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Life of Pi | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Toronto and Pondicherry

In 1996 a Canadian writer flies to Bombay, India, where he plans to write a novel. His attempt fails, and he goes to the south of India in search of a better story. In the town of Pondicherry, the visiting writer meets an elderly man, Mr. Adirubasamy, in a coffeehouse. Mr. Adirubasamy claims to have "a story that will make you believe in God." He connects the visiting writer with Pi Patel, a 42-year-old Indian scholar living in Toronto, Canada.

Pi narrates his life story, beginning with his academic studies in religion and zoology and his mysterious past. The first part of the novel recounts Pi's childhood as the son of a zookeeper who is surrounded by and fascinated with animals. His father shows him and his brother a tiger attack to demonstrate how dangerous animals can be. After being teased in school because of his first name, Piscine, Pi renames himself after the mathematical symbol.

In contrast to Pi's secular upbringing, Pi becomes intrigued by religion through a series of chance encounters. A youthful visit to a temple causes Pi to fall in love with Hinduism; talks with a priest in a church interest Pi in Christianity; and meeting a Muslim mystic leads Pi to Islam. As a result Pi begins to practice all three religions, and despite pressure to choose one he claims he needs each religion to understand God. In 1977 when Pi is 16, his parents decide to move the family, along with many of the zoo animals, to Canada on a cargo ship because of political unrest in India.

In several chapters the visiting writer narrates and reveals his impressions of the adult Pi. Happily married with two children, Pi fills his home with religious iconography and stuffs his cupboards with vegetarian food. But Pi, to his distress, has few photos of his parents and brother. Pi points out a photo of the tiger Richard Parker to the visiting writer.

Part 2, The Pacific Ocean

Pi narrates his passage across the Pacific Ocean. The cargo ship carrying his family and their animals, the Tsimtsum, sinks without warning. Pi ends up on a lifeboat with only animals for company—a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger. The hyena kills the already injured zebra and eats the orangutan, while Richard Parker, the 450-pound Bengal tiger, eats the hyena. Pi fears for his life and mourns his family.

During Pi's first week at sea, he hopes for rescue. He takes stock of his supplies and builds a raft to give him space from Richard Parker. Eventually Pi realizes he must tame Richard Parker and keep the tiger alive if he hopes to survive himself. Pi uses his knowledge of animal behavior to claim space and authority, making Richard Parker obedient to him. A vegetarian, Pi is forced to slaughter fish and turtles to survive.

Months pass on the lifeboat. Pi suffers from thirst, loneliness, and despair. He relies on his faith for comfort. He notices both the beauty and the menace of the ocean. One night Pi is near death and temporarily blinded from malnutrition. He hears a voice and responds, realizing slowly he's talking to another human castaway. The two men meet. The other man, a blind Frenchman, tries to kill Pi for food. Instead Richard Parker kills the blind Frenchman.

Soon afterward Pi and Richard Parker find an island made of algae. Pi is delighted by the land, vegetation, and fresh water. Several meerkats live on the island as well. He stays on the island happily until he realizes the algae ponds are carnivorous and have killed another human being. Reluctantly, he returns with Richard Parker to the lifeboat.

Pi finally reaches Mexico. Richard Parker wanders away, devastating Pi, but he is glad to return to land. Pi is cared for by some village women, and a police car transports him to a nearby hospital.

Part 3, Benito Juarez Infirmary, Tomatlan, Mexico

Pi is the Tsimtsum's only survivor, and two shipping company employees, Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba, question Pi about the shipwreck in an interview transcribed by the visiting writer.

Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba don't believe Pi's story of survival on the lifeboat. Pi grows agitated and asks them if they need to see to believe. At their prompting he tells another version in which he lands on the lifeboat with a cook, a sailor, and his mother, who are all murdered. Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba realize the humans in the second story act similarly to the animals in Pi's first story. Pi asks them which story they prefer. They prefer the version with the animals. In Mr. Okamoto's official report, he commends Pi for surviving at sea in the company of a tiger.

Life of Pi Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 The visiting writer arrives in India.

Rising Action

2 The visiting writer meets Pi Patel.

3 Pi describes his upbringing in the Pondicherry Zoo.

4 Pi adopts his new name in secondary school.

5 Pi's father demonstrates the danger of tigers.

6 Pi embraces Hinduism.

7 Pi is introduced to Christianity.

8 Pi is introduced to Islam.

9 The Patel family leaves India for Canada.

10 The visiting writer meets Pi's new Canadian family.

Climax

11 The Tsimtsum sinks.

Falling Action

12 The hyena, the zebra, and Orange Juice die.

13 Pi and Richard Parker find the algae island.

14 Pi and Richard Parker reach Mexico.

Resolution

15 Pi tells his story to Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba.

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