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While it may seem obvious that the main focus of the novel details his survival in a harsh environment, the story in fact deals with survival in a much deeper and more complex way. The tragic set of events that take place within the story are themselves set in motion by the need to escape the political realities of India. The movement of the Patel family from Pondicheery to Canada ensures that the family’s political and social survival was guaranteed. In this paper we will discuss the notion of survival within Yan Martel’s The Life of Pi arguing that survival within the story is dealt with on several different tiers, each playing an intricate and important role in the ultimate survival of the young storyteller. In order to do this we will firstly discuss the Pi’s physical survival aboard the life raft. We shall explore the tools and techniques used by Pi in order to survive and the important adoptions he was forced to make in order to survive. Secondly we will examine the physical survival of the animals within the story. While the survival of the animals may not seem significant to Pi’s overall story they in fact provide an important window into the qualities of all creatures to survive and offer an insight into Pi’s very survival. Thirdly we will examine the mental survival techniques employed by Pi. While survival is often thought of in terms of strength and power, what is often less explored is the power of the mind within survival. Simply put the body cannot survive without the mind. Fourthly we shall explore the role that Pi’s spiritual faith played in his survival. It is important to note that all the categories above are not separate but are indeed are intertwined and interdependent. We shall begin with what is arguably the most obvious elements of survival presented within the novel, Pi’s physical survival on the lifeboat. Pi’s journey is a perilous one in which he must constantly fight to survive, for he has the odds stacked firmly against him, he faces both the brutal environment and ferocious wild animals. However he has a number of important elements at his disposal that enable him to tip the odds of survival in his favor. The first of these elements that we shall discuss is the survival guide that was aboard his lifeboat. The use of the survival guide is important in his quest to stay alive. It tells him what he can and cannot eat and gives him tips on how to survive in the wild with such helpful phrases such as the details of turtles, “Their blood is a good nutritious salt free drink, their flesh is tasty and filling1”, and the use of the correct use of the 12 solar stills. Pi makes a complete inventory of the things aboard that could prove of some use and uses them ensure his survival for instance using the lifejackets and oars to create a raft to protect himself from Richard Parker. However the main elements that allow him to physically survive are not written in the survival manual or found aboard the lifeboat. One of the main elements that allow Pi to survive is his willingness to adapt. We see this in action through his willingness to eat meat and to kill. Being both a vegetarian and a lover of animals both these events was very painful to him. In the recount of the story he mentions that he still prays for that very first fish that he killed2. He recognizes that he must kill in order to survive and though it initially brings him great pain he brings himself to kill daily. This element of survival is also present in the alternative story that he tells his Japanese interrogators. In this version he details that he kills the chef after his mother
This is not merely an act of vengeance but also an act of survival. or he risks being killed and eaten himself. Pi realizes early on in his journey that he must physically separate himself from Richard Parker in order to survive thus constructing the raft which he tethers to the lifeboat. but because you invaded its territory3”. Richard Parker exemplifies an animals ability to adapt to a . or because its bloodthirsty. the hyena does not adapt at all to its situation. The vicious hyena is the best example of this. It is also similarly and more tragically illustrated by the timid and gentle Orange Juice’s battle against the ravaging Hyena with little chance or success. Animals are known for their survival skills for in the wild they “lead lives of compulsion in an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and he supply of food low and where territory must be constantly defended4”. These events demonstrate that while an animal has a set of insists and characteristics their behavior adapts to the situations in which they are thrust in order to survive. He was successfully able to assert himself as the Alpha and subordinate Richard Parker to the position of the Omega thus ensuring his dominance and survival.5” It seems the even against overwhelming odds an animal will resist death at all costs. Pi’s own willingness to survive drove him to contemplate eating feces and drinking urine One factor which heavily determines survival is willingness to adapt. All living creatures. it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt6” While the hyena was unable to adapt Richard Parkers adaptation is one of the main reasons behind his survival. the animals within the story prove to illustrate important details which should not be overlooked. This demonstrates that if one does not adapt one cannot survive. Having assessed the chef’s actions and motives it is clear to Pi that he must kill the chef in order to survive. it attacks wildly and ferociously gorging itself on the dying zebra. Pi like these creatures refuses to give up on life even in the most dire and hopeless of circumstances. While we tend to differentiate humans from animals it is important to remember that man is also an animal.2 is killed and beheaded. Significantly he uses his knowledge of animal behavior in order to change the behavior of Richard Parker through this knowledge that he was in many ways able to tame the ferocious Bengal Tiger Richard Parker. in essence acting as it was if it was in the wild. This madness can be saving. a fact that was not lost on Pi’s father who would remark that “the most dangerous animal in the zoo is man. knowing that the tiger will not attack “because its hungry. including humans and animals have a natural born imperative towards survival. sometimes inexplicable ways . The aggressive need to kill Orange Juice and Pi would ultimately be the Hyena’s downfall for it was this that provoked Richard Parker. “all living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange. Though the story is intrinsically about Pi’s survival. fighting when there is little chance of survival as exemplified by the Zebra’s will to live even as it was being devoured from within by the ferocious hyena. The final element that allowed Pi to physically survive was his detailed knowledge of animal behavior. Without adaptation death is certain. His knowledge of the territorial dominance kept him alive and able to co-habitate with a tiger.
