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Life of Pi: A Close Reading Seminar
Transcript of Life of Pi: A Close Reading Seminar
I struggled to shore and fell upon the sand. I looked about. I was truly alone, orphaned not only of my family, but now of Richard Parker, and nearly, I thought, of God. Of course, I wasn’t. This beach, so soft, firm and vast, was like the cheek of God, and somewhere two eyes were glittering with pleasure and a mouth was smiling at having me there.
After some hours a member of my own species found me. He left and returned with a group. They were six or seven. They came up to me with their hands covering their noses and mouths. I wondered what was wrong with them. They spoke to me in a strange tongue. They pulled the lifeboat onto the sand. They carried me away. The one piece of turtle meat I had brought from the boat they wrenched from my hand and threw away.
I wept like a child. It was not because I was overcome at having survived my ordeal, though I was. Nor was it the presence of my brothers and sisters, though that too was very moving. I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape.
“the cheek of God”
When Pi refers to the beach as “the cheek of God”, he is using religious imagery to enhance the feeling of salvation generated by the conclusion of his 227-day ordeal at sea. Soft, sensitive and tender, cheeks are often kissed as a way of showing affection. Similarly, Pi feels so much affection for this land that he gives it a divine label, creating an atmosphere of elation brought on by the supernatural. Pi draws a parallel between his love for God and his love for the beach, giving the impression that he believes God to be present in the whole earth. This speaks to the strength of Pi's faith, contributing to the religious themes of this novel. It is remarkable that he should continue to believe that God is omnipresent when he has felt so alone for such a long time; it seemed as though God had abandoned him, letting him float through the Pacific for so many months. Nevertheless, Pi feels as though God has guided him all the way to his tender cheek of salvation on the coast of Mexico.
Atmospheric, Thematic and Character Development
The use of short sentences in the second paragraph of this passage reflects the choppy nature of Pi's thoughts at the time of his rescue. These brief snippets of text lack complexity, just as Pi's memory has not retained many details about his rescue. The lack of flow between the sentences suggests that he might have been fading in and out of consciousness as the locals carried him away. The use of short sentences is a storytelling technique employed by Pi, who is shown to deeply value good stories. Therefore, one might conclude that Pi is only using this technique for effect, and not because his consciousness was truly waning. This theory is based on Pi's philosophy of not missing “the better story” (Martel 70). Pi believes strongly in the importance of storytelling, which is one of the main themes of the novel. Therefore, he uses short sentences to evoke the image of a man whose consciousness is fading.
Plot, Character and Thematic Development
Pi's statement that the Mexicans had to wrench the putrefying turtle meat out of his hand says a great deal about his will to live. The word “wrenched” denotes something quite forceful, which indicates that Pi was clutching the flesh quite tightly. For Pi to be capable of such force after spending so much time at sea is quite remarkable. It speaks to his undying will to live, which is a theme present throughout the novel. This turtle meat, which he so forcefully grasps, symbolizes his life; he has been holding onto it for a long time, and feels determined not to give it up. This symbolism is only made possible by the strong denotation of the word “wrenched”, which allows the power and resilience of Pi's will to live to be emphasized. A word with weaker connotations such as “took” would not have conveyed the appropriate strength, and would have entirely neglected the beautiful symbolism that ties this passage to one of the novel's most enduring themes.
Character and Thematic Development
Saying that things must be given “meaningful shape”, Pi echoes the creationist view that God has created all human beings with an individual sense of purpose. Here, Pi ties together two of the novel's most important themes: the importance of storytelling and the nature of religious belief. Storytelling, at the core, is the shaping of ideas to form a story, and religious belief is something which shapes the mundane and ordinary into something more meaningful. He believes that one's life can be given meaningful shape if it is viewed as a gift from God rather than as a mere accident of science. This story is being written for a 21st-century audience, and rates of religious participation are currently in free-fall across the developed world. Perhaps Martel's choice to convey that things must be given “meaningful shape” (an implicit association between religion and an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose) is his way of promoting a religious lifestyle among his readers.
Thematic Development and Interpretation of Context
Martel, Yann. 2001. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2012. 316-17. Print.
Life of Pi: A Novel.
thank you for your time.
This passage connects all three of the novel's most prominent themes: man’s enduring will to live, the importance of storytelling, and the nature of religious belief. Pi's tight grasp on the turtle meat symbolizes his resolve not to die, and his comment about “meaningful shape” suggests that he believes the world is best viewed through eyes that accept the truth of religious stories. In this passage, the reader also learns of Pi’s profound reverence for his tiger companion, on whom he relied heavily to survive his ordeal, despite him being a figment of Pi’s imagination. The unwavering strength of Pi’s faith is also demonstrated by his use of religious imagery when he lands on the beach. In this passage, the novel's major themes and ideas come together, setting the stage for a truly eye-opening conclusion.
Development of Three Major Themes, Plot and Character
Having spent 227 days marooned at sea with Richard Parker, Pi finally washes up on the west coast of Mexico. Pi clambers out of the lifeboat and collapses onto the beach. He reflects on God's role in his safe arrival, and describes being rescued by locals. Pi is happy to have reached land, but feels utterly abandoned after Richard Parker's sudden, unsentimental departure.
Pi reaches land, is rescued by Mexicans