“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Although I’ve only read one-third of the book, “Life of Pi” is proving to be an interesting, thought-provoking novel well-deserving of being the winner of the Man Booker Prize.  The first passage that caught my attention was no more than four pages in during Pi’s description of sloths. They survive by being so slow and unmoving that predators hardly even notice them. Of course, laziness is a helpful trait if you’re a sloth, but in the human world, it is often considered undesirable and associated with a lack of motivation. In fact, Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins in Christian moral tradition.

Now, consider Pi’s predicament.

A lover of all kinds of gods, Pi takes it upon himself to practice Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Evident by the encounter with three religious leaders and his parents, Pi’s habits are considered abnormal and mind boggling. Both sloths and Pi share a connection where their habits, although thought of to be strange or immoral by others, allow them to be more comfortable in their environment and get through hard times. Perhaps it can be taught through this example that judgement of whether something is “normal” or “right” cannot be determined solely by a single person, group, or perspective. Oftentimes we write something or someone off as a label because we cannot fathom the thought of how it would make sense. Through this narrow outlook we lose the larger knowledge that the world is not black and white and people are not skin and bone.

Yet another point I interpreted from the book was on page 6 during the illustration of death and its somewhat pitiful enchantment with life. The passage reads: “The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity–it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud”.

Death, in this light, can be easily compared to us. Impulsive and greedy with a liking for pretty things. This quote emphasizes the importance of exercising caution in one’s desires. If one reaches for something too aggressively, too quickly, or too eagerly without sensible restraint, then the object of desire will all too often slip from one’s grasp, like life “leaps over oblivion” and eludes death.

As for the writing style of the novel, I found it to be easy to follow and humorous at times. Even though the entire first third of the book is just Pi’s opinions on life, zoos, and religion, it’s refreshing to have your original beliefs challenged on subjects you instinctually form biases on, like the concept of “freedom” in the wild and captivity.

Also, I found Pi’s comparison of humans to animals quite intriguing throughout the first part. He often talks about human instincts, appearances, and habits as similar to those of animals. It’s definitely not hard to tell he was raised in a zoo-environment!

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11 responses to ““Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

  1. norakearns

    From what I have read in the first part of Life of Pi, Serena, I definitely agree with you on the novel’s worthiness of all the praise it has received. I’m actually a little mad at myself for not having read it before! In the first section, Martel explores multiple dogmas and lessons through intriguing little stories and descriptions. And even though so far it is not exactly action-packed or thrilling in the typical sense, these writings make Life of Pi very interesting and exciting.

    I noticed that Martel frequently incorporates anthropomorphic ideas in his writing. He does so in mentioning the sloth, and also in many descriptions of other zoo animals. On page 41 he writes, “if there is one thing an animal hates above all else it is the unknown.” This connects to what Serena mentioned about how man is often confused and quick to judge that which they do not understand. Just as an animal is afraid of new environments, people are afraid of new ideas that break the mold of traditional ways of thinking or acting. Such comparisons between animal and man are thought-provoking, and allow readers to understand man’s flaws in an accessible, yet accurate way.

    What I also loved about Life of Pi so far is the beautiful descriptive writing. While I sometimes believe trees and time are wasted on pages of long descriptions and flowery adjectives, I loved reading Martel’s descriptions of places in India, specifically the Pondicherry zoo. (Also, what a fun word to say! Pondicherry…) I think my favorite passages I have read so far are on pages 14 and 15, as Martel describes the zoo as “paradise on earth” then goes into depth writing about what his childhood around the zoo was like. Particularly when he illustrates the sunrises and sunsets at the zoo as “something so bright, loud, weird and delicate as to stupefy the senses,” I could close my eyes and almost experience that feeling. As someone who loves both creating and admiring art, my imagination is frequently filled with vivid images and scenes, and reading Martel’s description of the Pondicherry zoo gave me a beautiful paradise to imagine.

    Lastly, I was intrigued by Pi’s religious ventures. The religions Pi explores are all based upon writings and stories – in the Bible, the Torah, or the Quran. Part of what Pi seems to fall in love with about each religion are the stories and the beauty of the religion, rather than the rules of the religions themselves. He dislikes agnostics because they believe nothing can be known as to the existence of God or lack thereof, which Pi thinks is from a “lack of imagination.” I wonder if instead of being told that Christianity was about love, Pi was given the ten commandments, would he still have decided to become Christian? I’m actually curious if after he committed to all of these religions, he really committed to each one. If he actually went to church, synagogue, and mosque periodically and followed each religion’s doctrine. That, I think, would have been quite a challenge.

