Chapter-by-Chapter Commentary & Summary

by Zak Ahmed Uddin

This chapter is a free excerpt from Quicklet on Yann Martel's Life of Pi.

Author's Note

The author explains he is travelling in India again to get inspiration after the failure of his current project and the poor reception of his last two books. In the former French colony of Pondicherry, he has a chance meeting with an older man called Francis Adirubasamy who tells him of a Mr. Patel, a migrant in the author's native Canada. Intrigued, the author follows up the lead and contacts Patel in Canada, who agrees to speak to the author. The first meeting concludes with the author deciding to write Patel's story in his “own words,” and stating that any inaccuracies in the final version are the author’s own.The author is based on Martel, who has said that he started musing on the idea for Life in Pi in India. Like the book's author, Martel published two poorly-received books before his successful third novel. 

However, the reader must remember that Martel is writing himself as a character. He is the author, but is he trustworthy? The word "inaccuracies" is arguably used euphemistically here to mean "poetic license". Given the nature of what proceeds, how can the reader distinguish the inaccuracies? And why should they? Life of Pi plays around with fact and fiction, suggesting that the best stories can be both fantastical and true. He acknowledges the fictional Patel and the real-life novelist Moacyr Scliar for their help in writing the novel. The non-fictional nature of the account is emphasised by Martel insisting that Pi tells the story in his own words. However, Martel does this by writing through what he imagines is Pi’s perspective.

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Author's Note

The author explains he is travelling in India again to get inspiration after the failure of his current project and the poor reception of his last two books. In the former French colony of Pondicherry, he has a chance meeting with an older man called Francis Adirubasamy who tells him of a Mr. Patel, a migrant in the author's native Canada. Intrigued, the author follows up the lead and contacts Patel in Canada, who agrees to speak to the author. The first meeting concludes with the author deciding to write Patel's story in his “own words,” and stating that any inaccuracies in the final version are the author’s own.The author is based on Martel, who has said that he started musing on the idea for Life in Pi in India. Like the book's author, Martel published two poorly-received books before his successful third novel. 

However, the reader must remember that Martel is writing himself as a character. He is the author, but is he trustworthy? The word "inaccuracies" is arguably used euphemistically here to mean "poetic license". Given the nature of what proceeds, how can the reader distinguish the inaccuracies? And why should they? Life of Pi plays around with fact and fiction, suggesting that the best stories can be both fantastical and true. He acknowledges the fictional Patel and the real-life novelist Moacyr Scliar for their help in writing the novel. The non-fictional nature of the account is emphasised by Martel insisting that Pi tells the story in his own words. However, Martel does this by writing through what he imagines is Pi’s perspective.



Chapters 1-6: Toronto and Pondicherry

Pi is now recounting his past to the author but without giving away what it is that has made him so deeply unhappy with life. We learn about his years at Toronto University, where he was a careful and dedicated student of zoology and religion. His thesis was on Isaac Luria’s cosmogony theory. Luria’s Cosmogony is a major foreshadowing of the main event in the novel. The Kabbalist theorised in the sixteenth century that God expanded to make room for the universe, in a process called Tsimstum (similar to the name of the cargo ship that sinks). Luria imagined that light arrived in five vessels afterwards. The vessels break, with God turning the newly combined sparks of light and matter into five figures. We understand reality through those five figures, which translate into dimensions. The crash of the vessel leaves Pi with five figures on the boat (the hyena, the orangutan, the zebra, the tiger and himself) through which he understands his own reality.

Pi reveals he was named after his close family friend Francis Adirubasamy’s (called Mamaji) favourite pool in Paris - the Piscine Molitor. Adirubasamy taught Pi to swim as his parents were not keen on the sport. Pi’s description of learning to swim is needed for us to believe that he can manage the violent conditions at sea later on in the novel. He compares Adirubasamy to his father who is afraid of the water yet romanticises it. He also notes that the former is a great story-teller, who “remembers” instead of dreaming like his father. Here again, the line between fiction and fact are blurred. The best stories are the ones which are the most fantastical, he implies.

He describes growing up in a zoo and how the animals are happier in the zoos where they have routine. He compares the modern-day perception of zoos and religions, arguing that they are feared because of misconceptions about freedom. He says: “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” Routine is a running theme throughout the novel. Life in the zoo is compared to the life of humans in a civilised society. Pi speculates that animals in the zoo would not run away if they could, because their universe in the zoo is so perfectly ordered. He asks: “If a man, the boldest and most intelligent of creatures, won’t wander from place to place, a stranger to all, beholden to none, why would an animal which is by temperament, much more conservative?” He criticises the romantic idea that animals crave freedom, when freedom in the wild is so fraught with terror and necessity. He compares this misguided conception of freedom to that which plagues religion now -that freedom can exist outside of a set of rituals and faith.

