Summer Reading Essay: LIFE OF PI BY YANN MARTEL
What does Pi try to communicate through his choice of the animals, other than the tiger, with whom he shares the lifeboat? Prove your ideas with citations. List 3-5 sources in the references. Don’t forget about in-text citations.
In Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, the main character Piscine Patel becomes stranded after the ship he and his family are on sinks. Pi must then face many life or death situations that conflict with both his beliefs and morality. He encounters many different animals while stranded in a lifeboat and, in time, we come to see the use of symbolism for each animal represents different pieces of humanity. When looking at the different animals and their human counterparts you are able to see the way in which Pi was able to survive his time out at sea and mentally cope with the actions that had to be performed to ensure that survival. In this paper the use of symbolism throughout the book as it pertains to Pi’s animal counterparts and the way it effects his mentality will be evaluated and discussed.
Symbolism is one of the key aspects of Martel’s Life of Pi.
When we look at the symbolism of the animals Pi encounters during his time out at sea we find a significant connection between the animals’ instincts and human behaviors. While Pi is on the lifeboat he is accompanied by a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. Pi uses these animals as a way to represent the people trapped on the lifeboat with him and in time we come to know who these animals are. The Zebra is actually a sailor that was traveling on the same boat that Pi and his family were on and broke his leg while jumping into the lifeboat. The zebra represents hope and vulnerability. Even after the zebra’s leg has been eaten and he is being fed on by the hyena he survives and is able to hold on to life for a while. After the zebra passes Pi realizes and acknowledges that he is not safe and could become part of the food chain at any time. He now knows that he will have to do things he doesn’t want to do in order to survive. The zebra shows the primal desire to survive against all odds, which is a trait that both animals and humans share. It also shows Pi that he cannot just sit back and be passive.
The hyena is one of the more memorable animals Pi shares the lifeboat with. He is brutal and shows no remorse. He kills for the sake of killing and enjoys it. The hyena’s human counterpart is the cook that traveled on the same boat as Pi, the sailor, and Pi’s family. He represents brutality and the use of force and deceit to obtain goals and ensure survival. The second night on the boat Pi begins to realize the intentions of the hyena towards the other animals on the boat. “It has been continuously circling the zebra and after attacking, it begins to eat the zebra from the inside out” (W. Molly). The hyena depicts the darker side of human nature. As the story progresses it is discovered that the cook convinced everyone to cut the sailor’s leg off to use as bait but later resorts to eating it himself. He uses trickery to use those around him to his advantage. By relating the cooks actions to the actions of the hyena, an animal whose characteristics Pi would have been familiar with from his time spent with his parents working with animals, he is able to mentally comprehend and cope with what is going on around him. He now knows that survival may mean going against his beliefs and morals.
The last animal that is on the boat with Pi and the others is Orange Juice the Orangutan. The orangutan represents the nurturing and caring side of human nature. She is the animal version of Pi’s mother. The orangutan takes on a very nurturing and protective character, one very similar to human mothers. As Pi’s mother had cared for and comforted the sailor during the time of his amputation, the orangutan also similarly reaches out to care for and protect those on the boat that are more vulnerable. “Pi sees the orangutan as a savior as she comes floating on an island of bananas toward the life boat” (StallionRide14, 2011). She allows him to see the good that is still present in humanity.
Throughout the story Pi’s view of the people he is stranded with as animals helps him cope with his situation. “Given that he has a great deal of experience with zoology it is only natural that he would choose to interpret these terrible actions performed by people as performed by animals” (Durden, 2012). It is this use of symbolism that really allows Pi to put the actions he is encountering into an understandable context and allows him to figure out what he needs to do to survive. When things are going well and people aren’t pressed to make the tough decisions it is difficult to comprehend that people can be cruel and that taking the life of someone else to save your own isn’t as unbelievable as it may seem. Throughout the story Pi has to accept the cruelty that people can possess, but also realize that there is another more gentle side as well.
Durden, Johnathan. (2012). Life of Pi: An Analysis of the Psychological Aspects of Survival. Retrieved from: http://jrdurden.wordpress.com/analysis-life-of-pi/.
Ma, Moses. (2012). Meaning, Faith, and the Life of Pi. Retrieved from:
StallionRide14. (2011). Animal Symbolism in Life of Pi. Retrieved from:
W, Molly. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Retrieved from:
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