    Overall, I am thoroughly enjoying Life of Pi. I agree that it is thought-provoking yet humorous and fairly easy to follow, and I am all about accessible, enjoyable learning. I look forward to reading more and getting further into the plot of the story!

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like “Life of Pi”, which is quite the achievement if one considers the broad and expansive range of books I’ve read in my short lifetime. I find that many of the books I read veer towards repetitive and over-used formats that often make me groan in irritation. In fact, such books often make me feel irascible. However, Yann Martel manages to combine an unusual format, vivid vocabulary, and a fantastic story line to form a wonderfully well-put together book that does not make me feel quite so irascible. He also manages to introduce fascinating concepts and perspectives from the voice and view-point of his main character, Piscine Molitor Patel.

    One of the unique concepts he brings up is the idea of death and it’s relationship to life, as well as all it represents. The scene in which Pi describes Death as Serena has quoted, is seen as a selfish, greedy being that desires beyond a doubt the beauty and wonders that life possesses. It, in simpler terms, wants what it does not have. We do not know what comes after death, all we DO know is what occurs before and our behavior towards the concept of its passing. Many people have a tendency to fear death, but that raises the question, what do we exactly fear about it? Do we fear death for its mystery and its unpredictability? Humans, as a rule, generally don’t like what they do not know or understand. This understanding of the human fear of the unknown can explain Martel’s description of death. A description where death is portrayed as something disgusting and terrible, with a strong desire to steal life’s beauty. Martel may also be warning the reader of the danger of fearing the unknown and how that can cause certain judgments and opinions to be formed without fully understanding what it could mean. Is death really as cruel and greedy as Pi describes it to be? Perhaps life is the greedy one, to refuse to let go of the beauty and to share it with it’s brother. In fact, couldn’t life be viewed as the cruel one, for taunting Death with what it will never share?

    Pi’s father also seems to want to teach Pi the reality of his mortality when he shows the true, concealed brutality and power of each animal within the zoo, and attempts to remind Pi that the animals are just that, animals. He essentially tells Pi and his brother that the zoo animals and all animals in general do not have the humanity that differentiates us from being classified as animals. When Pi’s mother asked his father why he would show such a gruesome demonstration of a starving tiger eating a live bleating goat on page 45, he responds with, “Gita, my bird, it’s for their sake. What if Piscine had stuck his hand through the bars of the cage one day to touch the pretty orange fur? Better a goat than him, no?”. Pi’s father clearly wants to make sure that Pi does not ever forget the power that these creatures conceal with apparent sluggishness and domesticity. I agree that it is important for people, especially children, to understand how dangerous animals can be. However, I wonder at the methods Pi’s father uses in order to teach such a lesson. I’m not sure what I would have done instead, but a less severe and frightening warning may have been better for little Piscine.

    One of my favorite aspects of Martel’s writing style so far is the way he builds Piscine, or Pi’s, character. Each chapter so far has been part of a mini story of sorts, or perhaps better phrased as an anecdote. Indeed, Martel uses these anecdotes to show how certain aspects of Pi’s unique personality came to be, such as his name and why he practices three different religions. I find this method of developing characters much more satisfying and entertaining in contrast to the usual blunt descriptions, and also creates a depth that can be hard to find in many books. In the end, not only does Martel use much descriptive vocabulary, but also creates a character that is so believable and well explained that it isn’t difficult to understand and visualize all the other characters that partake in the story and the world Piscine lives in.

  3. After reading another quarter of the book, I find myself quite immersed within Pi’s fascinating journey through life. In fact, this particular segment of the book just begins the major event of his life, which is the moment when he’s on the boat with all the zoo animals to move with his family from familiar India to the mysterious land of Canada. While crossing the Pacific Ocean, the ship meets severe engine problems, which causes the boat to sink deep into the ocean during a fierce storm. As far as he can tell, Pi is the only human survivor from the wreck. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any food, resources, and has to stay on the lifeboat with several other animals, including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. I’m kind of curious to see how Pi will survive under such conditions, especially with a tiger sharing the boat.

