Role of Symbolism and Realism in The Life of Pi Essay Example

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1831 Words
Date:  2022-12-06


The events that define Pi's traumatic voyage are too dramatic and fantastical to be perceived entirely from a literal point of view. From the author`s description and order of events, it is difficult to discern real from unreal. The reader is bound to question the sensibility of most occurrences. The author, however, anticipates some degree of doubt, and urges us to take a leap of faith and read on. In fact, Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto, agents of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport, seem to share the same predicament. While inquiring about the sinking of the Tsimtsum, hospitalized Pi seemingly presents to them action-packed tales of his time at sea. In response, the detectives seem somewhat confused and unconvinced. Mr. Chiba, who appears more skeptical of the two, even blurts out, "He thinks we're fools", right before requesting a break in which to assess the relayed information (Martel 158). After expressing their obvious dissatisfaction, Pi presents to the detectives a dissimilar more literal version of his events. Although more logical, the detectives admit that the fantastical version is the better of the two (Martel 178). Based on this, it occurs more sensible to enjoy the author's creation from both ends.

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When read from a literal sense, the tale does make sense, though leaves a lot to question. This demands appreciation and accommodation of the abundant symbolism of Martel's work. Moreover, reconciling both views offer a more profound understanding of the book. When merged, Pi's two accounts of events seemingly complement each other. This demands an examination and assimilation of the relationship between characters and behavior. The detectives follow suit by uncovering the correlation between the two accounts (Martel 173). While in a literal sense Pi witfully survives a dramatic voyage with a fully-grown Bengal tiger, the book later suggests a unitary view of Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger being the wild unpredictably dangerous beast within a docile vegetarian boy. While the sensibility of all symbolic interactions cannot be confirmed, Pi warns against the futility of factuality, urging us to always subscribe to the 'better' version of a story.

Science, Religion and Storytelling in The Life of Pi

The novel's conclusion seems to prefer storytelling over both science and religion. Pi attributes this to the beauty of stories. At the novel's ending, the author, through Pi's conversations with the detectives, suggests that it is quite difficult to ascertain the truth of stories (Martel 178). We, then, must take the 'truth' as it is told. The beauty of stories is further reaffirmed in Mr. Okamoto's conclusions. While the detectives receive two accounts of Pi's traumatic events at sea, Mr. Okamoto's report at the books ending includes a recognition of Pi's remarkable courage for surviving a theatrical voyage, specifically in the company of an adult Bengal tiger (180). This reaffirms his preference for Pi's first order of events. This, however, does not mean that the author discredits religion and science. In fact, he clearly attributes beauty to both. In terms of religion, Pi appreciates the distinct beauty and interconnection between the various beliefs. He practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam simultaneously, to the bewilderment of his religious teachers and parents. When probed, Pi retorts, "'All religions are true.' I just want to love God" (Martel 39).

In different scene, the author suggests a commonality between the three religions he practices. In a conversation with Auntieji, his foster mother, Pi states that Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims (Martel 28). Moreover, Pi uses the virtues of his triplicate beliefs to survive his traumatic time at sea. In my opinion, Pi believes all things have their good aspects. He goes on to study science and religion. The author confirms obvious weaknesses of reason and science yet Pi uses helpful scientific principles to understand and survive his dangerous reality. Harmoniously, Pi mentions that wherever we can, we must give things a meaningful shape (Martel 155).

Role of the Algae Island

From a symbolic interpretation, the author uses the algae island to build on the themes of faith and personal spirituality. In my opinion, the wild seas represent the notion of spiritual freedom. This can be related to the illusion of freedom earlier presented in the novel. In earlier scenes, Pi confirms that religion and zoos face similar predicament regarding misperception of freedom. In regard to this, he states that the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second (Martel 11). While factualists believe in freedom, they ignore the fact that open spiritual seas are defined by solitude and unlikely terrors.

The island appears as an unlikely source of hope amidst trials and tribulations of open seas. By the time Pi and Richard Parker reach the island, they are completely emaciated. Both characters struggle just to move about and require a substantial period of recovery before enjoying the nourishment presented by the incredulous island (Martel 143). By offering hope and strength to the perishing sailors, the island seems to mirror the conventional roles of religion. In a different view, the island also supports numerous meerkats and has nutritious algae. This corresponds to the spiritual supplication associated with religiosity. The meerkats are also depicted as naive due to the amiable conditions of the island. To this effect, Richard Parker devours the small animals with incredible ease. This denotes the dangers of religious naivety.