At this point, we are introduced the theme of territoriality which is crucial for believing that a tiger and a human can share a boat together. Martel uses the zoological concepts as metaphors for the human condition. We can see this in action when he "trains" his classmates to start calling him Pi instead of his insulting nickname “Pissing.” Whenever he was asked to say his name by the teacher at roll call, he would get up and write a Pi symbol on the blackboard.

Martel reinforces the idea that humans and animals are similar: all can be trained. Pi later trains Richard Parker to stay in his territory on the lifeboat. But his choice of name is also significant. Piscine means swimming pool - the world of structure and order loved by by his Mamaji. In contrast, the mathematical symbol Pi represents an infinite sequence of numbers. The teenage Pi suggests the mathematical symbol is a source of mystery for rational scientists, hinting to the reader the allegorical nature of the novel.


Chapters 7-20:

We are introduced to Pi’s biology teacher Satish Kumar who happens to be an Atheist Communist. The zoo again represents something else - for Kumar, it most displays the truth of science and evolution. The teacher goes regularly to buoy up his belief in science. Without knowing it, the atheist teacher is also showing commitment to a ritual like those that Pi will later commit to in the novel. Most importantly, Pi states that atheists have more in common with believers than agnostics. Pi expresses his hatred of agnostics who are unwilling to take a leap of faith either way. He says: “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to using immobility as a means of transportation.”

The zoo represents different ways of looking at the world to the characters. Pi’s father forces Pi and Ravi to watch a starved tiger eat a goat, demonstrating that the tiger is untrustworthy and man’s greatest enemy. This follows a scene where we learn that humans are most responsible for deaths at the zoo. Pi later describes this as a formative incident where he learnt that an “animal is an animal, essentially and practically removed from us.” While it is common knowledge in the zoo that humans are the most dangerous animals, Pi’s father is keen to show that animals must be feared even when they have been tamed. He wants to rid his sons of their ease in a zoo, where animals do not express their wild nature. The show in the cage traumatises the young Pi and his brother. In these chapters, he warns against anthropomorphism - the lens through Pi sees the creatures.

Pi explains about how territoriality is key in maintaining peace between animals and humans. He lays out how animals need a set amount of space in the zoo to feel comfortable and safe from harm. However, he contradicts his earlier statement about the necessity of confines to enjoy freedom when he notes that there are animals who always want to escape. Crucially, Pi calls it a “measure of madness” which inexplicably moves the animal and is necessary for adaptation.

This consideration of territoriality relates to the idea - dismissed by Pi - that religion and zoos are inimical to true freedom. Territoriality can also be limiting when it comes to taking a leap of faith - Pi notes that it is only fear which drives creatures to try to escape from their confines. He also notes how social ranking governs the animal’s behaviour and loyalty to their trainer, drawing a parallel to how people of different religions perceive their relationship to God.

He becomes friends with Father Martin and reveals how Christianity makes him reassess what it is to be God-like. “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.” Pi is both fascinated and repulsed by Christianity and its stories. While he loves Father Martin, he cannot believe that Jesus is meant to stand alongside the Hindu gods whose stories are fantastical feats. The theme of storytelling returns- what Pi cannot understand is that Christianity possesses one story which it returns to again and again. But the more he learns about the decidedly human-seeming figure of Jesus, the “less” he is able to leave him. Most importantly, Pi escapes the idea that faith is fully expressed by ritual. He has to take a “leap of faith” himself to believe that Jesus was son of God.

Aged 15, Pi discovers a love of Islam, after meeting a Muslim baker also called Satish Kumar who starts praying in his bakery. Pi is fascinated by Islam because of its “calisthenic communion” with God. It is also the religion that allows him to see that God is everywhere, awakening him to the world around him. He is particularly pleased that the baker and his biology teacher share the same name. The parallel between the zoo and religion and the ways in which they enable freedom is embodied by the similarity of these otherwise very different figures.

