and death, displaying Pi's belief in the continuation of life that Hinduism preaches that eventually leads to paradise. This portion of the novel serves the purpose of showing readers what part of each religion (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam) Pi finds most appealing. Although these religions appear very different, they share common characteristics; for example, as shown in this passage, the cyclic view of life.
thematic statement
Believing is the most beautiful act a human can commit, and wasting this gift is to live in suffering and darkness.
The Colour
The colour orange is symbolic of hope and survival. There were many things that aided Pi's survival, including a life jacket, a buoy, a whistle, Orange Juice the orangutan and of course, a tiger. Towards the end of the novel, when Pi describes his new life in Canada, readers are introduced to his new family. His daughter Usha is said to be "holding an orange cat in her arms" (92). Again, the symbolism of orange is being repeated. Readers are given a sense of relief that Pi finally gets his happy ending after the traumatizing events he endured. This cat also reminds readers of the orange tiger that kept Pi sane for two hundred and twenty-seven days at sea.
"It was the first sentient being I had ever killed. I was now killer. I was now as guilty as Cain." (47)
Pi says this after killing a flying fish, alluding to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Cain was jealous of his brother, and this jealousy eventually led to the murder of Abel. This demonstrates Pi's lasting commitment to Christianity, as well as the tremendous innocence and guilt he possesses. Readers, from this passage, understand his fear being out on the water and that he believes himself to not be suited for survival. He relies on faith and prayer to absolve for the sin of taking the flying fish's life. This is character development for Pi, as readers see how truly kind-hearted Pi is.
Pi believes that zoos provide wild animals a much more comfortable lifestyle. Everything they could ever need is provided to them, so it is nearly impossible to suffer. The need for hunting is eliminated, as well as the fear from predator-prey relationships. The same applies to religion. He says that people are blinded by the illusion that religion is constricting, similarly to zoos. However, they don't see the comfort and sanctuary that it offers. Religion serves to keep people feeling safe. This can also be said about Pi's two stories of his time out on sea. The Japanese officials believe him to be trapped by the imagination of the animals on the lifeboat, however he feels much more free this way. Everything that he needs to explain his story is provided by the animals, and it is conceived in a much less gruesome manner.
Pi was educated in both science and religion, and understands both sides. However, he disagrees with agnosticism. Pi, in this quote, refers to both the garden of Gethsemane and Christ's death on the cross. Gethsemane was the place that Jesus prayed in his final moments of life, before being betrayed by Judas. The Bible describes Jesus' suffering and sorrow at Gethsemane so intense, he sweat blood. There were moments where he wished this tremendous task could be given to someone else, but he knew the will of God would not commence (differentspirit.org). Even Christ doubted his father on the cross, so Pi believes that we are allowed to have doubts as well. However, if we are consumed with doubt, our lives are as useless as "choosing immobility as a means of transportation" (21). This passage develops Pi's character, showing him as someone of great strength, knowledge, and passion. It highlights the theme of belief in something being the best philosophy to follow, whether it's believing there is nothing or in anything.
Life of Pi was definitely one of the best books I have ever read. Many times I have found myself in disputes with agnostics, but I am nowhere near as knowledgeable or passionate as Pi is. However, after reading this novel, I have found more faith in myself than I ever thought possible. This story was so layered and contained many different interpretations. It was never clear which one was correct, but perhaps that is the point that the author is trying to convey. Because of its rich language, multiple layers, and powerful lesson, I rate this novel four out of five stars. I didn't provide the last star simply because I'm not strong-stomached when it comes to brutal death.
Martel, Yann.
Life of Pi
. New York: Harcourt Inc., 2001. Print.

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. Dir. James Cameron. 20th Century Fox, 1997.

Forrest Gump
. Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise. 1994. Film.
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