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Life of Pi | Study Guide

Yann Martel

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Life of Pi | Part 1, Chapters 19–22 : Toronto and Pondicherry | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 19

Pi continues to visit the baker and learns more about Islam, which he calls "a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion." He begins joining Muslims in prayer.

Part 1, Chapter 20

The baker, named Mr. Satish Kumar like Pi's biology teacher, is a Sufi or Muslim mystic. The two Mr. Kumars were "prophets of my Indian youth," says Pi. Mr. Kumar the mystic's humble living quarters feel sacred to him. One day coming home from school in India, Pi feels an incredible closeness with the divine. He feels the same closeness years later in Canada on a snowy day.

Part 1, Chapter 21

After spending an afternoon talking with Pi, the writer thinks about his story. He takes notes on their dialogue. The writer notes an emphasis on "the moral sense" over intellect in understanding the universe and on love as "the founding principle of existence." He also contemplates "God's silence."

Part 1, Chapter 22

Adult Pi imagines atheists and agnostics on their deathbeds. He thinks the atheist might have a last-minute conversion to faith after seeing God, or love. The agnostic will have the same sight but attribute it to failing oxygen in the brain. Pi thinks the agnostic misses "the better story" because of reliance on facts over imagination.

Analysis

In Part 1, Chapter 19 the reader sees for the first time the role of community in Pi's worship. Prayer is kinetic, something he knows in his body. An "open construction" of the mosque allows for greater communion with the nature Pi loves.

As Pi refers to "the prophets of my Indian youth" in Part 1, Chapter 20 he makes these ordinary men holy. He believes divinity is accessible, even in something as simple as alteration of perception. Once Pi's way of seeing the sea and the road change, his world changes, too. Water imagery continues as well. Mr. Kumar the baker recites guttural vowels like a "beautiful brook" in a voice "as deep as the universe." Pi is learning to see the universe everywhere.

Martel has said Part 1, Chapters 21 and 22 are the core of the novel. They are short and, at first glance, not connected to the plot. But they examine the novel's deepest ideas. The visiting writer, as reader surrogate, tries to parse Pi's story for a greater meaning he can use in his own life.

Like love Pi's story is worked out "not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately." He loses his entire family and takes years to find a new home and family. His experience confounds the intellect and rivals other castaway stories. Despite its "ultimate purpose" Pi knows how horrible his journey was. But he's learned to rely on a more moral sense of the truth, larger than he can understand, not just what he knows intellectually to be true.

Pi feels imagination and love are the keys to survival. Imagination is central to belief. The agnostic he imagines in Part 1, Chapter 22, by not choosing a faith or a path to follow, refuses to imagine anything. When the Japanese officials later don't know whether to believe Pi, he will accuse them of a kind of agnosticism with its "dry, yeastless factuality."

Love, in turn, can cross the boundaries between science, religion, and even species. Pi thinks everyone, no matter what they believe, will experience love in some form and will need to react with a leap of faith. As he says later, "Isn't love hard to believe?"

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