    I also admire the author’s use of imagery to add suspense, feeling, and tone to the story. I have to agree with Nora, that Martel’s words can seem a bit too flowery at times, but for the most part helps to mold each scene in the story so that I truly am immersed within it. Additionally, Martel’s ability to describe each scene in such a manner helps to add to each character and make everything feel very real. I notice that he often uses metaphors and metaphors within the metaphors to create a vivid setting. An example of such a scene is when Pi describes the storm from his viewpoint on the ship. He states that, “Nature can put on a thrilling show. The stage is vast, the lightning dramatic, the extras are innumerable, and the budget for special effects is absolutely unlimited. What I had before me was a spectacle of wind and water, an earthquake of the senses, that even Hollywood couldn’t orchestrate” (128). This is my favorite scene because when reading it, I can clearly envision the fearsome storm and feel it as though I am standing right next to Pi, the splash of salty droplets hitting my face.

    I also love the way Martel structures and organizes his writing, which as far as I can tell, is quite unique. He seems to use a series of mini stories to explain a certain concept or idea, that will later help to add to the main event. Examples of the short stories he uses includes the story behind Pi’s strange name, how he became interested in three different religions, and the lesson about the frightening power of all animals. Pi’s fear towards the animals on the boat is explained by his father’s lesson about the dangers of animals and whenever he says God, the reader remembers that the word may reference any of the gods from all three of his religions. These short stories also allow Martel to develop his characters, particularly Pi, with an unusual depth and realism. I feel as though I’ve known Pi and his family personally for years, rather than through the words of a book.

    While I do enjoy the way that Martel structures the story through a series of short stories that build and add to the main event, I sometimes wonder if he overdoes it. Some of the “short” stories are actually surprisingly long, so it took a while before I finally got to the part where Pi gets on the ship. I think that while the mini stories are entertaining and help to explain certain aspects of the rest of the story, they can also be kind of distracting and occasionally unnecessary.

    All in all, I’m finding this book to be quite the enjoyable read and I’m glad I chose to read this book for the blog. I can also tell that “Life of Pi” is a well written book since I’m also curious to see what happens next and how Pi will manage to reach civilization once again.

  4. norakearns

    Part Two:
    This section definitely had a much more action-packed feel than the last, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Reading about Pi’s fight for survival kept me involved for several hours and I was tempted to just go ahead and finish the rest of the book in one sitting.

    I agree with Emi that the structure of the novel certainly contributes to its interest. I love how free-flowing and lacking of a strict format Life of Pi is, because reading does not feel forced or too steady. In fact, the writing feels almost conversational at times. I think this is because it is supposed to be Pi’s story as he tells it to a writer, who listens to him while Pi regales and educates him on his adventures with Richard Parker as well as his experiences with religion. As readers, we can feel like Pi is personally telling us his stories through this format, which I really appreciate.

    Along with format, I also found Martel’s use of symbolism and metaphor interesting. I remember from watching the movie that some were suspicious of Pi, believing that the animals he talked about being on the boat with were actually humans. I kept this in mind for a while as I read, remembering that Martel had used anthropomorphism in the previous section, frequently comparing animals to humans and revealing the similarities in their nature.

    I remembered as well that Martel writes about his frustration with man’s lack of imagination, and dislike for the abstract or inconcrete. He wants people to wonder and think for themselves, rather than just spelling out every idea for them. This might be the reasoning behind the symbolism of the animals, if they are supposed to be humans. Also, can you imagine how creepy and horrifying this story would be if all the animals on the boat were people, and they were fighting, eating each other, and battling over territory? Definitely not as accessible or interesting as Pi’s struggle to cohabitate with completely different walks of life. (Or as kid-friendly.)

    Through the animals, we can learn of our own behaviors. Through each creature we can see how humans might react in a similar situation, and what behaviors are acceptable or not. The hyena shows the merciless, violent fight to survive through eliminating our competitors. The zebra is the weakest, but still has the will to live beyond expectation. The orangutan conveys one who might withdraw in such a situation, but is nevertheless valiant when the time comes to fight the hyena. Richard Parker is the strongest, most fierce competitor, but is also moral and civilized. Pi is a bit of everything, I think.