Furthermore, the island is depicted in two contrasting views; as a beautiful source of livelihood and also as a dark and dangerous death trap. This relates to the different aspects of religious experience including the nature of sacrificial offerings. Those atop the island benefit immensely from the island. Moreover, the island's occupants can only enjoy its benefits by understanding the rules of the island. While the meerkats and swim and feed freely by day, they flock to the trees at night. Those unaware of the islands devouring capacity face its powerful forces. This is seen in the numerous organisms consumed by the island. On finding out about the island's dangers, Pi makes up his mind to leave. He takes some good aspects of the island (in form of supplies) though he doesn't manage to keep all, and leaves. Although uncertainty defines his future path, he nevertheless chooses to take another leap of faith in order to escape the risks of the island and spiritual immobility (Martel 154). As part of the perks he receives on the island, Pi learns how to tame the strong and in-form Richard Parker. This denotes Pi's spiritual quest towards achieving peace within.

A Feministic Perspective

A feministic reading of the novel might result in disappointment owing to the gender roles presented in the book. In a sense, Life of Pi seems to present man as the central figure, the woman as subordinate and supportive. This is seen in the relationship between Pi's parents. Santosh makes the core decisions of the house, including regarding the disciplining of children (Martel 18). In one occasion, Gita tries to stop Santosh from offering the children a grisly lesson on animal safety. Santosh disregards her prompts and does things his way. He however explains lovingly the significance of his actions. A feminist reading would term this as disregard for opinion.

Although the women in the Life of Pi are few, they seem to assume very transient roles. Although Pi's mother is a main character, she contributes very little to the progress of the plot. Moreover, she is left aside and only introduced as a last resort. When Pi asks His father for a praying rug and permission for baptism, Santosh only refers Pi to his mother after unsuccessfully engaging him. Surprisingly, Gita does not make a witty response to Pi's requests. She instantly refers him to his father to which Pi protests. This is followed by Gita offering unhelpful solutions in the form of books that Pi has read over and over. This makes he seem unhelpful and naive. In another instance, when Pi's parents meet the three religious leaders in Pondicherry, Gita does not contribute to the conversation till the last bit. This degrades her ability to participate effectively in the engagement.

In a more positive light, however, women are also presented as helpful. Pi's mother plays a central role in his education and spiritual growth. Additionally, when she appears symbolically as an orangutan, she defends her son right before meeting her death. This depicts admirable qualities of women. Moreover, when the mystery author visits Pi at his home in Canada, we understand that Pi actively plays a role in cooking and helping out in the house. Pi's wife is also depicted as a working intelligent woman. This reaffirms women as capable, and cements the changing roles of women and men in modern relationships.

The Correlation between Man and Animals

While most humans believe to be distinct from animals, Life of Pi confirms similarity between man and nature's beasts. First, the author, through Pi's father set a notion in pace that humans are the most dangerous animals in the zoo (Martel 18). He goes on to tell us of the countless absurd and destructive behaviours of man within the Pondicherry Botanical Zoo. Such descriptions paint man as capable of inhumanity. Contrastingly, the author also commends admirable animal behavior including distinct companionships between the birds as well as the rhinos and goats at the zoos (Martel 16).

Life of Pi makes use of plentiful symbolic interactions between animals and human beings. A significant part of the book describes Pi's time with Richard Parker, the adult Bengal tiger. From an allegorical perspective, Richard Parker is presented as the dark side of Pi. This wild side seems to appear in him after the distressful shipwreck in which everything seemed to be falling apart. Likewise, the other animals in Pi's initial account of his ordeal at sea are anthropomorphized as human beings with distinct and relatable qualities. Just like the hyena, the cook is greedy, blood-thirsty with repulsive behaviors. The injured Taiwanese sailor is beautiful and striking, just like the zebra. This reaffirms the sharing of traits among animals and man.

Through his ordeals with his father as well as Richard Parker, Pi further appreciates the aggression and tenacity of animals. Pi does not deny the distinct wildness of animals in comparison to man. Regarding this, he clearly states that an animal is an animal (Martel 18). He however ascribes the belligerent nature of animals to the reality of the wild. Under the pressures of survival, animals are bound to be territorial and aggressive. However, under conditions of adequacy and mutual benefit, animals can develop unconventional companionships between each other and with man. Such defines the nature of man while relating with society as well as self.

Works Cited

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Canongate, 2018.

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