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Literature Study GuidesLife Of PiPart 2 Chapters 37 39 Summary

Life of Pi

Yann Martel

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Life of Pi | Part 2, Chapters 37–39 : The Pacific Ocean | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 37

Part 2 begins with an overview of the events that Pi will retrace with more detail in the following chapters. As Part 2, Chapter 37 begins, a ship sinks. Pi calls from a lifeboat to Richard Parker, who's struggling in the water, to swim to the lifeboat. Pi hopes he's having a dream and will wake to safety on the Tsimtsum. But he knows he's not dreaming. He's lost his family and all their animals. Pi throws Richard Parker a life buoy. As he pulls him in, Pi realizes what he's doing and begins to shove the cat away with an oar. He's too late. Richard Parker climbs with him into the lifeboat. Pi steps over a zebra and jumps overboard.

Part 2, Chapter 38

Before the Tsimtsum wrecks, the ship pushes bravely through all kinds of weather. Pi enjoys taking care of the animals and seeing new countries. But on his fourth day at sea the ship sinks. An explosion wakes Pi, who wanders onto the main deck. It's raining and windy, but he's confident the well-built cable ship can withstand the weather. He feels adventurous and eager to get to Canada.

When Pi sees a lifeboat and hears noises on the ship, he begins to worry. He runs to find the ship's officers. Pi finds three crew members and asks them to save his family. One crew member throws a life jacket at him and tosses him overboard.

Part 2, Chapter 39

Pi lands on the tarpaulin covering a lifeboat on the ship's side, losing the life jacket in his fall. The crew members toss a zebra out of the ship. It lands on a bench and injures itself; the added weight of the zebra causes the lifeboat to plunge into the water.


Part 2, Chapter 37 seems to be placed out of chronological order—a teaser for the coming drama. It's a more dramatic and emotional rendition of the ship's sinking than the calmer story in Part 2, Chapter 38. Many details are missing, and the ones presented are confusing. But this version gives more insight into Pi's mindset and his relationship with Richard Parker, who—the reader finally learns—is a tiger.

Pi slowly realizes reason is inadequate to give answers in his situation. He deals with the question of theodicy, or why a loving, involved deity allows bad things to happen. Again, embracing opposites he demands an "account from heaven" if he's going to suffer hell. The "measure of madness" mentioned in earlier chapters may be what leads him to save Richard Parker. But at first Pi operates on instinct—once he wakes up to the reality of his situation, he wants the tiger gone.

As Part 2, Chapter 38 retraces the events of the sinking of the Tsimtsum, Pi's first impressions of the sea are of wonder and adventure. But he still sees powers greater than humankind at work. The sea is "impressive and forbidding, beautiful and dangerous." Water will become a symbol of an almost godlike force—a force Pi cannot control but on which his survival depends. As he makes this observation he doesn't know yet that he'll be at the mercy of the ocean, but he senses the strength of the water. He describes the ship's confidence as "slow" and "massive"—both awe-inspiring words. The ship is the epitome of human-made technology, a modern world like the modern India. Pi still doesn't know why it sank.

The pacing is abrupt to match the pacing of the actual event. The shipwreck happens quickly, without time for good-byes. Human authorities refuse to help Pi, despite his begging. Like animals they're protecting themselves.

Pi's subsequent fall onto the lifeboat seems like "a miracle" to him, just as his survival in an impossible situation will seem miraculous to readers. The story will strain credibility and seem more absurd as it unfolds.

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