Life of Pi

Pi is a 16-year-old boy from a family of zookeepers. When his father tells him they are moving to Canada, they undertake a perilous journey across the Pacific Ocean with their animals. They suffer a shipwreck and Pi is the sole human survivor. With him on a tiny lifeboat is a Bengal tiger, who at first tries to eat him. Pi humanises the tiger, calling him Richard Parker, and begins to strike up a bond with him. Their fates become intertwined in a remarkable battle for survival. The novel Life of Pi was written by Yann Martel in 2001; Martel features in the 2012 film which is based on his book.

Nature

Pi’s story is a battle against both the elements (which claim the lives of his family) and the animal kingdom. Nature presents him with fierce challenges and obstacles – but also the means to survive, by catching food, and to retain his sanity, by developing a relationship with the tiger. The storyline reflects the complex, interdependent relationship between the human race and the natural world.

Animals

The tiger initially seems to be a cruel savage, but as the story develops, he shows a more complex side. Pi is also initially joined on the lifeboat by a zebra, an orangutan and a hyena. These animals are in turn vulnerable and predatory. What can the actions of animals teach us?

Coming of age

Pi is a young man who is suddenly forced to be self-sufficient. The brutality of his situation is not merely that he is alone at sea with a hungry tiger, but that those he relies on have died, and cannot help him. How much are humans capable of on their own? Do young people take enough responsibility for themselves? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of growing up rapidly?

Spirituality

Pi is raised a Hindu, but decides to follow both Christianity and Islam as well, saying he “just wants to love God”. His simple surroundings give him the time for contemplation about the meaning of life and his relationship with the supernatural. Are religious beliefs mutually exclusive, and how do we fill the void left by organised religions in an age where non-belief is growing?

Life and death

Pi is forced to confront death at a young age, when his father shows him a tiger killing a goat. On the ocean, he loses his family, witnesses some of the savagery of the animal world and is forced to contemplate the possibility of losing his own life. And his vegetarianism is severely tested as he floats hungrily on the ocean. How do we respond to the brevity of life and the certainty of death?