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Symbolism In Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi

1731 words - 7 pages

‘Life of Pi’ is a complex and philosophical novel written by Yann Martel. It tells the story of a sixteen year old boy named Piscine Molitor Patel on board a lifeboat for 227 days with a hyena, orangutan, zebra and eventually, solely, a Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. In Part 3 of the novel, however, Pi tells a second story of his ordeal, in which the animals from the first become metaphors for people who survived on the lifeboat with him, and Richard Parker becomes a metaphor for Pi’s savage side which emerges after the brutal beheading and murder of his mother so he can avenge her death and survive physically. Symbolism in very important in this novel as it allows Martel to fully ...view middle of the document...

Richard Parker becomes a symbolic representation for Pi’s savage side, a necessity for Pi’s survival:
‘I stabbed him repeatedly. His blood soaked my chapped hands. His heart was a struggle…it tasted delicious. I ate his liver. I cut off great pieces of his flesh of his flesh.’
This act of extreme brutality and savage violence shocks and horrifies the reader, and in spite of the more realistic nature of this story, we now work hard to believe the first, as it is an extraordinary story of survival, lacking in such horrible events. The invention of the second story suggests that the ordeal of the murder for Pi was so great that Pi had to bury it and embed the events in a second story in order to remain psychologically unaffected. This acts as a link to the Authors Note at the beginning of the novel where the fictional Author explains to us why storytelling is vital for us:
‘That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?’
Through the medium of storytelling, we are able to address difficult truths from a safer distance; we can disguise harsh reality in metaphor so that we can deal with traumatic ideas and events more easily. Stories do tell us truths, they bring out ‘the essence’ of reality, but they help to avoid emotional damage just as Pi’s first story does for him.
We see from Part One of the novel that Pi has been reinventing reality ever since he was a young boy. He has always had the instinct to twist a story or in this case his name to allow him to deal with any issues he has. Early on in the book we realize that Pi often modifies reality into a less harsh version:
“And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge.”
This is Pi’s method of solving his problems. “Refuge” has connotations of protection and security. This is Pi’s own coping mechanism ever since he was a child, it is effective to insert this quote as it proves that Pi has used his method of reinventing something to avoid the torment just as he does later in his life. Small details in the Authors Note and Part One make Pi’s first story easier to digest by the reader; it provides factual information within a somewhat fictional story.
Now that we see Richard Parker as symbolic of Pi’s savage side, the need for Pi to train him in Part Two, during his time on the lifeboat, becomes more significant. The theme of faith occurs a lot throughout the novel, and we see that faith is vital to in both of the stories he tells. He must ensure his spiritual, civilized and enlightened self remains dominant over his savage side:
‘Repetition is important in the training not only of animals but also of humans’
In Pi’s first story, he must train Richard Parker so that he can coexist on the lifeboat with him. He knows how important this is for survival: ‘it was time to impose myself and carve out...

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