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

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Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi)

The adult Pi is the narrator of the story who survived 227 days at sea. Being the son of a zookeeper, he constantly interjects facts about animals and animal behavior into his story. The boy Pi is the character experiencing the story, a young man full of wonder. He is slim with dark hair and dark eyes. His attitude is honest, innocent and respectful. He is named after a beautiful pool in Paris because of his father’s love for the stories his friend Francis Adirubasamy tells about the pool. Schoolmates make fun of the name calling Piscine “pissing.” When starting at a new school, Piscine takes the opportunity to adopt a new name, Pi. He also adopts two new religions, Catholicism and Islam, on top of his native Hindu, practicing all three in effort to experience God.

When Pi is sixteen he loses his family in a shipwreck and ends up lost at sea. Relying on faith and his knowledge of animals he is able to survive. He may endure a life-threatening adventure with animals aboard his lifeboat, or he may be shipwrecked with his mother and two others, depending on which story the reader chooses to believe. Pi trains a 450 pound Bengal tiger so that the two survive together, or Pi is the tiger that kills in order to survive.

Richard Parker

Richard Parker, the tiger, may or may not be a real character, depending on which story the reader chooses to believe. In the “better story,” he is a royal Bengal tiger that swims to Pi’s lifeboat after the shipwreck. The tiger got its name from a clerical error that confused the tiger’s name with that of its captor. This human name blurs the distinction between animals and humans. This is brought out especially when Pi, at a low point in his ordeal, describes himself as killing and eating just like Richard Parker.

The tiger represents Pi’s burden in life. He is also Pi’s reason for living. From this perspective, the tiger may represent God or faith.

Pi is constantly asserting his super-alpha male position so that he is not killed by Richard Parker. This training process provides Pi with a diversion and a companion. Pi grows to love the tiger, but the tiger remains an animal and shows no concern for Pi, disappearing into the jungle when the two finally reach land.

If the reader chooses to believe the second story, then Richard Parker is actually Pi himself. He represents the animal side of Pi that survives by killing and eating even human flesh. He disappears at the end of the story because Pi has returned to civilization and the Richard Parker side of him will not be seen again.

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