Chapters 21-36:

The author begins to reassess his own attitude towards to life, while thinking about Pi’s approach to living. Pi tells him he despises agnostics who are unwilling to take a leap of faith “either way”. We see the author noting down two phrases used by Patel: “dry yeastless factuality” and “the better story”. The terms again relate to storytelling, one of the main themes of the novel. They recur in the next chapter - where we learn what they mean - and towards the end of the novel. “The better story” is about making the choice to tell a good story, whether it be through living it (for example, Mamaji’s swimming) or through representing experience in the way which imbues it with meaning (Pi’s traumatic experience on the boat is made into a fascinating survival tale). Stories can make the most painful of experiences worthwhile.

Pi reveals his secret was discovered when all three religious mentors descended on him at the beach while he was with his parents saying that he was their charge. He is unable to choose between the stories of all three religions when asked - he is told by Father Martin, the pandit, and Satish the baker that he cannot subscribe to three religions. However, he appeals to the figure of Gandhi who called for peace between religions and embarrasses the bickering adults who insist he must choose. Comically, they are motioning in unison while disagreeing with each other. Pi shows his faith through committing to the rituals of all three - he buys a prayer mat and insists on being baptised. Again, ritual is vital for making the leap in faith that he will need later. His family are unsure how to handle his new religious zeal - his mother forces a copy of Robinson Crusoe by 18th century novelist Daniel Defoe upon him.

Pi’s fate is strikingly similar to that of Robinson Crusoe, who also lands on a remote island after having taught himself survival skills and trained animals. Like Crusoe, Pi also keeps a diary. The intertextual reference also presages Pi’s hallucination of meeting a cannibal, like Robinson does. However, the book is used to direct Pi away from religion, as if to teach him that he is alone in the world.

Pi’s parents say that they want to move the family to Canada because it is too politically unstable in India. This is the first upheaval in Pi’s so far orderly life. His father decides to uproot his young family following the news that Tamil Nadu government has been brought down by Gandhi. The zoo again is a microcosm of the world, demonstrating the working of universal laws - Pi notes how the zoo, an image of tamed nature, is sustained by a network of institutions such as parliamentary government and freedom of speech. The fragility of this network is apparent as the government does what it wants. The author reveals that Pi has a young wife called Meena, who he has not mentioned earlier.

The unnamed author is shocked to discover that Pi has a young wife, but realises that signs of the couple’s cohabitation are all around him. He realises that Pi has learnt to hide what is most precious to him - another indication that something tragic has happened to him in his youth. The author is again later surprised to find out that Pi has two young children named Nikhil or Nick and Usha - showing again that the older Pi is circumspect about the most important things in his life. Here we understand more of Pi’s character as someone who has previously lost too much and holds onto what he has got.

Returning to Pi's childhood narrative, we learn that the Atheist Communist teacher who possesses the same name as the Muslim baker meet briefly at the zoo. The two are equally stunned by the zebra, which they have both seen for the first time.

This is another ironic parallel. They possess the same first and second name, symbolising how for Pi, believers and Atheists are two sides of the same coin. In the section where they meet the zebra, both of them express their awe in terms specific to their belief. The science teacher praises engineering, while the baker believes the animal is a reward for using your reason in believing in Allah. The following chapter (32) starts with the line: “There are many animals coming together in surprise living arrangements,” a sly reference to the connection between the Kumars as well as a nod ahead to later events. Pi considers zoomorphism, which requires the imaginative leap of sharing and empathising with others.

In contrast to anthropomorphism, zoomorphism allows animals which would normally be in a hierarchy live together. It requires faith in similarity, while perceiving others and different species in one’s own image is deceptive. Pi notes it is the former “living arrangement” which requires a measure of madness.

The process of moving the zoo is compared to moving a city, again suggesting the idea of the zoo as a microcosm for human life. The family put the animals on the cargo ship named Tsimtsum on June 21, 1977.


Chapters 37-42: The Pacific Ocean

The ship has sunk and Pi is on a lifeboat, with only the Royal Bengal tiger Richard Parker in sight. He instantly regrets willing the animal to get on board when he realises how dangerous it is- and throws himself into the sea. “Something in me did not want to give up on life, was unwilling to let go, wanted to fight until the very end.” This drive for life is what makes young Pi urge Richard Parker to join him on the lifeboat. We see this drive throughout the journey and in the other occupants of the boat. At this stage, Pi is unwilling to take the imaginative leap and instead throws himself overboard, through fear.

The events seem incomprehensible - the cargo ship has been floating along before disaster struck. Pi wants to see the storm one night but finds himself unable to return to his family below deck. He realises the ship is in trouble when he sees the crewmen gathering around on the deck above the lifeboat. He is thrown overboard, only realising later that it is because the crewmen want the hyena on the lifeboat to sate its hunger first before they make their escape.