    So far, I am really enjoying Martel’s writing and his communication of ideas, and find him to be a very creative writer. I hope the next section will be just as amazing!

  5. Serena Zhang

    I definitely agree with Emi’s comment on Martel’s descriptions of Pi’s journey and his view of the situation and surroundings. Even if I had not seen the movie already (which is an act usually frowned upon by book-enthusiasts), I would still be able to visualize the absolute desolateness and magnificence of the Pacific Ocean through Pi’s eyes. Another example of Martel’s imagery that stood out to me besides the quote Emi mentioned was the passage comparing the ocean to a city starting on page 175. As I am unashamedly taken to the city life and its bright, wonderful chaos, the illustration of the scene was especially breathtaking. The multicolored fish, the glowing plankton tantamount to the striking colors of outfits and handbags strutting the streets of downtown–all were wonderful reminders of the extravagant nightlife in a crowded intersection.

    On a more despairing note, Martel’s imagery hits you in a sickening jolt of reality at times. On page 127, upon reading the utter loss of Pi’s family and how much of a significant presence they were in his life, I suddenly felt a crushing sort of fear and remorse. I felt as if my mind was interconnected with Pi’s at the moment; it seemed as if the loss of a family member had actually happened. The loss of the advice of a father, the support and nurture of a mother, and the guidance of both was unfathomable while I was reading, and yet the possibility was so real from Pi’s narration that the pain came to life. Martel undoubtably makes my list of authors-most-likely-to-get-a-good-heart-wrenching-out-of-you.

    Now onto another subject entirely! As Nora mentioned, the usage of animals in “Life of Pi” slyly weaves numerous lessons of humanity and its values and weaknesses throughout the plot. Moments before Orange Juice’s death, the differences in the predatory natures of orangutans and hyenas are briefly described: “What does a fruit eater know about killing? Where would it learn where to bite, how hard, for how long? An orang-utan may be taller, may have very strong and agile arms and long canines, but if it does not know how to use these as weapons, they are of little use. The hyena, with only its jaws, will overcome the ape because it knows what it wants and how to get it” (130).

    To me, the orangutan and the hyena represent two kinds of people: those who are born with amazing talent in a specific area, and those who aren’t necessarily skilled at any single thing, but have a determination to work hard. If one only relies on one’s talents, then one will never learn the rewards of hard work and will never advance in life. The “normal” person, on the other hand, can achieve much more in life because he has the motivation to be better, to prove his worth despite not having any advantages over anyone else. History has been changed countless times not by genius mathematicians or philosophical gods of wisdom, but rather by the seemingly insignificant individual who had a dream and the will to make it come true. It just goes to show that life is never an easy feat. Some may have attributes that make it a little more cushioned, but in the end everyone must work to find success.

  6. In regards to Nora’s comment about how observing animals can lead us to understand more about human nature, I have to say that I agree. However, I agree because I see Martel’s examples of survival and competition in the animals as representations of the deepest, core aspects of human nature. Humans are still technically animals in a sense, with the only distinguishing attribute that allows us to deem ourselves superior (whether or not that is true) being our undeniably unique intelligence. Humans have the ability to think, predict, create, and destroy, all of which are traits that have allowed us to climb to the top of the animal kingdom. Despite our formidable advantage of intelligence, we still retain some of the most common traits connected to all living organisms. We don’t like the unknown and we like to be in control. We have ways to show superiority and are often inclined to have competitive tendencies among each other. All of these traits can be directly compared to that of both domesticated and wild animals. So, Martel really brings to light the question, how different are we exactly from what we consider to be animals?

    I also agree with Serena’s point about how some people are born gifted but still fail in their tasks and goals, while the people who have no choice but to work hard in order to get tasks completed, are more likely to succeed. Serena’s example of the differences between the orangutan and the hyena is a fantastic example of that idea. Even though the hyena doesn’t have as many physical advantages as the orangutan, the hyena still manages to kill the orangutan. So, the orangutan represents the type of people who have talent, but become vulnerable due to laziness and over confidence in their abilities. The hyena, on the other hand, represents the normal people who work hard in order to get what they want or need. It uses what it has against the orangutan and also has an advantage of experience.

