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The Role Of Richard Parker In Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi

1517 words - 7 pages

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions” (Miller, 2010). The archetype of the shadow self is the darker, animalistic self that a person represses and is forced into the unconscious by the ego. In Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the protagonist, Piscine Molitor is stranded in the middle of the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. It is on this journey that Pi encounters his shadow self. Unfortunately, in an effort to survive, Pi goes against most of his beliefs; and resorts a level of savagery by giving in to his shadow self, Richard ...view middle of the document...

Pi envisages this process: “I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realized this necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me. [...]. Most likely the worst would happen: the simple passage of time, in which his animal toughness would easily outlast my human frailty” (206). Pi’s epiphany is a realization that in order to be able to survive this ordeal on the lifeboat, he has to exist together with Richard Parker. This decision prompts him to thwart his plans of living in constant fear of the tiger, or even trying to kill this animal. Pi’s resolution to “tame” Richard Parker by establishing himself as the super “alpha” male in the lifeboat signifies his compliance to his shadow self, giving him a chance and hope of survival. Pi “taming” the tiger symbolically suggests Pi exerting dominance and control over his savageness and brutality. Hence, by Pi eventually accepting and dominating Richard Parker, his shadow and animalistic self, he illustrates his will to survive even in the seemingly impossible circumstance.
Furthermore, Pi’s denial of his actions results in his creation of Richard Parker. Pi attributes the traits of Richard Parker to himself because Pi as an individual needs the traits Richard Parker possesses. This is palpable in the conversation between Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto, “So the Taiwanese sailor is the zebra, his mother is the orang-utan, the cook is… the hyena—which means he is the tiger!” “Yes. The tiger killed the hyena—and the blind Frenchman—just as he killed the cook.” (392). The conversation between Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto further validates the idea that Richard Parker is a part of Pi’s psyche, existing as a survival mechanism enabling Pi to survive on the boat. The general characteristics of a tiger- aggressive, feral, lack of conscience, ruthlessness and savagery- are all characteristics Pi is afraid to express and possess. Therefore, by attributing these characteristics of the tiger to himself, he is able to survive on the boat. Apart from this, Pi uses Richard Parker as a symbol of his imagination. His savage and animalistic conducts on the boat as a method of survival are inhumane; thus, as a means of coping with his actions, he childishly creates a false reality of Richard Parker. Pi acknowledges, “This was the terrible cost of Richard Parker. He gave me a life, my own, but at the expense of taking one. He ripped the flesh off the man’s frame and cracked his bones… something in me died then that has never come back to life” (321). As earlier stated, Pi “tames” Richard Parker to control the “beast” inside him. However, Pi’s animal intuition completely takes over his self- control and morals. This release of inhibitions leads him to kill the blind man he encounters. Though Pi is happy to be alive, he dwells upon that fact that, “something in [him] died then that has never come back to life”. This suggests that Pi lost something in him that is irrecoverable; therefore, he feels deluded and...

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