We return to the present on the lifeboat, and Pi cannot see the tiger. There is only a zebra with a broken leg. It is joined by a hyena, and then the orangutan Orange Juice which floats up on a raft of bananas entangled in a net.

“Had I considered my prospects in light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten.” Pi sits on the lifeboat, too frightened to see whether Richard Parker is hiding there. He reasons to himself the tiger cannot be hiding itself when there are creatures to eat, such as the hyena (whose violent nature is remarked upon) and the innocent, beautiful zebra.

Orange Juice is compared to the Virgin Mary - like Pi’s earlier vision of Mary, the sight of her is reassuring. She also represents Pi’s real mother, who is likely to have drowned at sea. When she is found looking out onto the sea, Pi thinks she is mourning her lost children. She had two baby orangutans which she had given birth to at the zoo. Later on he recalls the orangutan grooming him as a child, in order to test her own maternal skills. Pi only realises his own loss after the hyena, which has been running amok on the ship, attacks the zebra.

This puts an end to Pi’s dream of zoomorphism, where the animals on board the lifeboat come to live together as a perfect family. It is the ultimate test of what he had described in theory earlier - but it cannot be realised in practice. He feels the violence of the loss of his parents and brother and begins to mourn them.

The title Life of Pi suggests that Martel sees the journey here as a bildungsroman, which translates into “formation story”. Here we see Pi being alone and forced to struggle without his family - he is being forced to come of age. The boat journey and its deprivations may be an extended metaphor for becoming an adult. We have some insight into Pi’s youth and see that he is an unusual character, isolated from his classmates and his boisterous brother Ravi. These fears about youth are subsumed into this central part of the novel, where we see Pi up against his first real obstacles in life.

Chapters 43-57:

Over the course of the next few days adrift, the hyena attacks the zebra and then Orange Juice. Pi is ready to throw himself at the mercy of the hyena, but realises that the tiger is still asleep under the tarpaulin. Pi sees the hyena destroy his makeshift family and decides that he wants to sacrifice himself, rather than be chased. He compares the decapitated Orange Juice to Christ - the second time she has been described as a religious figure. However, his sighting of the tiger and its immensity makes him suddenly realise there is a force greater than the hyena. It also makes him aware that he is not completely alone now on the ship. We can see how the arrangement between Richard Parker and Pi helps both of them survive - having something to fear is almost a motivation to live.

These chapters again reveal how Pi is becoming an adult. He is seeing the real horror of nature for the first time, and is shocked after having grown up in a zoo. Will his naivete last? The drama on the lifeboat also shows the persistence of life, which continues outside of civilisation. Pi then relates how Richard Parker was captured as a cub with his family. There is an administrative error and the tiger’s nickname “Thirsty” is mixed up with that of the hunter Richard Parker, when the animal is sent to the zoo. The name Richard Parker again raises the theme of zoomorphism. We learn that when he was a cub, he was more keen to drink rather than eat a goat used as bait to capture a panther terrorising a small village. It is hinted that Richard Parker may have a gentle nature.

Pi initially uses the knowledge he conveys about maintaining a distance between the animal and the human, giving the former the illusion of freedom to escape. He begins to act when he knows that he has something to fear - reminding us of how important the leap of faith is which he mentions earlier in the novel.

Pi realises that the tiger can swim and drink saline water so will not stay away. It growls prusten at him, signalling that its intentions are benevolent. Pi decides he can train him.

Prusten is a noise tigers to make to show that they do not mean to harm. The unexpected noise puts Pi somewhat at ease. He realises he can train the creature. In the context of the boat, the training is not an assertion of superiority but more a negotiation. Martel is suggesting again that humans and animals have much in common, even though they have to see each other as fellow animals to survive. The rapprochement between the two signals the start of a complicated relationship which develops through the pair copying each other.

Chapters 58-62:

Pi starts reading his survivor manual. Despite being a vegetarian and a pacifist, he ends up killing his first fish, realising he cannot survive otherwise. He also marks out his territory after seeing Richard Parker spray urine on the tarpaulin. This section of the novel shows another set of rituals. Rituals are vital in maintaining the veneer of ordinary life and civilisation whether it be for religious purposes or at home. However, the routines aboard the ship truly take Pi out of himself. He is forced to overcome his aversion to eating animals by killing one himself. This is a test of his own belief. We see him adapt from an unlikely killer of animals to one who realises he needs to kill to survive - just like any other animal. This is reinforced by the fact that his first catch appears to happen completely by an accident of nature. A shoal of flying fish land in his ship, literally pelting him and Richard Parker. Despite using man-made devices such as the solar stills and the leather shoe, Pi cannot completely divorce himself from nature.

