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“Life of Pi”: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Survival

One cannot say that the book “Life of Pi” is devoted to animals, like, for instance, the books by Seton Thomson or Gerald Durrell, who express their love of wildlife in books. In contrast to them, Martel presents a philosophic and religiously oriented account of the life of a human being who has managed to survive in contemporary evil society due to religion. Survival narrative gives a two-fold account of survival: it is a physical survival and the process and result of the struggle that is aimed at the recovery of selfhood of a person. Specificity and complicatedness of human life has inspired the appearance of survival narrative that offers people the hints and clues to survival in modern society. The book “Life of Pi”, written by a Canadian writer Yann Martel, presents an account of physical, as well as spiritual struggle of a man who appears to be a survivor of literal and metaphorical shipwreck. Since Martel treats spirituality as a means of human survival, it is necessary to support the idea of survival in “Life of Pi” by a source entirely devoted to spirituality. The theme of spirituality is central in the novel that is presented as survival narrative and it finds its embodiment in the character of the protagonist, Pi, who finds his route to physical, emotional, and spiritual survival by means of his strong faith and adherence to religion.

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By its simplest form, “Life of Pi”, a tale about survival, is a parable, a true portrayal of the deeper meaning with the help of the metaphorical story where people, animals, and plants are the main characters. The writer makes use of zoology and botany in the narrative as the protagonist discovers a lot of things “not in the classroom but in the zoo” (Martel 25), spiritual experience is directly connected with ocean survival tactics geared to the investigation the meaning of narrative in human life. In other words, the writer examines whether stories in the lives of people are inspired by religion with the goal of explaining the meaning of life or they are created by their own consciousness as a way of understanding and interpreting the things that surround them. It is necessary to try and test the protagonists’ idea saying that “Religion will save us” (Martel 27).

In order to prove that spirituality is the way to survival that ensures the protagonists’ rescue, it is necessary to get at the meaning of spirituality. The book “Spirituality: What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?” by Richardson belongs to religious literature. Each chapter of the book is entitled by a question and the answers to these questions are given in the text of chapters. The text is full of useful philosophic ideas that bear the same meaning the author of “Life of Pi” implies and though they are presented metaphorically, like the idea that “some seed falls on shallow soil and springs up quickly, but if fades because it has no root” (Richardson 28). It is interesting that similar questions arise when reading “Life of Pie” and the answers to such questions as “What does it mean to be spiritual?” (Richardson 5), “What is spirituality?” (Richardson 10), “Why is it so hard to stay spiritually focused?” (Richardson 34) can assist it the interpretation of the survival of the main character. In fact, these two books share common theme: belief in God as the key to survival.

Spiritual survival of Pi is made possible due to his adherence to three religions. The idea of Pi’s father that the boy was attracting religions “the way a dog attracts flees” shows the boy’s search for spirituality (Martel 74). In this book, the author uses a variety of religious themes and tools to bring in religion as one of human beings’ main filters for understanding reality. Pi’s lively espousal and involvement in a number of religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity portrays him as a person capable of linking his tale with the help of the world main religions. In Martel’s story, there are people who, as the author thinks, will never survive spiritually. Strange as it may seem, they are not atheists as atheists still demonstrate faith though it is faith in science. However, an agnostic is a person who will “miss the better story” and will not survive spiritually as mere “factuality” without faith cannot grant it (Martel 64).

Furthermore, the story in this book represents physical survival. This is an inevitable part of emotional survival. Pi’s father packs up all their belongings and they embark for a ride on a Japanese cargo ship. A shipwreck takes the lives of those who are spiritually weak and it deprives them (Santos, Ravi) of any possibility of physical survival. Following a distressing shipwreck, the boy gets to know that he is floating in the Pacific Ocean together with a zebra, a dotted hyena, a seasick primate, and a large tiger by the name Richard Parker. The author reflects the size of the tiger this way: “His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth” (Martel 99). A reader sees that after many struggles, the youngster and the tiger are the only passengers in the lifeboat, wandering in shark-infested waters, fighting hunger and overactive imagination of the protagonist. The writer narrates the traumatic passages as days haze together, pleasingly labeling the ceaseless passage of time and his efforts to survive and survival instinct, the desire to survive physically, often dominates other types of survival. He puts it this way: “It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion” (Martel 123).

However, the route to emotional survival is shown for the audience as well as for the protagonist and the sailors he asked to choose story they liked the best. Thus, it challenges the audience to choose between two alternative stories: the story with animals and the story that will validate what he or she already knows. This leads a reader to the conclusion that faith in God is the belief in “the better story” (Martel 63) and the opposite as selecting the story that reader previously know. From the story, a reader also gets to know that to disregard the fables and doubt the existence of God, “is to miss the better story,” (Martel 64) and to subsist a life that, at least in Pi’s perspective, is scarcely worth living. And for this reason, he tells the reader that “the story with the animals is better” and “so it goes with God” (Martel 65). This story is the route to emotional survival.

Summing up all three discussions of the aspects of the protagonists’ survival, it becomes evident that they are interrelated but sometimes also contradict one another. For instance, at the beginning of the narration, Pi says that “vegetarian life [grants] perfect harmony with … environment” thus vegetarianism becomes an essential part of Pi’s emotional code (Martel 4). However, there appears a contradiction between emotional survival and physical one when the boy is exposed to hunger on board the lifeboat and his survival instinct makes him reject vegetarian life. There are cases when physical survival is shown as the most important one for Pi. It is when the boy says about Richard Parker (especially if to take into account an alternative story when the tiger is the boy himself): “He ripped the flesh off the man’s frame and cracked his bones. The smell of blood filled my nose. Something in me died then that has never come back to life” (Martel 255). This “something” is a part of the boy’s emotional world. However, there are also cases that prove that emotional and physical survivals are possible only in case if spirituality is not alien to a person as it is stated by Richardson: “Spiritual hunger is an all-time high” (8). The belief in “the better story … that goes with God” and asserts that God exists is the route to overall survival (Martel 317).

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Spirituality is necessary for humanity. Literature can offer people the ways how to survive in the world. Thus, the book “Life of Pi” is an example of survival narrative as it shows three dimensions of human survival: physical, emotional, and spiritual ones. Spirituality and religion can be seen as his self-defense mechanism that keeps Pi from going mad. Physical survival is possible only if it is sustained by faith, the example of a shipwreck where the whole crew dies and the protagonist, who is the bearer of faith, survives, is the best proof. Emotional survival is possible due to religious rituals and the belief in God who cares about a person. Spiritual survival ensures all other types of survival; it can be achieved only through strong faith and love of God. Consequently, spirituality is the key to survival; the religions with the rituals they provide are the means of achieving harmony and happiness.

Works Cited

Richardson, Rick. “Spirituality.” What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?. USA: InterVasity Press, 2002.

Yann, Martel. “Life of Pi.” Canada: Mariner Books, 2003.

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