However the mental survival techniques employed by Pi go beyond this. fresh water). While boredom may not seem like a life threatening event. The original story serves in many senses to allow him to deal with the horrific events he has witnessed. especially considering the brutality that he has experienced. for he would lose the given necessities and repetition that he had grown used to. The zoo as well has a similar lifestyle of habit and luxury. This state of mind manifested itself in a number of ways. for without him he would have no access to food or fresh water. The first of these is his mental survival on the lifeboat with Richard Parker While it may seem that Richard Parker is an obstacle to Pi’s survival this is not the case. but also himself in many ways preformed evil acts such as murder and cannibalism. This very fact is so important to Pi that he kills in order to keep Richard Parker alive. but after Pi’s attack on his senses he accepted his position as Omega in the face of Pi’s Alpha position. It is also curious to note that during . in the form of the cook. Richard Parker initially claimed the entire boat as his territory and asserted his Alpha status. Just as we see a struggle to survive within the animals we also see a struggle to survive within Pi himself and a willingness to adapt and fight in order to ensure his survival. The human body is simply a vessel for the mind. such as not encroach on the ground at night when the acidity level is high and they are at greatest risk. Richard Parker is a tiger who without the contestant care and attention of Pi. in Pi’s case boredom would simply give way to thoughts of his perished relatives and in many ways the hope that is associated with them. while given his zoological background he is able to explain the behavior of animals and creates an imaginary world in which the actions of those around him can be explained. would certainly have died (lack of food. this one more gruesome and also more personal and tragic. Killing Pi would be equivalent to living in the wild. but is kept alive precisely because he offers companionship to Pi. Similarly Richard Parker and Pi are aware of their position in life. Richard Parker is a prime example of an animal’s mental will to survive. It was this Omega position that afforded him the luxuries. For while he cannot explain the actions of humans. As we can clearly see these traits are not confined to beasts but instead offer a direct mirror into Pi himself and the qualities he adapted in order to survive. while it would not be difficult for him to kill his young Indian companion he does not because he knows that his survival is dependent on it. even though he had to give up territory he gained more in exchange and his not killing of Pi the Alpha male. he is after all still an animal. In addition to the companionship offered by Richard Parker the daily duties that are preformed in his care and maintenance allow Pi to avoid boredom. While we have seen that Pi is able to physically survive using the various survival techniques mentioned above there is a much more important element to his survival then these. Pi’s mental state of mind is a significant reason that he was able to survive. if ones mind cannot survive neither will his body. be it a highly evolved one. The Meerkats on the floating island also offer some insight into the nature of survival for they are acutely aware of their position in life and necessary things they must do in order to survive in their own harsh environment. unlike that of the wild that are faced with constant battle of survival. He did not only see unspeakable evil.3 given situation. We learn at the end of the novel another version of the events during Pi’s 277 days at sea.
