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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.