    I also think that Martel uses this scene to highlight the idea of why we work hard. Perhaps we work so hard in school, at work, and in our lives, so that regardless as to whether or not we are talented, we can still get what we need or want. It’s a kind of a back-up plan or a fail-safe in a way. We all hope that one day we may stumble upon a hidden talent that may not hand all we desire on a silver platter, but just might make it much easier to reach it. But, just in case we never discover this hidden talent, we force ourselves to accomplish what needs to be done through diligence, discipline, and effort. Besides, even people who are especially talented, must put in some work

    In the third portion of the book, Yann Martel continues to bring up interesting ideas and concepts about animals and survival in general. He introduces one of his many universal concepts about survival when Pi tries to think of ways to get rid of Richard Parker and notes that, “if there’s one thing more dangerous than a healthy animal, it’s an injured animal” (199). I agree with the statement and I think it applies to people, too. When a person feels weak or suffers from an injury, he or she may lash out at anyone that approaches. I think that such a reaction occurs due to a subconscious instinctive reaction in defense. At that point in time, the person is vulnerable, and therefore, holds an almost animalistic desperation and instinctual reaction to protect themselves at all costs. Normal thought processes fade away and the filter that we use to avoid saying things we may regret falls apart. Sometimes, people can also act unpredictably or in manners contrary to their normal nature. I find it interesting just how similar we are to the animals we feel are so below us and I noticed that it appears to be a reoccurring theme within the novel. Are we really all that different from the living creatures that share our world? I guess not.

    In general, I’m really enjoying this book and it’s creative ideas. Sometimes, I almost feel as though this is a true story because it’s so well written and voiced, but then I remind myself that it was not actually based on one. I’m definitely looking forward to finishing up the book and figuring out what happens next.

  7. Serena Zhang

    Similar to Emi’s comment on how vulnerability causes one to instinctively recoil and become incredibly defensive, another psychological tendency of humans is mentioned in “Life of Pi”. On page 183, Pi is initially horrified after killing his first fish, but soon changes his opinion: “After that it was easier. Now that it was dead, the flying fish looked like fish I had seen in the markets of Pondicherry. It was something else, something outside the essential scheme of creation”.

    After simply seeing the fish as another dead form of sea life as in a marketplace, Pi is suddenly able to handle its death. This goes to show the human ability to shape circumstances and memories into something more comfortable, something that relieves any pain or guilt we feel about the moment. I admit there have been times where arguments between a friend and I occurred and I was slow to admit to my mistakes because I had tricked myself into believing I had done nothing wrong due to the uncomfortableness of the situation.

    It’s interesting to see also the deterioration of Pi’s survival. On pages 188 to 189, Pi describes the lifeboat as resembling a zoo enclosure more with every passing day. The man-made object is being slowly crafted into a wild, dirty habitat for disease and death. Then, on page 217, Pi says: “You must make adjustments if you want to survive. Much becomes expendable”. Usually, in our world, it is not us who need to adjust to life. We engineer plants and animals to benefit us better, develop medicine to treat disease, and cut down trees and tear up soil to build facilities of luxury. With Pi, we see him overpowered and needing to change his own behavior and mindset in order to keep up with nature’s force.

    Another event that adds to Pi’s mental regression to animal instincts is his conversation with his subconscious starting on page 242. He begins with rich descriptions of various Indian foods (mostly vegetarian), but then turns to worship the finger-licking goodness of animal innards. Finally, we see Pi resorting to cannibalism on page 256, after his “friend” is eaten by Richard Parker. Although this part confused me, I’m assuming Pi’s friend was really just another figment of his imagination. Even if he wasn’t a real person, the fact that Pi would even imagine cannibalism or see himself doing it is a sign of his wavering “human” morals.

  8. norakearns

    Part Three:
    I found this third section to be the most interesting – the story just keeps getting more and more exciting!

    Recently I’ve been particularly interested in humans as more primordial beings. I’ve been reading about and studying humans as animals rather than extremely evolved beings, and I’m finding Life of Pi to be particularly fascinating because of this. Even though I’m not really one for lots of blood and guts, and, ok, the parts about fish intestines and tiger feces kind of grossed me out, I am enthralled by the survival aspect of the novel. Pi’s resourcefulness, his successes and failures as he tries to survive on the life-boat, and his overall powerful will to live are what I enjoy most about the book. I have never had, and will probably never have to endure anything like what Pi does. I don’t have to kill my own food or go days without water or cohabitate with a 450 pound Bengal tiger, so this book allows me to imagine a completely different life. It also reminds me that I can’t take my easy, comfortable one for granted.

