Life of Pi Summary

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

     The novel starts with the Author's note in which he explains the circumstances of the story that follows. He was having an issues with the popularity of his previous two books, so he really needed a good story that would be his comeback. He went to India because he was feeling restless and there he heard something that draw his attention. A man told him to look for Piscine Patel if he wanted to hear a story that would give him faith in God. The author seeks this man and visits him in order to hear the story.

     Chapter 1 is the beginning of Piscine's story, therefore it is narrated in the first person. He is now a grown man and the story he is about to tell happened many years ago. He recalls the period during his zoology studies in Toronto and goes further back into past, to his childhood, starting the story from the very beginning. He explains how he got his unusual name. A family friend, Francis Adirubasamy, was a great swimmer who was a champion in swimming in South India, therefore, his whole life was spinning around this sport. As a student, he went to France and visited numerous swimming pools, but none of them was as good as Piscine Molitor, which had wooden cabins, a beach with real sand etc. He told this story to Piscine's father, who shared Francis's amazement so much that he decided to name his newborn son after this swimming pool. This name brought many troubles to Piscine during his education, as children were very witty and were always inventing new jokes that would mock Pi.

     Pi's father was a proud owner of a zoo, where he taught Pi and his brother Ravi to love and respect animals, as well as to keep away from dangerous ones. On one occasion, he forced his whole family to watch tiger killing a goat, hoping to make them remember how jeopardous predators can be. He sure made his point, as Pi never forgot the scene of horror. Those delicate teenage years were crucial in Pi's development, as he was absorbing the world around him. Beside love for animals, instilled by his father and his favorite professor of biology, Pi also started exploring religion. Born as a Hindu, Pi discovered Christianity during family holiday. Not much time passed before he discovered Islam, embracing all three doctrines, practicing them equally. However, religious preachers were both puzzled and angry with Pi for not being loyal to only one religion, so they insisted that he make up his mind. Pi could not do that, he explained that he just wanted to love God, and continued practicing mixed religions in his own home, as he was no longer welcome in church, mosque nor mandir.

     The period of '70s was tough for Indian people because of major political changes. Pi's parents decided to leave India in hope for better life. They closed the zoo, sold some of the animals, and packed for trip to Canada. Some of the animals traveled with them, as they were sold to American zoos.

     At the beginning of Part 2, the ship sank. Pi was the only one in his family who was aware of the accident and managed to reach the ship crew. They pushed him overboard, straight into the lifeboat. He noticed Richard Parker in the water, struggling to stay on surface, and encouraged him to come to the lifeboat. When he realized that he was stuck with a wild animal, it was too late. Right after him, a zebra was pushed into the lifeboat from the ship. The fall from a significant height broke its leg. Unable to move, it was left at the mercy of hyena.

     When storm subsided, Pi became aware of the situation, petrified with hyena, who seemed bloodthirsty. Not much time passed before it attacked the zebra and bit its leg off. Pi was disgusted with the scene, yet relieved that he was not hyena's meal. Soon, the orangutan, Orange Juice, reached the lifeboat on the banana raft. She was obviously emotionally drained and seasick, Pi immediately noticed that she was suffering. He identified himself with her, considering them the only two creatures capable of thinking and feeling on that boat. On the other hand, hyena was not giving up- It continued eating zebra, while it was still alive, ripping off its skin and taking its organs out. Zebra was motionless, on the verge of death, but still breathing. This was too much to bare for orangutan, who became aggressive toward hyena, although she was raised as a peaceful and calm pet. In the turmoil that followed, orangutan was killed and layed beheaded next to mutilated zebra. Only then Richard Parker revealed himself from below of the bench, hunting down hyena and killing her. Pi was overwhelmed with the horror he witnessed, trying to come up with a surviving plan, as it became obvious that the tiger would soon run out of corpses and will seek another prey.

