Intro to Life of Pi (part 2) • • • • • Narrative Perspective Pi Richard Parker The Will to Live Characters o Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel

o Richard Parker o The Author o Francis Adirubasamy o The Two Mr. Kumars o Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba

Narrative Perspective As mentioned on Tuesday, Life of Pi is written as a story within a story. Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel is the main character and narrates the bulk of the novel, but he is being interviewed by an unnamed, fictitious author. This author’s portions of the book are printed in italics to distinguish them from the sections that are in “Pi’s own words”—as related to us by the author. The issue of narration becomes even more important at the end of the novel when the reader is introduced to a third narrative voice, the transcript of Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba’s interview with Pi in the hospital. The fact that we hear two we hear two distinctly different accounts of Pi’s experiences—neither of them from Pi directly—emphasizes Martel’s theme of the relative nature of truth. Pi Pi’s name is a shortening of his given name Piscine (after a popular swimming pool in Paris, France). As he informs his classmates in Chapter 5, Pi is also the name of the number used to calculate circumferences and areas of circles. One of the earliest approximations of pi was 22/7. Pi floated on the ocean for 227 days. While in his lifeboat, Pi is in the center of his own circle. He calls his gaze “a radius.” Think about symbolism associated with circles as we study this book.

Often notes as 3.14, pi has so many decimal places that the mind cannot accurately comprehend it. It continues on to infinity, a fact that troubles Pi because he prefers closure, symmetry, a book with exactly one hundred chapters. (See the handout page on the blog for a summary of each chapter) Richard Parker The tiger Richard Parker, got his name due to a clerical error when he was shipped to the Pondicherry Zoo. Yann Martel chose this name as a reference to a character in Edgar Allen Poe’s only complete novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). The story tells of four shipwrecked me who after several days at sea, nearly perish and draw lots to decide which one of them should be killed and eaten. The cabin boy, named Richard Parker draws the short straw. Coincidentally, 46 years after Poe’s novel was published, nearly the exact events actually came to pass. While sailing to Australia, a Captain Dudley and three sailors were stranded in a skill in the Pacific after their yacht, the Mignonette, sank. As in Poe’s novel, they were forced to eat one of their party to survive—a young man named Richard Parker. Yet another Richard Parker died when his ship, named the Francis Spaight, sank in January 1846. Richard Parker symbolizes Pi’s basic animal instincts. While on the lifeboat, in order to stay alive, Pi must behave in ways that would have been unthinkable in his normal life. An avowed vegetarian, he must kill fish and birds and eat their flesh and drink their blood. As time passes, he becomes more savage about it, stuffing food into his mouth the way Richard Parker does. After Richard Parker mauls the blind Frenchman, Pi uses the man’s flesh for bait and even stoops to cannibalism. In the second story Pi tells the Japanese investigators he is Richard Parker and kills his mother’s murderer. Richard Parker is the version of himself that Pi has invented to make his story more acceptable to both himself and his audience. The brutality of his mother’s death and his own shocking act of revenge are too much for Pi to deal with, and he finds it easier to imagine a tiger, rather than himself, as the killer and eater of human flesh. The Will to Live Life of Pi is a story about fighting against overwhelming odds to stay alive. Pi abandons vegetarianism to avoid starving to death. Orange Juice, the peaceful orangutan, fights the hyena. Even the injured zebra battles to stay alive. The novel illustrates the extent to which an animal will go—both heroic and barbaric—to survive. The hyena’s

treachery and the blind Frenchman’s attempt at cannibalism show the extent to which living creatures will go to save their own lives. At the end of the novel, when Pi raises the possibility that the fierce tiger, Richard Parker is actually an aspect of his own personality, and that Pi himself is responsible for some of the horrific events as he has narrated, the reader is forced to ponder the extremes of “acceptable” and unacceptable” behaviours on is capable of in a life-or-death situation. Characters Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel—the narrator and main character of the story. At the age of 16 while emigrating from India with his family, he is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean. Richard Parker—450 pound Royal Bengal Tiger who is stranded on a lifeboat with Pi. In order to survive, Pi must coexist with Richard Parker. The Author—an unidentified narrative voice, who begins the novel in the Author’s Note, explaining the circumstances by which he came to hear the story of Pi. For a while his impressions of Pi are intermingled with Pi’s account. Francis Adirubasamy—A friend of Pi’s parents. Avid swimmer. Suggests the name of Piscine Molitor for the newborn Pi and teaches him to swim. He is the one who approaches the author in Pondicherry and promises to tell a story that will “make [him] believe in God.” The Two Mr. Kumars—The firs Mr. Kumar is Pi’s biology teacher, an atheist and a rationalist. It is through him that Pi comes to respect atheists as the brothers of people of faith. The second Mr. Kumar is the Muslim baker who introduces Pi to Islam. He is the religious/faithful balance to the atheist and rational Mr. Kumar. Both Mr. Kumars meet at the zoo and find the zebra a remarkable creature. Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba—two officials of the Japanese Ministry of Transport who interview Pi after his rescue in Mexico. They do not believe the Richard Parker account of Pi’s story which prompts Pi to tell another version. Through their interview Martel invites the reader to question Pi’s reliability as a narrator and the very nature of truth.

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