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Novel Life of Pi


Discuss about the bestselling novel “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.


The bestselling novel “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, represents the interrelation between science, faith, trust, morality and hope with the viewpoint of Christians and Hindus and secular humanists (Martel and Yann). In short, the whole story revolves around a central theme of reasoning into questions and human faith related to God, religion and ability to be logistic enough to go beyond one’s experiences. In this paper, "Life of Pi" is discussed with specific emphasis on the "idea of reason into question" that is repeatedly criticized by the character Pi in this story.

The story begins with Pi a middle-aged man narrating a story of his real life experiences and events after shipwreck to the author. It begins where Pi along with his family starts a journey to Canada on a freighter. As a child, he always seeks his parent’s guidance and support. He was the interesting and excitable child in school always hungry of grabbing worldly knowledge. While on the journey a storm sinks the ship separating him from his family and leaving him all alone on the life boat. He was the only human survivor in the ship trapped with a tiger experiencing horror, gore, and boredom in the middle of Pacific Ocean (Stratton and Florence).

Early in the story, it was depicted how Pi undergoes confusion related to faith in God and different religions such as Hinduism, Christianity and Islam and questioned everything related to them to clear his thoughts. It increased the depth of his morality and kindness.

As a child, Pi underwent tension related to "logic, reason, and argument." As a student he struggled to make people correctly pronounce his name that is “Piscine” instead of “Pissing” and irrationally selects his name as “Pi”. It is a first sign of Pi having “believer's skepticism about reason”.

As days passed in the Ocean, Pi faced a loss of innocence where he had to kill fish or birds and tearing them brutally for his food and paid heed to other similar survival instincts which decreased his morality and kindness. These instincts made him do and take actions which he never thought he would be able to do (Steelman et al.). These actions would not be considered normal in his daily and ordinary life. The other event representing his loss of innocence is the death or killing of “Frenchman”. With this incident Pi felt that, he lost a part of himself that would never come alive again (Spall). In this case, it can be criticized that it was natural to accustom to such circumstances for any individual but the “usefulness of reason” into question here is evident by his “defense mechanism theory” which was a parallel nature of his stories.

However, this story does not offer any opportunity to the readers to concern about the journey naturally taken by Pi. The story narrated by Pi to the visiting writer shows the reason to believe in God (Cole and Stewart). It may be true that any other human who underwent similar sufferings and adverse situations may not have considered that it is the spiritual forces that helped him or her to survive ultimately (Martel and Yann).

It is reflected in another such scene where Pi observes a majestic whale in the sea which was right under the boat as well as the reflection of stars and moon over the serene and peaceful sea. However, it may be considered from a scientific point of view that it was his mere hallucination and outcome of grief, depression, loneliness and adversity that makes him visualize his lost family in the sea. Revealing this exquisite beauty of the ocean as the whole drama unfold on the small boat gives the impression that Pi has a reason to believe in eternal creation of God. The whale may be symbolic of God watching over him.

In this story, the concept of Orangutan surviving on the stack of banana floating in the water may appear unbelievable to the viewers. However, from a spiritual point of view one may tend to accept this as proof of God. Here again, Pi tends to reconcile his “need for spirituality” and reason to his questions as he encounter chaotic circumstances on the ship with the wild animal. Amidst the fear of being eaten by the Tiger, he hopes to rescue himself and in that quest, he learns to tame the tiger, catch fish to feed the tiger to save himself from being eaten and sustain him as well.

The stage where pi shows gratitude to the God for coming in the form of “Vishnu” (Hindu mythological God, who exists in the form of fish) indicates the growing strength of his faith and appeared to believe only what he wanted. People sometimes disagree with truth clinging to the scientific explanation. However, Pi criticizes this fact saying that there is no harm in going beyond the “scientific ways of knowing” or believing one’s sense experiences (Ma).

It is due to these circumstances, Pi reasoned into every question. However, it was evident from his actions that it was primarily because of his faith in God that he survived in the lifeboat for days and he also strictly believed that all the survival instincts that he received were given by God and it turned his life in saving and strange ways. However, this story was not accepted by investigating officers “Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba” considering it as unrealistic (Glimelius). Therefore, he narrates them another version of the same story which convinced them and was easy to believe. It indicates that these two people never wanted to go beyond their existing knowledge or view things differently. It clearly depicts the Pi’s love for stories and his dependence on them. This illustrated his defining characteristics as well as his problem while trusting the events and his experiences (Roger and Yann).

Conclusively, it can be said that the one should reason into questions as Pi did but also view things differently and sometimes accepts things even beyond their experiences and what they want to see or hear. He ultimately leaves the viewers to believe whichever story they want. However Pi thoroughly believes that it was God’s inspiration that drives his zeal to sustain and enhance his power of positivity and motivation to overcome bleakness of universe and gain more worldly knowledge. 


Cole and Stewart. "Believing in Tigers: Anthropomorphism and Incredulity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi." Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne 29.2 (2004).

Glimelius, Bengt. "Life of pi." Acta Oncologica 50.8 (2011): 1139-1141.

Ma, Moses. "Meaning, Faith And The Life Of Pi". Psychology Today. N.p., 2016. Web. 15 June 2016.

Martel and Yann. "Sparknotes: Life Of Pi: Analysis Of Major Characters". N.p., 2016. Web. 15 June 2016.

Roger Eberrt and Yann Martel. "Life Of Pi". Goodreads. N.p., 2016. Web. 15 June 2016.

Spall, Rafe, and Yann Martel. Life of Pi. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2013.

Steelman, Sarah, Caitlin Delaney, and Markie LC Blumer. "Life of Pi."Journal of Feminist Family Therapy 26.3 (2014): 193-194.

Stratton and Florence. "“Hollow at the core”: Deconstructing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi." Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne 29.2 (2004).

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