Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a story written about the incredible life of Pi Patel, the sole survivor of a shipwreck that left him alone, fighting for his life with the companion of a Bengal Tiger. The novel is not just a simple survival story, and is largely existential and devotes many pages to descriptions of nature and religion.
The first part of the novel is primarily an exploration of Pi’s life before the shipwreck, often focusing on the zoo his father owns. The book uses the animalistic aspect of the setting to examine the relationship between man and nature, establishing early on the ferocity and beauty that the natural world holds. As the story goes, Pi is isolated in the Pacific and forced to navigate through the violent sea, a situation that parallels to his early descriptions the animals’ behaviors. He extensively describes a lesson taught by his father to never interact with animals kept in the zoo, as they would react violently and cause his death, creative as it may be. However, he ends the memory with him holding a guinea pig, a hopelessly harmless creature that couldn’t be dangerous if it tried. Like his relationship to the animals, Pi’s experience on the sea is usually violent, yet he describes it with admiration: “…the sea is always impressive and forbidding, beautiful and dangerous” (102). This complex man vs. nature relationship is emphasized and thoroughly set up in the first half. I predict that it will become even more interesting as Pi continues to fend for his survival in the second half of the novel.
In addition to exploring the theme of man vs. nature even before Pi is shipwrecked, the relationship between man and God is also looked at. In his teenage years, Pi becomes a practicing Christian and Muslim on top of Hinduism, devoting himself to the different existential and relational ideas each religion presents. His dedication to all three religions (much to the horror of the priest, the imam, and the pandit) allows him to expand his love for the world, and guides him in his hopelessness on the Pacific. A person certainly undeserving of abandonment or tragedy, I suspect that Pi’s relationship with God(s) will become even more closely examined in the second part of the novel. His religions are continually referenced, and is used as a driving force in the first half. With the interesting ideas already thoroughly developed, Martel’s deeply existential survival story proves to stand out and offers a fresh perspective on mankind.