He also engages in animal-like behaviour to communicate with Richard Parker. He marks out his own territory with urine and also sniffs the animal’s faeces. Pi has finally succeeded with his training when he is able to ward the tiger off even with food in his hand - however, he also realises his dominance comes at the cost of acting (eating) like an animal himself.

Pi realises he is slowly morphing into an animal himself. Ironically, he is aware that he has lost self-consciousness when he eats, tearing apart the food he has killed. Interestingly, Pi is reassured when Richard Parker is bitten by a mako shark, which Pi has given to him for food. The companions are both learning something new.

Chapters 80-95:

Pi loses his raft and the supplies on it in an unexpected storm - he only manages to keep his orange training whistle. Thunder and lightning appear to be like omens to Pi - indeed, a tanker appears the next day. It passes them by and he and Richard Parker seem to exchange looks of understanding. The passing of the tanker starts off the most stressful passage of Pi’s journey. The tanker seems to hail the death of all hope for the two, but Pi’s animation and then disappointment brings him and Richard Parker together in a moment of what seems like mutual understanding. Akin to Pi’s exchange with Orange Juice earlier, the moment consolidates the theme of “odd living arrangements”.

The failure of human forms of communication is reinforced in this section. Pi is unable to grab the attention of the tanker with his flares. Feeling completely hopeless, he writes and dates a message in a bottle which he casts into the Pacific. He later tries to write his diary and finds that his pen has run out (he had earlier feared that his paper would run out first). Later on, he is unable to say goodbye to Richard Parker, which pains him the most.

Pi goes blind because of dehydration and starts hearing voices. After realising it is not Richard Parker speaking to him, he recognises a French accent. The voice confesses it has eaten a woman and a man. The sailor wants to cannibalise him, and Pi only regains his sight in time to see the tiger eat the unknown man. This episode is foreshadowed by his mother’s reference to Robinson Crusoe. Pi realises he is going blind after seeing equally dehydrated Richard Parker rubbing at his eyes. Later on, when speaking to the officials, Pi insists the episode was real as he wakes up with the corpse of the cannibal on the lifeboat. It also backs up the alternative version of events presented to the officials.

On the lifeboat, he initially thinks he is speaking to Richard Parker, but is surprised to find that the cook has a French accent. The cannibal initially offers hope - Pi is desperate for human companionship. Despite having his life threatened by the cannibal, who hints at his involvement with the death of “the orangutan,” he is devastated when Richard Parker kills the cook.

Pi arrives at an island. He and Richard Parker eat and drink to their fill, boosting their strength and learning how to move again. Pi observes that there is something strange going on - there are dead fish washing up in the freshwater pools and then sucked back in again. He discovers a tree with fruit containing human teeth and realises that the island is carnivorous.

The island again momentarily presents salvation. Like the cannibal, the threat is not immediate. The island is completely self-sufficient. However, Richard Parker realises that the island will slowly sap his will to live, and eventually kill him with its acidic algae. The novel contrasts the deceptive luxury of the island and the turbulence of the sea. Pi’s decision to throw himself at the mercy of the sea pays off, but it also reflects his willingness to have faith and go for the “mad measure.” Rather than opt for a living death like an agnostic, it is better to be tested - a message which is reinforced repeatedly by Martel.

He lands on the shore of a Mexican town and is taken to hospital by the locals. Richard Parker leaves him without a word. Pi arrives at the town and Richard Parker immediately disappears, the tiger’s arrival unremarked upon because Pi is the centre of attention. Pi immediately rues not being able to say goodbye, a fact that he mentions earlier in the novel. Communication once again fails him, because he cannot send Richard Parker off and he cannot speak to the locals who deliver him to the hospital.


Chapters 96–100: Benito Juárez Infirmary, Tomatlán, Mexico

The interview with the Japanese Ministry of Transport officials who speak to Pi when he is in hospital is presented by Martel/the book’s author in transcript form, with translated parts in a different font. Both officials, who interview Pi at the hospital, are incredulous about Pi’s version of events, with Pi disproving their assertion that bananas cannot float. He also cannot persuade them about the island.

The presentation of the final chapter in transcript form is intended again to show that the story is non-fiction. Martel bookends the story with non-fiction forms - the author’s note and an official government transcript of Pi’s interview, aimed at discovering the cause of the disaster. Pi wants the officials to see that bananas can float in order to prove the story. If there is one thread of truth, the rest of the story has a chance. However, whether bananas can defy laws of nature becomes moot later because the officials choose the more fantastical story.