    Regarding what you said, Emi, about what the orangutan and the hyena represent, I don’t know if I necessarily agree. I can definitely understand your point of view, but seeing the hyena as the hard-working one and the orangutan as the lazy, yet talented one doesn’t seem appropriate. The hyena seems more ruthless, willing to step over anyone and everyone and do the most horrible things to succeed. The orangutan, while possessing the natural talent to be the best, doesn’t want to be if it means having to step on others to get there. Her softness and kindness are her “tragic flaws” that lead to her death, rather than laziness. I don’t see her as representing laziness or cockiness at all, nor do I see the hyena as representing normal, hard working people. Additionally, Orange Juice is portrayed as motherly and gentle, the kind animal, whereas the hyena is evil.

    As Pi fights to live, he finds himself breaking some basic rules of mankind, and slipping further from humanity. He mercilessly kills animals, tries to eat feces, and does many other less-than-humane things. It may not have been Martel’s intention, but this got me thinking about that saying “do the ends justify the means?” Pi does so many things that are against his own values, and he suffers so many challenges. But are they justifiable? I think the answer is yes.

    I’m excited to finish this book! The story is so captivating and takes me to a whole other world when I read, and I look forward to reading about the rest of Pi’s adventures.

  9. Part Four:

    From the point Pi’s journey began on the lifeboat, the story had a nagging feeling of familiarity. I couldn’t figure out what it was that Pi’s story reminded me of, but Pi’s prayer to Allah after the storm on page 233 finally sparked my memory – The book of Job.

    The book of Job is about a man’s strong, undying devotion to God even as he is put through the most brutal tests. He loses his family, his livestock, his health, and almost everything of importance to him in only a few short days, but he does not lose faith in God. Similarly, Pi undergoes the most difficult challenges and does not once doubt his devotion or blame God for his struggles. In fact, his journey brought him closer to God.

    I felt that this section was the most religiously enlightening for me, even though the first section was more focused on religion. I loved reading the part where Pi was communicating with the Japanese men about the Tsimtsum and he asks which story the preferred. The Japanese men agree that they preferred the story with the tiger, and Pi says, “and so it goes with God.” For me, I have a very vague, loose, undefined view of religion. I’m catholic, but I don’t believe in every strict rule of the doctrine, and I find aspects of other religions very beautiful. I think of God as a sort of omnipresent loving spirit rather than a specific being that controls every aspect of life.

    Something else I found interesting in this section was how Martel showed man’s unwillingness to have faith in the unknown. Neither of the Japanese men believe Pi’s story because it seems too unlikely and unfathomable. They only want cold, hard, boring facts. But when we close ourselves off to new ideas, and deny everything that we can’t see with our own eyes, we lose so much – so many people deny the existence of God because believing involves trusting in something that can’t be directly seen. Pi’s story is amazing, enlightening, and revealing, and the story Pi created where each animal was replaced with a human is just brutal and sad. The Japanese men’s complaint is that Pi’s story doesn’t help them understand anything, it isn’t informative. But Pi’s original story, of Richard Parker and carnivorous islands, actually teaches more, just about human nature and religion and life being more than our physical presence on earth, rather than why a tanker sank, In the end, which is more important?

    Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Life of Pi. I think this is a story I could read over and over and continue gaining something from reading it every time.

