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

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Richard Parker loses his vision. Soon after, Pi loses his. Pi is so weak he cannot stand or feed himself. The loss of his vision adds emotional pain to his physical torment. He closes his eyes and resolves to die with a farewell prayer.

Pi hears a voice. He thinks it is an illusion, but converses with the voice at length about food. He goes on about an imaginary feast of Indian cuisine. The voice begins to suggest other dishes, dishes made from meats and animal organs. Pi suggests eating a carrot. The voice replies that it would rather not eat a carrot. This statement convinces Pi that he is talking to a true meat-eater, Richard Parker. He asks the voice if he has ever killed a man. The voice replies that it has killed a man and a woman, and eaten them. Pi scolds the voice for its animalism. “So, you would throw the first stone, would you?” replies the voice. Pi changes the subject to more talk of food.

It strikes Pi as peculiar that Richard Parker has a French accent. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Pi realizes that someone else must really be there. He calls out to the voice and tells his name. The voice, another castaway, responds, asking for food. They discover that they have both gone blind, probably from poor hygiene and malnutrition. They exchange more stories about food. The other castaway offers to trade Pi miscellaneous items for food. Pi explains that he has no food. The man tells of eating cigarettes and a boot. Pi repeats his food story, “Once upon a time there was a banana and it grew. It grew until it was large, firm, yellow and fragrant. Then it fell to the ground and someone came upon it and ate it and afterwards that person felt better.” The other castaway is distraught. Pi tells him that they should get together and “feast on each other’s company.” They tie their boats together and the other man boards Pi’s lifeboat. They embrace, Pi in tears. Pi tries to tell the man about the tiger, but the man is trying to kill and eat Pi. Richard Parker saves Pi’s life by eating the other man. Pi is mortified.


Poor hygiene and dehydration can actually cause temporary or permanent blindness. Trachoma is one such example of a treatable condition. Here, however, Pi has lost his sight not only in terms of vision, but he has lost sight of his humanity. He has become progressively more animal-like, as has the other castaway (the “voice”). When he invites the other castaway to “feast on each other,” his invitation is taken quite literally. Pi’s crying over the other man represents his gaining back human emotion. Gaining back his humanity helps him gain back his vision.

The remark about the “first stone” is a reference from the Bible where, when Christ is challenged to stone an accused adulteress, He replies that he who is without sin may cast the first stone. The “voice” is chiding Pi, implying that perhaps Pi is guilty of cannibalism. Pi changes the subject, but later will indeed be guilty.

The story of the banana tree is rooted in Indian legend. Some speak of bananas as the “forbidden fruit”. Many refer to the banana as kalpatharu, the herb with all imaginable uses. The Kalpatharu Tree is the “Wish Granting Tree” that came from an ocean of milk stirred by the gods. Another possible interpretation is from Pi’s own perspective, for if he came upon a banana tree he could return to vegetarianism and health, and he would “feel better.”

Martel pushes the reader to the limits of credibility. Pi wondered in Chapter 78 if there could be another lost like himself, and here is that “other.” Despite the extreme unlikelihood of this occurrence, thirteen pages of dialog provide the reader a short one act play within the text with enough detail to buy into. However, Pi at this point freely admits he may be delusional, which leaves a window of skepticism open for those readers who doubt.

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