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Free Study Guide for Life of Pi by Yann Martel Book Summary

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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The novel espouses several postmodern concepts including learning things for the purpose of using them (such as Pi’s knowledge of animals), subjective rather than traditional approaches to religion (as Pi has practicing three religions), and theological impoverishment (wherein faith is for the story rather than for the soul). Accordingly, the novel is written using postmodern techniques. The most striking example is the change in narrator. Some chapters are narrated by Pi and others are narrated by a fictional author. Another example is ambiguity. The reader is left with doubts about the actual facts.

Life of Pi is like a panchatantra, an ancient Indian fable involving animals, intent on making a point. This “fable” is divided into three distinct parts, each with its own purpose.


Part One is the back-story that sets up the real story to suspend disbelief. It lets the reader know where Pi learned all that he knows about animals and religion. By changing narrator it gives the reader constant reminders that the real character is the adult Pi who is alive and well and living with his family in Canada giving this interview. The author intersperses glimpses into the adult Pi’s life with Pi’s own narration so the reader is convinced that this is more than a story about a boy in India.

Part Two, the central part of the novel, tells how Pi gets along with the tiger. It is the lost-at-sea part of the story and is not sequential. It is scattered memories, possibly delusions, from Pi’s ordeal. In this part of the novel conventional realist techniques are used. The details were researched to establish credibility. Basic life functions are included (eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping, cleaning, etc.). However, though the facts and anecdotes are based on reality, there is still a magical, verging on unbelievable, quality. Part Two underscores the theme of the story that one must have faith in more than pure logic. Whenever Pi is hopeless, faith brings him solace.

Part Three drives home the whole point of the “better story.” Neither of Pi’s narrations is positively the real story. It is for each reader to decide. There are enough inconsistencies in each story to render either one unbelievable. The twist at the end confirms that the story is not “The” Life of Pi in that it is not a specific life, but the array of life. It requires the reader to provide the conclusion. Readers may choose the more logical story or they may choose to have faith in something beyond crude reality and choose the “better story.”

Pi’s story could actually be finished as of Chapter 99, but Chapter 100 is necessary to give the story the proper form of exactly 100 chapters according to Pi’s challenge to the reader in Chapter 94. This gives precise order to the telling of a possibly unbelievable story. Adding to this order is the fact that the story has come full circle, beginning and ending with a Canadian Pi.


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Cassie, Donna L.. "TheBestNotes on Life of Pi". TheBestNotes.com. . 09 May 2017
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