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Life of Pi | Part 1, Chapters 7–9 : Toronto and Pondicherry | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 7

Young Pi has several excellent teachers, including Mr. Satish Kumar, who teaches biology. An odd-looking and intelligent man, Mr. Kumar is the first atheist Pi meets. When Mr. Kumar comes to the zoo, he tells Pi the zoo is his only temple. "Religion is darkness," he says, to Pi's confusion. Mr. Kumar believes science has all the answers mankind needs.

Adult Pi cites Mr. Kumar as the reason he studied zoology. Pi admires atheists but dislikes agnostics—those who believe the existence of God is possible but unproven. He says they choose "doubt as a philosophy of life."

This chapter gives the first indication of the political strife created by Mrs. Gandhi, or Bapu Gandhi, and the Indian people's reactions to her leadership.

Part 1, Chapter 8

Pi says most zookeepers know man is the most dangerous animal in the zoo. He describes tortures humans have inflicted on animals. An even more dangerous animal, however, is the animal seen through human eyes. Humans "look at an animal and see a mirror," mistaking dangerous creatures for adorable pets.

Young Pi's father plans an object lesson to teach his sons the dangers of zoo animals. He takes Pi and his older brother Ravi to see Mahisha, a 550-pound Bengal tiger in the zoo. Mr. Patel tells his assistant Babu to release a goat into Mahisha's cage. Mahisha devours the goat immediately. Mr. Patel leads Pi and Ravi to the cages of other zoo animals, such as lions, hippos, camels, deer, and orangutans, explaining the harm each can do.

As the third prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi was a controversial figure. She successfully led diplomatic efforts with Pakistan following the Indo-Pakistani War (1971), and she led a Green Revolution that increased food supplies and created jobs. However, she was an authoritarian ruler, and corruption plagued her government. In 1984 she was assassinated by members of a Sikh (monotheistic Indian religion; rejects idolatry and caste) separatist movement. Her assassination led to anti-Sikh riots during which thousands died.

Part 1, Chapter 9

Pi explains techniques zookeepers use to get animals accustomed to humans. Diminishing the animal's flight distance, or the minimum distance at which it keeps enemies, is key. Mr. Patel achieved this goal admirably by providing his animals food, shelter, and protection.

Analysis

Pi has an innate interest in biology and why humans do what they do. Mr. Kumar's recovery from polio as a child led to his faith in modern medicine and influenced his respect for the scientific universe. He's comfortable with order and evidence. But the two don't see the world the same way. Pi doesn't view religion versus science as a contrast between knowledge and ignorance. He views the contrast as knowable versus unknowable. Humans need both, he thinks.

God's salvation is a trickier question. Both Mr. Kumar and Pi deal with God's silence. Mr. Kumar prays for God to lift his polio affliction, with no result. Pi prays for salvation after the shipwreck, with no answer. One turns away from God; the other turns to God. What is central to Pi is belief and humility. He believes atheism is a faith of its own kind; a faith in science. Even scientists acknowledge the unknowable through new discoveries, as Pi will explain in Part 3.

In Part 1, Chapter 8 Pi builds on the previous descriptions of animal psychology to give a more complete picture of his own faith and worldview. The "excessive predatoriness" of man leads to cruelty. Pi sees another trend, which is disbelief in anything larger than oneself, whether it's science or faith or the unknowable universe; believing the world is yours to take. The graphic descriptions of man's inhumanity to animals show how Pi looks at hard, unflinching truth.

In this chapter Pi explores the concept of anthropomorphism, or giving animals human qualities. The danger in anthropomorphism, as Mr. Patel explains to his sons, lies in assuming animals are similar to humans in the way they think, feel, and contend with other life forms. This hint of danger foreshadows the real danger Pi will find himself in when confronted by animals in a radically different setting—Pi, not the animals, will have to adjust.

Though Pi denounces anthropomorphism, he admits as a child he "dressed wild animals in tame costumes of my imagination." Young Pi knows he is only pretending, but the book's testament to the power of imagination and people's ability to create their realities show the consequences of even pretending animals are like humans.

One of the gifts his father gives him is a lesson that does save his life; though his father can't have imagined Pi would ever be alone with a tiger in a lifeboat, he shows his son that animals deserve respect and proper handling. The lessons stretch beyond life in a zoo—every life deserves to be treated with reverence, and death is always close at hand. Though the goat's death is tense and frightening, Pi's father's tour of the zoo has a rhythmic, fairy tale quality—another example of storytelling.

Part 1, Chapter 9 gives more detail about zoo keeping and the psychology of animals, especially as it relates to human psychology. On the lifeboat Pi will have an opportunity not only to diminish Richard Parker's flight risk but also to analyze his own reaction to danger and threat. He'll have to get accustomed to Richard Parker, too.

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