The Key To Survival
The novel, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, is divided up into three sections that at first seem fairly inconsequential to one another. However, shortly into the reading of the second part of the novel, a reader will realize the importance and depth reached by bring these two separate pieces of work together. One of the most obvious themes of the novel, enhanced by strong metaphors and symbols, is survival. Martel is able to indirectly describe nearly every type of basic survival strategy through different characters, including Richard Parker, Orange Juice, and the Hyena.
Pis survival instinct takes over in Part Two of the novel, opens with Pi struggling against a raging storm on a lifeboat after the ship he was crossing the Pacific on sinks and takes the life of Pi's entire family and many of the Zoo animals that Pi's father owned. During this struggle, Pi becomes aware of the full-grown Tiger, Richard Parker, drifting farther out to sea because of the intense storming. Despite Richard Parker's best efforts, he becomes overly exhausted from the continuous fight against the enormous waves. He was too far. But the sight of the lifebuoy flying his way gave him hope. He revived and started beating the water with vigorous, desperate strokes(123). Watching Richard Parker slowly give up the fight for life greatly distresses Pi and in a moment of desperation, Pi throws a life preserver towards his animal-friend which renews hope in Richard Parker and eventually, the tiger is able to climb aboard the lifeboat. This reveals one of the greatest truths about survival: it is always easier to survive if you have someone to help you battle death.
Another Example of survival being more obtainable with a companion is how Pi still looks fondly upon his two hundred and twenty seven day survival partner years after he has left the entire difficult ordeal behind. Although living on a small life-raft with an aggressive, carnivorous animal, that you must constantly feed and be incredibly cautiously of, may not seem like the best way to survive for over seven months stranded out at sea, Pi feels that without Richard Parker, he never would have made it off the lifeboat alive. Pi says, Richard Parker has stayed with me. I've never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart(7). We will always remember those who shelter us when we are vulnerable.
In the novel, Martel uses animals as a symbol for different reactions that may be caused during a life-threatening situation. The primary examples of this are; Richard Parker, the survivor, is able to haul himself onto the lifeboat, and chooses to live. While another creature, the hyena simply allows death to overcome him. As the hyena continues to make unnecessary noise, Richard Parker approaches the hyena and tears it apart with no fight or attempts to escape on the part of the hyena. This act of defeat is a strong symbol of the weakness a person may feel when forced into such a bleak and hopeless situation, such as being lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with little to no chance of help.
One of Pi's greatest tools of survival is overtime, he is able to transform into a basic, animal-life form of himself. In order to show dominance in the lifeboat, like Richard Parker, Pi marks his territory. Also, Pi's cloths completely deteriorate leaving him naked for the majority of his journey with the tiger. Pi says, My clothes disintegrated, victims of the sun and the salt. First, they become gauze-thin. Then they tear until only the seams were left. Lastly, the seams broke. For months I lived stark naked except for the whistle that dangled from my neck by a string(242). Another example of Pi's animalistic behavior is despite Pi's devout vegetarianism; he finds that he has become capable of killing fish for food with a numbed detachment. Pi says, You may be astonished that in such a short period of time, I could go from weeping over the muffled killing of a flying fish to gleefully bludgeoning to death a Dorado. I could explain it by arguing that profiting from a pitiful flying fish's navigational mistake made me shy and sorrowful while the excitement of actively capturing a great Dorado made me sanguinary and self-assured(234).
Despite Pi's dramatic transformation, he remains steadfast to his prayers; they seem to be the only sense of humanity that he can hold onto. Pi says, Sunrise to mid-morning: wake up, prayers, breakfast for Richard Parker.... Mid-morning to late afternoon: Prayers, light lunch.... Late afternoon to early evening: prayers, fishing and preparing of fish.... Night: fitful sleeping, prayers(240). The constant prayers may be one of Pi's tools of survival; they give him something to hold onto, a sense of control, and a feeling of hope in a dire situation. Although Pi spends endless hours in virtual silence, he needs a way to keep himself distracted from thinking about his lost family and the hopelessness of the predicament he has found himself in.
As Martel makes clear in his novel, living creatures will sometimes do extraordinary, unexpected, and sometimes heroic things when pressed into a life-threatening situation. This can be seen in numerous places throughout the novel, such as how despite Richard Parker's drastic decrease in weight and continually draining health, he never attacks Pi, the only other living creature on the lifeboat for many months. This is a great show of restraint on the part of Richard Parker, it goes against every animal instinct that a tiger is born with; kill to survive, something that even Pi had more than mastered by the end of their journey across the Pacific Ocean.
It is with the help of a man-eating monster that Pi finds the key to survival, the companionship of another being. Without Richard Parker, Pi would not understand the meaning to survive, to stay strong when the odds are against you, to keep faith in complete darkness. Companionship in a situation such as this gives Pi hope, as dangerous as Richard Parker is, Pi views him as a guardian, his protector, his companion. That is the Key to Survival
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: Orlando: Harvest/Harcourt, 2001.