HomeLiterature Study GuidesLife Of PiPart 2 Chapters 53 56 Summary

Life of Pi | Study Guide

Yann Martel

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Life of Pi | Part 2, Chapters 53–56 : The Pacific Ocean | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 53

Despite his earlier happiness at finding supplies, Pi feels desperate when he wakes the next day. He thinks of his oncoming death and laments the life he might have had. But a voice from within urges Pi to hold onto life, to "turn miracle into routine," and tells him he will survive. Pi realizes he has a fierce desire to live that will keep him going no matter what.

He builds a raft to give himself space from Richard Parker, who he believes won't jump into the water. When Pi is almost finished, Richard Parker appears from under the tarpaulin. Pi is mesmerized by the tiger's enormous size, grace, and majesty. He describes the tiger in detail, emphasizing his size. Just as Richard Parker rears up to approach Pi, a rat appears, and Pi throws it at Richard Parker. The tiger eats the rat and then eats the hyena. Pi seizes the chance to finish his raft.

As Pi eases the raft into the water, he realizes it won't save him. The raft could sink too easily. However, he stays on the raft until Richard Parker has disappeared below the tarpaulin again. While gathering supplies from below, Pi accidentally makes a loud noise that startles the tiger, but the tiger leaves him alone.

Part 2, Chapter 54

It rains all night. Pi tries in vain to keep himself warm and dry. Awake and restless, he tries to decide how to deal with Richard Parker. Pi thinks of and dismisses several imperfect plans, including pushing the tiger off the lifeboat, killing him with morphine syringes or weapons, choking him, poisoning him, and setting him on fire. The tiger is too strong for any plan to work. Pi eventually decides to hoard supplies such as food and fresh water and let the tiger die—a "war of attrition."

Part 2, Chapter 55

At dawn it's still raining. Eventually, the rain stops and Richard Parker emerges. As Pi remembers the details of his plan—to starve the tiger and let nature run its course—he realizes this is the worst idea of all. Richard Parker's thirst and hunger will eventually overcome fear. The tiger will do whatever is necessary to live, including swimming, drinking salt water, and killing Pi.

Pi notices the beauty of the ocean and describes it as "a smooth skin reflecting the light with a million mirrors." He's paying more attention, however, to the feeling of infinity. This isn't the sense of calm he gets when contemplating "the infinite within the finite" in Hinduism. This is more like terror and fright. He has the sense of being in the middle of nowhere, alone, "surrounded by flatness and infinity."

Part 2, Chapter 56

Pi describes fear as "life's only true opponent." Fear begins in the mind as doubt, slowly supplanting reason. Then fear takes over each part of the body. Finally fear leads to rash decisions that defeat any hope. To conquer fear Pi believes one should express fear and "shine the light of words upon it."

Analysis

Pi vividly imagines his own death many times on the lifeboat. He knows the line between life and death is thin and tries as hard as he can to preserve life. He repeats words and names from his past. Pi isn't sure if his will to live no matter the cost, his "life-hungry stupidity," is a positive trait or not. For instance, he soon must answer the question of whether or not he will kill the tiger to preserve his own life.

The narrative style in Part 2, Chapter 53 imitates the events it describes. Pi's grieving scenes are heavy with emotion. Pi's action scenes are quickly paced with simple, direct language. When he gets out the life jackets and builds the raft he is making urgent, split-second decisions.

The description of Richard Parker is almost godlike, like Pi's tales of the powerful Hindu gods. All the tiger's gestures are grand and majestic. He has human-sounding characteristics, too; "self-possession on the point of exploding with rage." Pi is in awe, the kind of awe that comes with dread and terror. Why does Richard Parker spare his life? He's not sure.

As Pi contemplates his situation with the tiger he imagines himself "at the centre of a great nest of angry snakes." He likes to speak in animal metaphors, and he'll frequently feel at the center of a force stronger than he is. Whether the force is benevolent, malevolent, or indifferent (and the weather, at times, is all three), he'll feel its power.

The rain in Part 2, Chapter 54 is spreading "with preverse determination," showing the power of water and weather over Pi's life. In the middle of a dilemma he can't control, he tries to focus on one he can control—only to find out he can't control the tiger either. Pi knows his place as just another animal, "a puny, feeble, vegetarian life form." But he knows the strength of nature and decides to leave it up to nature to defeat Richard Parker. Once the tiger emerges in Part 2, Chapter 55, however, he realizes this plan will not work. Even though he's helpless, he needs to take charge.

Expressing and naming always brings things into the light for Pi, and in Part 2, Chapter 56 he reinforces the power of words. The second paragraph of the chapter compares humans to multiple animals in their physiological fear responses. Humans are only different, Pi implies, because we have words and storytelling abilities. He contrasts reason and instinct, machines and nature. Like the Tsimtsum, "fully equipped with the latest weapons technology," reason loses to instinct, nature, and the inexplicable.

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