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

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THE LIFE OF PI BY YANN MARTEL: LITERARY ANALYSIS


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS


The Better Story

The major theme is the value of the “better story.” As Pi puts it, “The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no?” How we interpret reality can be, as it is for Pi, our faith. We need to believe in something beyond the seen. It helps us deal with fear. It helps us find a “better story.”

Everything about life is a story and we can choose our own story. Martel’s point is that the story that is more imaginative is the better story. The reader can choose whether Pi’s life is real-life fiction or imaginative fiction. Pi presents the Japanese men (and the reader) with two stories, one inspired and one crude reality. The men prefer the better story and in the end accept it. Pi feels that God prefers the better story as well, “And so it goes with God.”

Science and Religion

A theme, and also a recurring motif, is the bringing together of science and religion as equal ways of understanding the world. Pi’s zoo upbringing and his relationship to the animals provide a scientific understanding of the world. His multiple religious philosophies and relationship with God provide a spiritual understanding of the world. He must combine his knowledge of science with his faith in order to survive on the lifeboat.


Pi’s inspiration came from his childhood “prophets,” Mr. and Mr. Kumar. In Chapter 31, where the two Kumars meet and enjoy the zoo with Pi there is a comfortable intermingling and even a crossing over of the biology teacher’s knowledge and logic with the Sufi’s spiritual understanding. These two seemingly opposite men move Pi to a double major, one zoology and one religious studies. Pi accepts both perceptions as part of understanding the world.

Religious Syncretism

Seemingly opposing religions are brought together in Pi. Hinduism, Catholicism (or Christianity), and Islam are very different religions. However, they are all based on belief in one God. Though Brahman (Hindu) is expressed as countless different divinities, Christ (Christian) is one third of the Trinity that is God, and Allah (Muslim) is singular, each is a God of love. Man can have a personal relationship with God in each of the religions. The dogmas of each religion may contradict each other, but for Pi it is about faith, not about dogma. Just as he accepts science and religion as equal ways of understanding the world, Pi accepts all three religions as equal ways to know God.


POINT OF VIEW


The story is told in the first person, but by two different narrators. At first, as expected, the Author’s Note is in the author’s voice, but this voice becomes a fictional narrator as the story progresses. The bulk of the narration is reminiscences of the adult Pi as told to this fictional author. Regardless of which narrator is speaking, the story is from an adult viewpoint. However, the tone of the young Pi comes through and the reader feels as if it is a teenage boy narrating at times.


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