The Life of Pi is a fiction novel by Yann Martel that narrates the adventure experienced by the main character, Pi Patel, who survived in a shipwreck and found himself stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker. I found this story unbelievable when I read of how Pi survived for a period that seemed like eternity with a wild tiger in a small lifeboat. What struck me most however is the main character`s ability to adapt to the harsh environmental conditions that were in existence at sea. For instance, Pi, who was a strict vegetarian had to adapt to a different kind of lifestyle where fish and turtle meat were the only available diet necessary for survival. One also cannot help but sympathize with the main character`s loneliness and loss of hope for a brighter future. Nevertheless, Pi battles out the dangerous encounters experienced in the deep seas to ensure his survival and that of wild tiger by his side. It is truly evident that the concept of life and survival solely depend upon one`s adaptation to the surrounding conditions.
I was awed and immensely impressed by Pi`s ability to relate to animal characteristics as narrated in the book. Having a wild tiger as his sole companion, Pi discovered that their existence depended upon each other. However, as all cat animals follow the order of dominance, Pi was eventually faced by the problem of proving his dominance over the gigantic predator. What caught my attention was the ingenious ability of Pi to figure out that the display of the cat`s feces showed authority, whereas hiding it was interpreted as deference according to the animal`s mentality. I vividly recall Pi bravely taking hold of Richard Parker`s feces and blowing his whistle to instill distress in the animal, successfully stamping his authority and dominance in the lifeboat, ‘ By doing thisI made clear to Richard Parker that it was my right, my lordly right, to fondle and sniff his feces if I wanted to’ (p 94). This chapter offered me great insight on animal mentality, however I got confused of the connection between handling an animal`s waste and exhibiting dominance. Nevertheless I find Pi`s actions as courageous and not the least, ingenious.
The next chapter narrated Pi`s hardship in getting food for sustenance as his food rations diminished on the lifeboat. I found myself deeply sympathizing with him, placing myself in his shoes. With only a few rations of dried biscuits left between him and starvation, Pi, who was originally a vegetarian, began delighting in the delicious satisfying meal that fish and turtles had to offer (p95). As days went by, he found his hunger unbearable. Many times Pi drifted into magical fantasies of loads of sweet delicious meals, or the dream that he was cooking a meal with the right ingredients, and one that never overcooked. These fantasies echoed what I normally feel when I get hungry; Pi`s fantasies were however intense as compared to what I have ever experienced in life. I think it calls for extreme situations of hunger to get to such desperate measures such as sucking the fluids from the eyes of fish and finding the blood of turtles a great delicacy. I also strongly related to Pi`s sentiments that a full stomach more often than ever yielded a cheerful mood, ‘ It was frightening, the extent to which a full belly made for a good mood. The other would follow the other measure for measure: so much food and water’ (p95). This chapter enlightened me on the necessity to adapt to the environment as a strategy to survival.
Chapter 78 further narrated Pi`s loneliness on this long aimless sail. At first I found it relatively hard to pinpoint at what Pi was exactly feeling, and had to read this chapter the second time to really grasp the context of what he felt. The chapter gives Pi`s description of the skies, the clouds, the sun, the moon, darkness, and even the ocean around him as factors that all reminded him of his solitude and the fact that he was stuck alone and helpless in the middle of the pacific ocean as an insignificant figure. I could almost place myself in that lifeboat in the middle of the pacific. He also describes what it feels like to be a castaway- existing in a point that is perpetually at the center of a circle. The scorching of the hot sun made Pi long for rains; rains on the other hand threatened his existence by flooding the boat to the point of sinking it. All environmental conditions seemed to be set against him. The most touching part however, was Pi`s description of the ‘ worst pair of opposites’ that he faced; terror and boredom. Pi asserts that being in this condition, one`s life swings from one end to another in similar fashion to that of a pendulum. The aspect of death in such a situation seems to be the only thing that excites your emotions, ‘ Only death consistently excites your emotions, whether contemplating it when life is safe and stale, or fleeing it when life is threatened and precious,’(p 97). I learnt that a spark, even the slightest whiff, of happiness in one`s life is important for survival, especially in life threatening situations. Pi could derive happiness from the smallest of things such as the presence of a dead fish at his feet.
Finally, I found the writer`s description of the dangers that Pi faced in the high seas as brilliant. Pi`s daily encounter with sharks is described as terrifying at first, “ The main nuisance caused by sharks was that they made being in water risky, like trespassing on property where there is a sign saying ‘ Beware of Dog’” (p 97). I however found Pi`s comments as humorous when he describes how he got used to the presence of sharks every day, ‘ They were like curmudgeonly old friends who would never admit that they liked me yet came round to see me all the time’ (p97). This chapter however offers a surprising tell-tale of how the predator turns out to be the prey. Sharks which are known as gigantic and extremely dangerous predators in the sea, most surprisingly turned out to be Pi`s source of food for quite a period of time. This seemed utterly impossible to me. Sharks are immensely dangerous creatures, and the mere thought of fishing the amount of the sea with bare hands seemed ‘ foolhardy’ if not life –threatening to me. The most surprising part of this chapter however is the part describing Richard Parker`s fight with a four-foot long mako shark, the first and largest shark that Pi ever caught. I could not help but visualize this fight as if I were watching a Hollywood movie. This fierce battle however acted as a reminder to Pi that the tiger was not a perfect creature despite his honed hunting skills and wild instinct. It is from reading this passage that I was able to conclude that perfection only results out of experience and practice of one`s skills. Despite the agony that may be encountered in certain experiences, it serves the sole purpose of perfecting us in the face of future occurrences.
After reading the four chapters on this novel, I reflected on the message that the author was trying to convey to his readers. Was the message simply narrating on Pi`s little adventure in the high seas, or was the writer trying to convey a more concrete message through his narration? After much thought and a second read through the chapters it eventually dawns on me that the author was trying to teach his readers on the benefits and need to adapt to the hardships around us as the only way to overcoming adversity. Pi, after finding himself in this shipwreck lost at sea with no flicker of hope of seeing the future, maintained a positive approach, adapting to the conditions around him as the only survival tactic left. This method nevertheless proves to be effective as it sees Pi through his series of ordeals on the sea.
Considering the above discussions, it is evident that life and survival solely depend upon one`s adaptation to the surrounding conditions, as depicted in The Life of Pi. As can be seen from Pi`s story, his survival in the high seas in the company of a wild Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, was solely as a result of his ability to adapt to the environmental conditions and suiting them to his own advantage. For instance, Pi had to compromise with his dietary preferences in order to survive the entire period in the middle of the sea. One must also adapt a positive attitude even in the face of adversity to ensure ultimate survival. These chapters of the book offer an interesting read that I highly recommend to any avid reader out there.
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Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: A Novel. Orlando: Harvest, 2004. Internet resource.