Life Of Pi: The Influence Of Physical Surroundings

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Thesis: In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Pi’s moral and psychological traits are developed through his exposure to an environment that is lacking resources and company.

Claim #1: Throughout the events of the novel, the character’s moral traits are shaped through his physical surroundings when his new and evolving situation causes him to reevaluate his sensitivity toward injuring animals.

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Evidence #1: After reflecting on catching large turtles for food, Pi says to himself, “Lord, to think I’m a strict vegetarian. To think that when I was a child I always shuddered when I snapped open a banana because it sounded to me like the breaking of an animal’s neck. I descended to a level of savagery I never imagined possible” (Martel 197).

Analysis #1: Prior to the incident with the lifeboat, Pi is extremely sensitive to killing or injuring any living thing. Being a vegetarian, Pi views animals as “friends, not food.” He has strict morals that prevent him from doing any harm and cause him to feel extreme sympathy towards animals. However, these beliefs are compromised when he finds himself stranded on a lifeboat. Due to his lack of resources and his location, he must learn to hunt to attain the food he needs. Although he is very upset when he kills a fish for the first time, he is forced to become accustomed to the task. His need to survive overthrows his previous morals, which causes him to develop new values to help him withstand the circumstances. The fact that Pi is originally extremely sensitive, but is not anymore, reveals that his values have drastically changed. These newly developed morals mean he is able to overcome his sensitivity to hunting, which is how he obtains his main source of nutrition. If he had not adapted his beliefs to help him hunt easily and without remorse, he would not have been able to survive in his new surroundings.

Evidence #2: While he is on the lifeboat, Pi finds that “When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival” (Martel 120).

Analysis #2: After his first day stranded on the lifeboat, Pi is shocked and horrified to find that the zebra has been attacked by the hyena. However, he realizes that even though he is usually concerned with animals’ wellbeing, he is more worried about his own survival. This causes his usual sensitivity to violence to be significantly lessened. Rather than focusing on the zebra, he invests his energy into increasing his chances of overcoming the situation. Due to his unusual circumstances, Pi realizes that there is no way he can keep his current morals. Instead, his situation forces his values to become slanted towards guaranteeing his own chance of survival. This means focusing less on others, and more on his own needs, even if it goes against his previous beliefs. This illustrates that his original beliefs have changed and are no longer of utmost importance. His sense of empathy is compromised by his sense of survival, which ultimately allows him to overcome his emotions and survive.

Claim #2: Throughout the duration of the novel, the character’s psychological traits are shaped through his physical surroundings when his unusual circumstances alter his mental state.

Evidence #3: When Pi believes that he is having a conversation with Richard Parker, he concludes that he has “…gone mad. Sad but true. Misery loves company, and madness brings it forth” (Martel 242).

Analysis #3: The loneliness of Pi’s situation in the lifeboat has slowly worn down his mental state. His only companion is a tiger named Richard Parker, who Pi unwittingly anthropomorphizes in his madness. He wishes he could have someone to share the misery and experience with, so his brain tricks him into thinking he is conversing with Richard Parker. This demonstrates that he has gone mad, as the illusion of company can be an effect of madness. When Pi first becomes stranded on the lifeboat, he is able to assess the situation and think rationally, but through the duration of the experience, his morale begins to be worn down. As his misery starts to become more prominent and his resources begin disappearing, Pi is left hopeless and alone. Since he is not only stranded and without resources, but is also lacking company, there is no one to continue to keep his hopes alive. To keep his resolve up, he causes himself to believe that he is indeed talking to someone, even though he knows it must be a figment of his imagination. However, in order to survive, it is important that Pi communicates with someone to maintain his morale, even if it is only a fabrication created by his own madness.

Works Cited

  1. Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Random House of Canada, 2001.


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