Literature Study GuidesLife Of PiPart 1 Chapters 16 18 Summary

Life of Pi | Study Guide

Yann Martel

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Life of Pi | Part 1, Chapters 16–18 : Toronto and Pondicherry | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 16

Pi believes we're all born in limbo "until some figure introduces us to God." He tells how he went to a Hindu temple with his Auntie Rohini at a young age. Pi describes the symbols, rites, and images that define his Hindu faith. Hinduism helps him "see my place in the universe." He believes Christians, Hindus, and Muslims are all reflections of one another.

Part 1, Chapter 17

Pi tells how he became a Christian. He relates how at age 14 he goes on a family vacation to Munnar and finds a Christian church. He's amazed by the church's beauty but confused by the notion of sacrifice associated with Christianity. Over time he gets to know Father Martin, the welcoming parish priest. Pi doesn't think Christianity's human and vulnerable Jesus compares to Hinduism's magnificent gods, but he is still fascinated by the faith and decides to become a Christian as well as a Hindu.

Part 1, Chapter 18

Pi discovers Islam when he is 15. He explores the Muslim quarter of his town and meets a baker. When the baker follows the Muslim call to prayer, Pi is intrigued watching him pray. He compares Muslims kneeling for prayer to Christians kneeling at the cross.

Analysis

Hinduism is Pi's first religion and part of his ethnic heritage. He's led to it not by abstractions and ideas but by the physical experiences of his five senses. As a child he's as mesmerized by the sounds, smells, and tastes of Hinduism as he is by the diversity in the zoo. Pi emphasizes both the body and the spirit's importance in practicing religion and belief.

He's also led by "exaltation" and awe; like an animal Pi wants to know his place. He finds it in worshipping something larger than himself, a "Presence" with a capital P. The largeness of time and sense of infinity in Hinduism is like the infinity expressed by the repeating digits of the number pi. The analogy of "Hairless Christians" that Pi shares at the end succinctly describes how the trappings and practices change from faith to faith but the goal does not.

Pi, who sees the world through color, notices the "bold colors" and graphic nature of Christ's suffering in Part 1, Chapter 17. Christ's kneecap is "fire-engine red" and his skin like "petals of a flower." Pi can appreciate the human, visceral nature of Christianity, even its relative speed through time. For the first time Pi connects fragility, pain, and need with love.

He compares the speeds through time of the two religions. Christianity is a "religion in a rush" while Hinduism is a relay race. Both faiths reflect Pi's own experience of time as drawn out and eternal on the lifeboat and hurried in the human world.

By Part 1, Chapter 18 Pi is beginning to identify himself more closely with each religion, saying "us Christians" and considering "callisthenic communion with God." His new attraction to Islam helps him discard his preconceived notions about religion and violence. Though he knows religious stories are violent and religion leads to wars, his first encounter with Islam is gentle and scholarly and includes the nourishment of food.

He learns things aren't always how you see them at first glance. For instance, the unappetizing bread leads Pi to Mr. Kumar the baker. He almost doesn't see the baker at first, although Mr. Kumar is right in front of him. This echoes the theme of the relativity of truth—reality is deeper and wider than any one perception.

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