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Life of Pi | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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How and why does Life of Pi emphasize Richard Parker's size and strength?

Pi wants to convey the impact of Richard Parker's presence to the reader. After killing the hyena in Part 2, Chapter 53 Richard Parker poses as if in "an intentional, even affected, display of mighty art." Pi notices art in Richard Parker, too. His coat shines with "a radiance" and his face looks like "the wings of a butterfly." The tiger is much grander and more intimidating on the lifeboat than in the zoo. Readers can see clearly the foe Pi is contending with as he emphasizes the tiger's danger, the "long yellow stalactites and stalagmites" of his teeth. The descriptions may seem exaggerated, but Richard Parker plays an outsized role in Pi's life: he's an enemy, a companion, and a dear friend. The detailed descriptions of the tiger show the care and love Pi came to feel for him. Pi's admiration and "fearful wonder" when he looks at Richard Parker also motivate him to keep the tiger alive. He is not as attached, for instance, to the uglier but less lethal hyena.

Which people and animals in Life of Pi does Pi say he remembers in his prayers, and why?

Pi prays for the zebra, the first fish he killed, and the blind Frenchman. They all died at sea while he lived. All, in some ways, were unwillingly sacrificed so Pi could survive. When Pi prays, he holds himself accountable and relieves himself from the guilt and burden of their deaths. The zebra dies in Part 2, Chapter 46 while Pi is freshly mourning the loss of his family. He feels the two are together in their suffering, yet Pi doesn't do anything to save him, knowing the hyena will spare Pi if the zebra dies. The fish that he kills for bait in Part 2, Chapter 61 is the first sentient being Pi kills. Believing "all sentient life is sacred," Pi feels the fish's death is "a terrible burden to carry." The blind Frenchman killed by Richard Parker in Part 2, Chapter 90 is a would-be murderer, but Pi feels a kinship with him, too, calling him "friend" and "brother." He can't subdue the Frenchman the way he can Richard Parker, so the two end up at odds and transformed by hunger. The food the Frenchman leaves in his boat also saves Pi's life.

What is Pi's greatest wish on the lifeboat, and how does it reinforce Life of Pi's main themes?

Pi's greatest wish, expressed in Part 2, Chapter 71, is for a great book with a never-ending story. Since so many of Pi's days are monotonous and his diary only chronicles daily events, he wants variety. He wants a story to which he can bring "a fresh understanding each time." Such a story is infinite, like the mathematical pi. He feels religion and belief should be presented to the world as a story in a book, "just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello." The importance of stories for everyone, no matter their situation, is an idea the book's two narrators share. The visiting writer, who doesn't share Pi's religious convictions, thinks communities should support artists for everyone's spiritual survival. Pi believes stories are especially significant because we write our own existence; life is a story because "in understanding something, we bring something to it."

Why does Pi say, "And so it goes with God," after he asks the Japanese officials to pick the best story in Part 3, Chapter 99 of Life of Pi?

The religions Pi practices are all based on stories, some realistically impossible, like Christ's resurrection or the mighty deeds of the Hindu gods. To Pi stories become truth when people choose to believe them. To make their lives more bearable, people might as well pick the story that gives them the most meaning and courage. Both versions of his survival are hard to believe. The story with the animals is far-fetched and sometimes hallucinatory, particularly toward the end of Pi's journey when he talks to the Frenchman and sees the algae island. The story with the humans involves tragic cruelty and cannibalism, including Mrs. Patel's murder in front of Pi. When the Japanese officials choose the animal version as the better story, they're picking the more hopeful and optimistic version, although it is less likely to have happened. They take a leap of faith, which Pi thinks connects them to God. As he says to the visiting writer in Part 1, Chapter 22, God and divinity is a "better story" than the failing oxygenation of the brain to which an agnostic would attribute the light at his death.

How and why does Pi use repetition and ritual to survive on the lifeboat in Life of Pi?

When Pi describes teaching the class his new name in Part 1, Chapter 5, he says repetition is important in the training of both humans and animals. On the lifeboat Pi trains Richard Parker through the repeated sound of the whistle, but he also trains himself to survive in his new situation. In Part 2, Chapter 74 Pi lays out the daily schedule he uses to combat despair. He prays three times a day. He also builds in time for physical necessities such as fishing, checking the life raft, and training Richard Parker. He needs to forget the human-made illusion of time to keep going, so he replaces it with his own structure. He believes "religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for." His rites on the lifeboat stand for a continued desire to live.

