Yann Martel

Life Of Pi

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Life Of Pi Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Life of Pi by novelist Yann Martel is the tale of Piscine Molitor Patel, known as Pi. Pi is an Indian boy who survives for 227 days on a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean following a shipwreck. His is stranded with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Pi has to come to terms with his spirituality, with his belief in God, and the basic human instinct for survival. The book opens with a fictional note from the author that serves as a frame to the main story.

As the story opens, the adult Pi, a Canadian, thinks about his childhood in India. His father is a zoo owner in Pondicherry and the family, if not rich, wants for nothing. After being teased about his name as a school boy—others bastardized his name Piscine to “Pissing”—he adopted the name “Pi” in tribute to the irrational number used in mathematics. Growing up around his father’s zoo, Pi has a deep understanding of animals. In particular, he shares that animals do not need wide spaces, rather they need to know the boundaries within their habitats. He also shares his religious history early in the narrative, explaining that he was a Hindu by birth but one day came upon a church by chance, and a friendly priest introduced Christ into his life. A random encounter with a mosque brought a third religion into his life, and he remains a believer in spite of any difficulties he has encountered in life. The theme of spirituality continues to take shape as Pi explains that agnostics offend him more than nonbelievers. This stems from his believe that it is important to move beyond doubt.

Pi grows up in the 1970s with his family, and eventually moving to Canada. They travel via a Japanese cargo ship, taking with them some of the animals from the zoo, which have been purchased by various organizations around the world. In a somewhat sudden event, the ship begins to sink, and the animals seem to have been released from their cages. Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, apparently the sole survivor. It is a relatively large boat and his fellow passengers are a tiger, a zebra that is wounded, an orangutan, and a hyena. This sets in action the largest portion of the book, which focuses on life in the boat. In short order, the hyena eats the zebra and the orangutan and then is consumed by the tiger. This sets up the one on one survival scenario of Pi and the tiger. Given the circumstances, the need for food, water, and protection from the natural elements undoubtedly become concerns of Pi as the story unfolds.

Pi is afraid at first and stays on the end of the boat opposite the tiger. Pi realizes, however, that to stay alive he will have to learn to control the tiger. Symbolically, this is like the situation in a zoo, which he well knows. He uses a whistle from a life jacket to keep the tiger at bay. A relationship between the human and the beast develops, and they become connected by companionship, fear, and even love. Pi learns to dominate the tiger by using food as a reward and seasickness as a punishment. Eventually they are able to share the boat.

Pi recounts other events. At one point, he is unable to see due to exposure to the elements and cannot catch fish. Another finds Pi delirious, talking to Richard Parker, who seems to have acquired the ability to speak. It turns out to be a French castaway, who boarded the boat to eat Pi but is killed by the tiger. Eventually, Pi finds himself on an island filled with meerkats and he returns to the ocean. Finally, after 227 days have passed since the sinking of the ship on which Pi and his family had set out, he washes ashore in Mexico, and the tiger disappears into the jungle.

In the final portion of the novel, Pi meets with Japanese ministry of transport officials as they investigate the shipwreck. This takes place at a Mexican hospital where Pi is recuperating. He tells them the implausible story of his more than 200 days at sea. They do not believe him, so he contrives another tale, this one with humans replacing the animals. There is a journalist among those interviewing Pi, and since neither of his stories can be verified, nor do they explain the shipwreck, he asks the journalist which story the group prefers. They select the one with the animals. Pi thanks them and they go on their way, leaving readers with an ambiguous ending for, as Pi points out, neither version can be proven.