     The days passed slowly, and Pi coexisted with the tiger. He was extremely cautious not to disturb the tiger or provoke him in any way. He decided to provide him with food and play by animals rules- to mark his own territory and not to enter Richard Parker's. He even built a raft where he felt safer, but the trouble was that all food supplies stood in the tiger's territory. However, there was plenty of supplies for Pi- he had food, water, blankets etc., so his only worry was how to make Richard Parker satiated and unaware that Pi was jumping into his territory from time to time. He came up with idea to feed him with fish and make him superior over the tiger.

     Days passed, and there was no sign of a recue ship. Pi was becoming desperate, but did not want to give up. He continued with the daily routine- fishing and making water supplies, until both the tiger and him became weary. He was running out of water and food supplies he found on the lifeboat. It became clear that death was near. Poor hygiene led to blindness, that completely disabled Pi in hunting. As they were floating on the boat, Pi suddenly heard a male voice, asking if anyone was there. Pi honestly believed that he had gone mad, but decided to play along. The conversation turned to food and they discussed their favorite dishes. However, when the voice said that he had killed two humans, Pi was sure that he was not mad, but rather talking to Richard Parker. However, when he noticed that the voice had a French accent, he was no longer convinced that he was talking to the tiger. He asked his fellow to join him on the boat, so they could share their sorrow, but as soon as that man stepped on the boat, he declared that he came to eat Pi's liver. Before he managed to turn his words into action, the man was eaten by Richard Parker. Shaken by the death of the unknown man, Pi started crying until tears rinsed his eyes, regaining his sight.

     More days passed, when Pi noticed green trees somewhere in the distance. Although he first believed that he was hallucinating, as they got closer, he was sure that the island really existed. Seemingly, the island had everything he needed for survival- fresh water, shade, food, but something about the island did not feel right. During the night, hundreds of thousands of harmless meerkats would run into the highest branches of the trees, where they would remain until the dawn. Determined to investigate, Pi observed the island during the night, noticing the ponds of fresh water boiling with dead fish during the night, which would mysteriously disappear in the morning. He believed that the island is actually a living organism, and was ready to accommodate to its conditions until he realized that fruit on trees was not fruit at all, but human teeth wrapped in leaves. Terrified, Pi waited for Richard Parker to return to boat and left the island. Soon, they washed ashore on a Mexican beach. As soon as he noticed the land, Richard Parker jumped out the boat and ran into the jungle, without even looking back at Pi. Pi was a bit sad for the tiger's reaction, hoping to close that chapter of their lives theatrically, with at least one final meaningful look in the eyes and good-byes. Anyway, Pi was discovered by locals, who provided him with food and clothes, and took him to hospital.

     In Part 3, the author from the beginning of the novel shares the information that he owns an actual audio recording of Pi's interrogation after the rescue, so the following chapters represent the recording. The audio was taken by two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport. After the introduction, they asked Pi what had happened with Tsimtsum, but Pi was not very helpful, as his claims could not be supported by evidences. Hoping to shed light on the Tsimtsum destiny, they tried a different approach and asked Pi to tell them his story. He then told them the story above, but official found it unbelievable, pointing out certain parts of the story that defied common sense. Pi did not seem shaken by their mistrust, reminding them of other theories accepted as possible, yet never supported by any evidence. Finally, he gave in and told them a true version of the story:

     There were no animals on the boat. It was him, his mother, French cook, and Taiwanese sailor. The sailor was very young, maybe in his twenties, and broke his leg after a fall from the ship. He did not speak English, therefore he was lonely and sad, not the mention the pain he felt due to open fracture. Pi and his mother took care of the boy, nourished him as much as they could, but French cook was not as sympathetic as they were. Actually, he was not sympathetic at all. From the moment they stepped on the boat, the cook was obsessed with food. He ate the supplies selfishly, not thinking about other survivors. When he ate almost everything, he persuaded Pi and his mother to cut the boy's leg, as it had changed its color. He assured them that amputation was for the boy's good, to stop spreading the infection. Pi and his mother agreed, and they cut the boy's leg by the surprise. The poor boy was screaming in pain, unable to defend himself. Unfortunately, he did not make it through the next day, and died in the noon. Pi and his mother realized that the cook's intention was not to save the boy's life, but to gain more food. That caused turmoil in which the cook killed Pi's mother. The next day, Pi killed the cook.