  10. emiampo

    Life of Pi is definitely a book to remember. After reading it, one of the main thoughts that kept running through my head was, “How far are we willing, no, capable of going in order to survive?” Just what are we willing to do? Nora brought up a good point in her last comment, where she wondered if “the ends justify the means”. I honestly don’t know. Throughout this book, Martel seems to use Pi as an example of how people can change and how “humans can become used to anything”. That may be true, but then, if that happens, are we truly human then?
    I think that Pi is an interesting character, because throughout his journey, he changes from a sweet, almost naive vegetarian who wouldn’t hurt a fly, to a tough, rangy survivor who is willing to do nearly everything and anything in order to survive. He sacrifices much, including his vegetarianism, in order to survive. However, it never once came upon his mind to kill Richard Parker. I’m sure there have been numerous opportunities for him to do so, but he never did. Killing Richard Parker would have given him meat to eat when he was close to death from starvation and it would have allowed him to use the entirety of the boat, instead of just a portion of it as his territory. Why did Pi spare and protect Richard Parker’s life? I think Pi valued the companionship the tiger provided, and even considered him a friend, and therefore his meat was not worth the betrayal of camaraderie that they shared. I also believe that killing Richard Parker would have been an event that would be the last straw, the event that would prove how little of Pi’s humanity was left. Betraying Richard Parker is the equivalent of betraying a friend; a cruel act that speaks of a loss of empathy and kindness and loyalty. Those qualities are some of which make us human, so losing them show a loss in the humanity needed in order to stay human, rather than desperate animal. So, despite all the cruel challenges and grueling difficulties Pi faced during his voyage at sea, he retained a small portion of his humanity, and sanity, through the act of keeping Richard Parker alive as well.

    Martel shows that no matter what the situation is, humanity can be retained and survival achieved at the same time, therefore, there is nothing to excuse the loss of humanity. What differentiates humans from animals is not necessarily just our intelligence, which depends on the human, but is generally centered on our humanity. Our willingness to maintain empathy, honor, and respect. To put something of value above our own survival. I think that is what marks our humanity and differentiates humans from animals. Although on occasion, I think animals can possess a degree of humanity within themselves as well, if it is to be defined in that manner.

    If I were to suggest this book to someone, I’d say that people of all ages can read it and that it is especially enjoyable for those who enjoy adventure, challenges, demonstrations of the battle to retain one’s humanity, complex and simple conceptual ideas, and 450 lb. Bengal tigers. Please keep in mind though, this is no ordinary survival book. Life of Pi shows to also be a story of growth and understanding of worldly matters beyond that of which younger audiences would normally rarely, if ever, consider. I personally found it to be a wonderful read and really brought me to see interesting perspectives on the idea of humans and animals, as well as what defines humanity.

  11. Serena Zhang

    I am so glad I decided to read “Life of Pi” this time around, because it’s such a remarkable novel. It’s beautifully written and paced just right, going beyond the simple task of telling a story and adding in powerful messages that engages both the reader’s mind and emotion. One message I particularly liked while reading was on page 270 where Pi describes the strange island as being nearly unaffected by the waves, despite it being a free-floating object: “It resisted by not resisting”. After I read this, I found it could be applied to many instances in life.

    For example, we’re playing football now in P.E., and let me tell you, I have some serious respect for people who can catch a football every time. For me, I always tense up, sometimes without realizing, and the ball bounces straight off my fingertips. Then the teachers mentioned that the most effective way to catch a football was to relax your fingers. I thought, “That’s crazy! If I relax, it’ll hit me for sure!” But because I had nothing to lose (my fingers were already pretty sore), I took their advice and, by some miracle, caught the ball! So if there’s anything football has taught me, it’s to be calm. When things are beyond your control, the best way to “resist” them is to not resist at all and let whatever happens happen. You can’t control how fast or hard a football is going to be thrown at you–all you can do is relax your fingers and hope it doesn’t cause a concussion.

    (Well, I’m sure that doesn’t apply to those who are slightly more football-adapted than I am, but you get my point.)

    Of course, when things are not beyond your control, it’s important to avoid excuses merely because matters seem difficult and do something about the situation. If Pi had laid down on the lifeboat the day after the wreck and dramatically cried, “Oh, woe is me! Shalt I die now, or save it to be tried at nature’s hand?” (Ahem, totally not referencing anything. At all.), then yes, he would probably have died. But not because he couldn’t help it. It would have been too easy to give up in Pi’s situation, given his emotional and physical distress, but he defies the very likely possibility of dying and forces himself to survive. This goes to show the absolute power of the human will, enabling us to overcome difficulties by deluding logic and thinking in a way so irrational it would seem impossible. However, by overcoming logic (Of course I’m going to die! I’m in the freaking Pacific Ocean with a tiger!), we can strive towards something and therefore overcome the impossible in ourselves.

    “Life of Pi” is a must-read. For anyone. For those who want to get discovered, for those who want to get lost, and for those who want to spend an entire 227 days aboard a ramshackle lifeboat with a tiger, a boy, and an ocean full of stories.

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