Pi says he will tell them a “better story” - he relates how the cook on the ship, a Chinese boy and his mother landed on the lifeboat too. The cook cannibalised the boy and then killed Pi’s mother. Pi attacks the chef - who shows no remorse but willingly surrenders - and ends up eating his remains. Pi then says he turned to God. Is this the true version of events? Pi gives this account when asked to tell another story. There are evident parallels between Pi’s mother and gentle Orange Juice. The hyena is similar to the cook and the wounded zebra akin to the beautiful Chinese boy who becomes victim to the cook. The tiger is clearly Pi himself, taming his own nature which he sees a terrifying glimpse of when he succumbs to cannibalism himself.

Storytelling is shown to serve at least two functions: it protects people from traumatising events and it also makes life much richer. The deprivations of the ‘real’ version of events are too revealing about human nature. Throughout the novel, Pi seeks the richer experience, whether he is cooking food with rich, almost unpalatable spices or whether he is worshipping the gods of three different religions. Storytelling is also about moving forward - without Pi’s imagining of the animal companions, there would be no narrative and no rescue, as Pi would have been less likely to make it to shore.

When asked whether they prefer the other fantastical story, the officials respond positively. In their final report on the Tsimtsum case, they praise Pi’s story of survival with a tiger on board. Pi responds to the official’s statement that the story with the animals is the “better story” with the remark “so it is with God”. The end of the story again mixes up fact and fiction - Pi’s fantastical tale becomes the official version of events. The book ends with the disappearance of the author we see earlier, as he cedes authority to “non-fiction” which is in this case the elaborate tale of a man and a tiger surviving together on a lifeboat.

Key Character List

Piscine Molitor Patel

Piscine relates the story of his youth to our author, speaking now as a middle-aged man with two young children and a second-generation Indian wife. We see two sides to him. The author tells us he is a small man who speaks quickly and directly. He is also generous and insists that the author eats his overly-spiced food every time he comes over to his house to speak to him. Martel uses short interspersed chapters narrated by the author to take us into the present time and slowly reveal present-day Pi’s life. We know he is a despondent man because of his earlier (undisclosed) experiences, but it is important to see that he is now happy and has a full life. He still retains habits of storing things away, which hints at an earlier deprivation. But Pi in the present day is less important than young Pi.

In the chapters told through Pi’s perspective, we experience his brutal coming-of-age experience on the boat. The veracity of the story is already in question throughout - Pi loves stories. His embrace of all three religions is based on his love of their founding stories. Early on he questions the ultimate value of dry factuality. However, his faith is tested on his journey. Combined with the test of fate is his coming-of-age, where he is forced to fend for himself for the first time in his life. The travel across the Pacific sees Pi forced to make difficult faith-testing decisions and evaluate what freedom means to him outside of the zoo and by extension, society.

It is his faith that sustains him throughout his trials on the boat. He also finds himself assuming responsibility for Richard Parker which points to his burgeoning adulthood.

Richard Parker

Richard Parker is the name mistakenly given to a cub who is caught by the hunter of the same name. A clerical error sees cub being delivered to the zoo with his new anthropomorphic name. Having being raised in captivity, he is able to communicate in rudimentary ways with Pi - though the primary communication is about protecting territory. He is still an instinctual creature and while he provides companionship, he is also dangerous. Much of the mid-section of the novel sees Pi contending with sharing a boat with the 450-pound tiger, and managing his sleep and his eating around the great beast’s routine. However, his presence is crucial in motivating Pi to live - it is his ability to train the creature which gives him the confidence to face the inevitable obstacles on his journey back to land. He is also given the will to live by taking responsibility for the animal which gives him someone to protect, allowing him to momentarily forget his own woes and despair. He hunts food for Richard Parker and shares his water with the animal. The strange arrangement between the two is already made likely through the earlier chapters in the zoo, when Pi recounts tales of two species forming protective relationships.

The novel weaves together factual information about the Bengal tiger with his symbolic purposes- there is nothing cute and cuddly about the creature. But the tiger also represents Pi’s wilder instincts, which are given reign in a brief and terrifying episode which Pi sublimates through inventing this wild narrative and seeing himself as a tiger instead of a brutal man. Richard Parker eats the hyena, in the same way that Pi eats the cook who decapitates his mother in the “real” version of events.

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