     This version of the story seemed more truthful. Officials were shocked with the horror Pi had been through. They immediately noticed the parallel between the two stories, and symbolism of animals. Their final report offered several possible scenarios of Tsimtsum sinking and commended Pi for his bravery on the boat.

     No wonder Life of Pi caught so much attention when published. It is both adventurous and symbolical, satisfying the need for busy plot and deeper meaning. The flow of the novel stands out for its narrative point of view, which jumps from limited narrator (the Author who opened and closed the novel) to the internal narrator (the rest of the book where Pi narrates his own story). Furthermore, the unusual pattern of plot, which goes from the present at the beginning, to the nearer past as Pi begins his story, then further into past when he recalls the memory of Tsimtsum and returns to the present day again, makes this novel exciting and unique.

     Although the novel depicts the tragedy of a boy, its tone is amusing and witty from time to time, spicing the serious narration with humorous remarks.

     The novel itself explores religion. At the very beginning, Francis Adirubasamy offers a story to author "that would give you faith in God," implying that the story itself, as well as Pi's survival, is miraculous. A boy who managed to survive 227 days in the lifeboat must have something to do with God, or Gods, in his case. The story is abundant of religious symbols- some of them more obvious than others, but present anyway. Although Pi usually notices God's presence in the nature, like when he sees Virgin Mary in the snow, or prays to Allah when he notices green trees on the island, Pi makes an exception and compares the orangutan on the raft with Virgin Mary. This is because this orangutan symbolizes his mother, the most sacred person in his life. The orangutan possesses human traits and maternal instinct. Once the orangutan is killed, he compares her with Jesus Christ who lost his life for welfare of others. That is exactly what his mother did in the true version of the story-she gave her life in order to protect her child.

     When it comes to other animals, at the end of the novel their meaning unravels. Pi obviously uses his knowledge of animals (as he studied zoology) to personify human traits found in survivors. Zebra symbolizes Taiwanese sailor, young and innocent, the weakest link, who lost his life because he was unable to fight for it.

     Hyena, the most ugly and treacherous animal on the boat stands for French cook, who mercilessly killed the sailor and Pi's mother so that he can use his leg as a bait for fish.

     The tiger, Richard Parker, stands for Pi himself. The tiger is the second to arrive on the boat, right after Pi, and the penultimate to leave the boat, just before Pi. Tiger's strength is Pi's strength, both mental and physical, that saved his life. A proof that Pi identifies himself with the tiger is given in the scene where Pi realizes that he eats voraciously just as the tiger.

     Beside those obvious symbols, a color orange is ever-present in the novel. The orangutan's name is Orange-juice, tarpaulin on the boat is orange, as well as lifejacket and whistle. Furthermore, when the Author visits Pi in his new home, he notices Pi's child holding an orange cat. Orange represents hope and survival- basically, a life. Also, Richard Parker had an orange fur, and by holding that orange cat, it seems that a little of Richard Parker is still present in Pi's life after so many years.

Related Links:

Life of Pi Quiz
Life of Pi Quotes
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 1 - 9 Summary
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 1 - 9 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 10 - 18 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 19 - 27 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 28 - 36 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 37 - 45 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 46 - 54 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 55 - 63 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 64 - 72 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 73 - 83 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 84 - 94 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 3 (Benito Juárez Infirmary, Tomatlán, Mexico) Chapters 95 - 100 Quiz
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 10 - 18 Summary
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 19 - 27 Summary
Life of Pi Part 1 (Toronto and Pondicherry) Chapters 28 - 36 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 37 - 45 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 46 - 54 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 55 - 63 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 64 - 72 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 73 - 83 Summary
Life of Pi Part 2 (The Pacific Ocean) Chapters 84 - 94 Summary
Life of Pi Part 3 (Benito Juárez Infirmary, Tomatlán, Mexico) Chapters 95 - 100 Summary
Life of Pi Important Characters
Literature Summaries

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