to stay on the island would be to give up hope of ever being found. essentially embracing a life of doubt “how long does it take for a broken spirit to kill a body that had food. …… Another significant mental survival technique employed by Pi is hope. one in which giving up hope would be equal to death10. what is significant is that he does not allow himself to descend into a complete loss of his humanity but instead only becomes as animalistic as is necessary for his survival. he did not see Richard Parker until his survival absolutely depended on it. The island represents the broken spirit of his mental state. myths and customs. We learn early on that Pi has adopted three religions. In order to balance these qualities Pi undertakes steps in order to ensure that his humanity remains. Spiritual The island of algae is also very significant in the explanation of his mental thoughts and processes. Christianity. While his weakened state may explain his lack of sight. “How I had failed to notice for two and a half days a 450 pound Bengal tiger in a lifeboat twenty six feet long was a conundrum7”. While throughout the story we see Pi become more savage and animalistic. Pi. The voice said ‘I will not die. zebra and orangutan. it may also be possible that his mind subconsciously blocked out Richard Parker in order to cope with the situation mirroring the creation of the story in order to deal with realities that he felt he could not deal with. One of the main reasons that Pi is so .4 the early days on the boat in the company of the hyena. This illustrates among other things his overwhelming strength of character and faith. I will make it through this nightmare’. The journal that Pi keeps enables him to retain his humanity and civility. as he is originally a born and raised Hindu child who felt the need to adopt two additional faiths. for him to have remained on the island would have meant him giving up. This is proof that he prefers more versions of the truth. His careful rationing of the supplies and daily schedule of tasks enable him to retain order and purpose. finding many things of interest and reverence in all three. Though he is constantly threatened with slipping deeper and deeper into savagery these steps ensure that he does not venture too deeply. Islam and Hinduism. The use of the word “battle” indicates that while he was waging a war against the hostile environment into which he was thrust he was also fighting a battle against himself. water and shelter8”. The island represents his lost hope of ever being found. I refuse it. mainly the evil acts he carried out and witnessed. Though his situation “ I would have given up had a voice not made itself heard in my heart. being an individual with three adopted faiths is able to believe his own story. It is also evident that Pi is in the constant need or more stories. and feels more reassured doing so. Faith is a large part of the novel and one of the reasons that Pi is able to survive.9”. Each faith has its own take on God. along with its own rituals. in essence that qualities that define humanity. and is able to take such an imaginative leap.
Ultimatly it was faith in God and his parallel hope of rescue that kept him alive. in the way that Pi sometimes doubted his survival at sea. Ultimate purpose In conclusion it is clear that Pi’s survival within the story did not simply occur on level but on several levels that were all interconnected. We can see that the Spiritual is connected to the Physical which is connected to the Mental level of survival. understanding and pleasurable. The human culture. Religion is compared to zoos based on the notion of freedom. His hope of rescue that a ship would come soon and that he would see his family who was patiently waiting for him. “my God. Pi however discusses how he believes that religion and the zoo both serve an essential purpose in our world and life within the walls are comfortable and people prefer such a lifestyle. if he burst out from the Cross. and in both cases animals and man are trapped within walls and unable to escape. why have you forsaken me?” then surely we were also permitted doubt however one cannot “choose doubt as a philosophy of life11”. Just as Pi is dedicated to his three religions and practice the religious routines of all three religions we see how humans feel the need to have the presence of an authoritative figure in their life. His willingness to adapt to the given situation and move outside of his very human nature also aided in his mission to survive. We see that while Pi had moments where he apparently gave up on life he did not embrace these moments to define his life. my God. The modern culture has developed religion into a method through which they may make their lives more meaningful. even higher than that of man. Religion is filled with its dictating rules and rituals similar to the zoo’s daily routines. While Pi struggled to stay alive physically his mind devised ways to deal with the situations he was thrust into. one cannot continue to live if they embrace the doubt. and some help from a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. The phrasing of the passage holds a significant meaning for though one may have doubts. While many people would have given up faith in god for putting them in such a perilously hopeless situation but Pi’s faith in god never wavers as is shown in his inventory of everything on the boat “1 god12” . .5 drawn to Christianity is because it permitted doubt “If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer. just as they are accustomed to having norms and regularities in their lifestyles. use religion for a similar purpose.
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