How in Life of Pi, Part 2, Chapter 78, does the author use simile and metaphor to enhance the novel's settings and ideas?

In Part 2, Chapter 78 Pi describes the "many skies" and "many seas" with multiple visual, auditory, and tactile metaphors. In an extended metaphor he describes the sea as a city by noting, "This is surely what Tokyo must look like at rush hour." These figures of speech show Pi connecting his isolated surroundings to the larger world, to which he one day hopes to return. He also uses simile and metaphor at various times on the lifeboat to convey an image's great significance to him as his existence takes on a dreamlike quality. Drinking water on the boat is "the wine of life," while the first dorado he kills is compared to a rainbow. Richard Parker's paws are as large as volumes of an encyclopedia.

In Life of Pi how does Pi find the algae island to be biologically unusual, and what do these details indicate about the island's role in the story?

The behavior of the meerkats in Part 2, Chapter 92 is but one of many ways the life on the algae island can be described as unusual. Pi isn't sure why the meerkats are so attracted to the water. He thinks they're behaving like frogs, not the desert meerkats they resemble. They must be a subspecies that had "specialized in a fascinating and surprising way," he concludes. Without predators the fight-or-flight response or instinct to defend territory, which most animals have, has been genetically weeded out of them. They are sitting bait for Richard Parker. Pi later learns the meerkats do defend themselves by climbing the trees to escape the carnivorous acid. The existence of seawater fish in a freshwater pond, meerkats that bring in dead fish they won't eat, and the frequent deaths of fish are many of the fish-related oddities about the island Pi doesn't understand. The fish-eating algae also produce fresh water, inexplicably. The island's ecosystem is not complete. It's devoid of smaller life forms such as ants, bugs, butterflies, bees, worms, snakes, and more. Pi has never seen "such a stripped-down ecology." It's outside the normal biological connections of the world yet somehow it exists. In all these ways the island is a conundrum, something irrational. Readers are unsure about whether it might be the result of Pi's hallucinations from hunger.

How do the lightning bolts in Part 2, Chapter 85 of Life of Pi affect Pi's faith and determination?

The closeness of the lightning, the likes of which Pi has never seen before, makes him feel he's seen a "miracle" and an "outbreak of divinity." In fact the lightning is so powerful it nearly kills him. Living in "boredom and terror," he's used to close calls with death. But he's not afraid this time. Instead, his everyday problems matter less to him. He can "entertain thoughts that span the universe." Unusually, he is less afraid than Richard Parker is; he calls out to the tiger to "stop your trembling." Then in Part 2, Chapter 86 Pi is strong enough to recover after a ship passes him by. He also feels closer to Richard Parker since they have shared an extraordinary experience, and he can tell the tiger he loves him.

How does Pi compare and contrast with the unknown person who died on the algae island before he arrived in Part 2, Chapter 92 of Life of Pi?

Pi knows the importance of sustaining his spirit and soul. Since the island provides an abundance of food, fresh water, and shelter, he knows the person must have died of a broken spirit. They were isolated, as he is. Each had "dreams of a happy life" and "stored-up conversation" that went unlived and unsaid, just as Pi dreamed of a life with his family and wanted to talk to them again. He also relates to the "loneliness" and "hopelessness" they must have endured. Pi wouldn't have left the island if he hadn't found the unknown person's teeth. In a way that saved him. Pi was warned in time. He's also not fooled by the mirage and "radiant promise" of the island, as the unknown person may have been.

Why does Yann Martel's Life of Pi end with Part 3, Chapter 100?

Pi believes in harmony and order. He's upset because he never got closure for the unique experience he shared with Richard Parker. He believes, "We must give things a meaningful shape." Despite his respect for the unknowable elements of the universe, he hates the way "that number runs on forever" in mathematical pi. He wants to shape and form his story for the reader as a way to take back control of his story, since so little turned out the way he planned. At this point his narrative is all he owns, so it's important he tell it correctly. He needs to impose structure on a tale he knows is "jumbled" and strains credulity. So he challenges himself to tell the tale in 100 chapters.

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