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The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity — it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.
—Piscine Molitor Patel.
Allegedly one of the greatest novels to come out in recent years, the award-winning Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel is about the life and times of Piscine Molitor Patel, better known as Pi (pronounced "pi", as in, 3.14). An Indian teenager, Pi becomes philosophical at a very young age, becoming an adherent of no less than three religions (Islam, Christianity and Hinduism). His parents, who find his interest in religion odd, but accept it nonetheless, run a large zoo in Pondicherry, until circumstance forces them to move to Winnipeg, Canada.
The family sells their animals to a variety of zoos, and gain passage to Canada aboard a cargo ship - the Tsimtsum - that happens to be carrying a number of their own animals. For unknown reasons, the Tsimtsum sinks, leaving Pi bobbing along the Pacific in a lifeboat. Alone.
Well, not quite alone.
Pi shares his lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a rat, various insects, a hyena, and a 450-pound adult Bengal tiger.
What follows is an odd and touching story, recounting the trials and tribulations that Pi endures during his 277-day ordeal on the lifeboat.
- The Aloner
- Anvilicious: In-Universe: Santosh Patel's lesson to Pi and Ravi about how dangerous animals are.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Santosh Patel's lesson on the savagery of animals goes through a thorough list -- and ends with guinea pigs. Which are genuinely domesticated.
- A Boy and His X: A Boy And His Tiger.
- Bittersweet Ending: Pi survived the voyage, but lost everything except his last shred of humanity. Even his partner, Richard Parker, disappeared into the Mexican jungle without any meaningful closure.
- And that's assuming Richard Parker even existed.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Pi, after being rescued, at least with Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba.
- Crap Saccharine World: See Garden of Evil.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Pi initially assumes that Orange Juice the orangutan will be helpless against the hyena, but she surprises him by a snarling display and by whacking the hyena on the head. Then it's the hyena's turn...
- Death By Pragmatism: While the ship was sinking, Pi was thrown into a lifeboat by the sailors in hopes that they would be able to save themselves. To clarify, the hyena was in the boat, and they threw him in to distract it.
- Direct Line to the Author: The framing story of the author meeting Pi and being told his story is set up this way.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: By the time we see Pi as a grown adult, he's now Happily Married, loves his children, and cooks any dish with the skill to make all other cooks jealous.
- Embarrassing First Name/Embarrassing Middle Name: Piscine Molitor Patel. The Piscine Molitor is a famous Parisian swimming pool.
- Although he's not particularly embarrassed about that; it's just that piscine happens to sound a lot like "pissing," and naturally other kids are going to take advantage of that.
- Foregone Conclusion: Pi's the one relating the story to the author, so we know that despite it all, he will survive.
- Friendly Enemy: Pi initially fears the sharks that keep surrounding his boat, but eventually regards them as grumpy old neighbors who keep visiting but don't want to admit they like him.
- Garden of Evil: Pi lands on an "island" floating in the Pacific, consisting of algae and trees in symbiosis which turn out to be carnivorous. The scene where he peels away layers of leaves from what he thinks is a fruit and finds a human tooth in the middle is particularly notable.
- Go Mad From the Isolation
- Hope Spot: Pi and Richard Parker recover and live happily for a time on the floating island, until Pi discovers that it's a Garden of Evil.
- Humans Are Bastards: Played with in full force if you believe Pi's alternate story replacing the animals with humans.
- Interfaith Smoothie: Pi is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim, and takes advice from clergy in all three faiths.
- It Gets Easier: Pi is introduced as devoutly religious, intelligent and a vegetarian. But when he has to survive, he abandons all morals. Killing becomes easier, and soon he is doing things like sucking fluid from fish eyeballs and eating feces and human flesh.
- Kids Are Cruel: Initially, because they tease him and make fun of his name. But when he invents his new nickname, his new classmates are very supportive of it, and never make any fun of him at all.
- Mind Screw: Most of the book. But especially when Pi tells his story again, only this time replacing the animals with humans, and somehow it seems more gruesome than before.
- My Name Is Not Durwood: Pi is instantly christened "Pissing Patel" by the other children at his school. The teachers try harder, but even they slip into calling him "Pissing" when they're not concentrating. He invents the nickname "Pi" for himself to avoid this.
- The Nondescript: Mr. Kumar (the religious one).
- No Party Like a Donner Party / I'm a Humanitarian: Pi comes across a French man who eventually tries to kill and eat him. After he's killed by Richard Parker, Pi finds himself eating a bit of him unconsciously.
- In the alternate "the animals were people" story, the cook advocates eating the sailor out of practicality, but seems to enjoy eating humans for its own sake. And when he's killed, Pi eats out his liver and heart.
- Now It's My Turn: Orange Juice's blow to the hyena was impressive, but does no good.
- Ocean Madness
- Oh Crap: Pi initially tries as hard as he can to save his friend Richard Parker from drowning and get him on his lifeboat. Just as he succeeds, he realizes the fatal truth: Richard Parker is also A TIGER.
- One Steve Limit: Subverted by the two Mr. Kumars.
- The Reveal: Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger. Of course, this fact is usually presented upfront in descriptions of the story, but it's worth noting that every mention of Richard Parker throughout Part One is phrased ambiguously enough that he could be assumed to be human. Only at the beginning of Part Two is his nature disclosed.
- Rule of Symbolism: Several. Richard Parker is the name of several real life and fictional people who were shipwrecked and cannibalized.
- Tsimtsum, the ship that sinks, is also a religious term that means "a void created by God" and "to find oneself."
- Apparently, the color orange represents security. Orange Juice, Richard Parker, and the life vests were all this color.
- Pi thinks up six plans to kill Richard Parker. The seventh plan, after their decision for friendship, is to keep him alive.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: As it turns out, the tiger Richard Parker may just be Pi's symbol for himself, or rather, the amoral and animalistic side of himself that enabled him to survive.
- Scenery Porn: the descriptions of the Pondicherry Zoo.
- Sole Survivor: Well, Pi is the sole human survivor of the sinking of the Tsimtsum. By his account, at least.
- The tiger too is the only animal survivor, after the remaining ones have been killed.
- Though even in his first story there's nothing to prove that the Frenchman wasn't the ship's cook.
- Too Dumb to Live: Justified with the meerkats on the floating island, who evolved for years without having to respond to any threats other than the algae. Thus, they respond to the visitors passively, even as Richard Parker is mauling them one by one.
- Unreliable Narrator: Possibly. It's not made clear whether or not Pi actually spent all his time with the aforementioned animals, or whether or not they're stand-ins for people - the cook, a sailor, his mother, himself.
- Plus since he's constantly suffering from starvation and dehydration, some of Pi's more fantastic experiences may have been embellished, such as the carnivorous island.
- Also Yann Martel himself, who writes this book as if it was based on true events, whereas it is actually a complete work of fiction.
- Villainous BSOD: The hyena doesn't whimper or beg for mercy when the tiger kills it. This carries over in the alternate story, where Pi (the tiger) kills the cook (hyena), who fights back but knows he deserves his death.
- Why Isn't It Attacking?: The hyena takes a very long time before it gets around to attacking the zebra, Orange Juice, or Pi. Pi later sees why it had waited so long, because the tiger was still on the boat.
- You Monster!: Pi's mother calls the cook this many times in the alternate telling of the story.