LIFE OF PIby Yann Martel GROUP DISCUSSION TOPICS
PI’S INCREDULOUS SURVIVAL • Discuss the factors that contribute to Pi’s survival. • Francis Adirubasamy’s swimming lessons • Pi’s Father’s lessons about wild animals and Pi’s own knowledge about animals: (flight distance; social behavior; territorial behavior; alpha/omega concept; circus trainer’s behavior) AND
Survival:Pi’s Ingenuity (Cleverness) • The temporary prow he builds at first • The raft he later builds using oars and life vests • The solar sills • The training of Richard Parker • Discovery that Pi can make Parker seasick and therefore condition and control him • Learning to fish and catch turtles
Survival: Richard Parker • Richard Parker’s contribution to Pi’s Survival: • Parker gives Pi the will to live. (Parker cannot survive without Pi; Pi is responsible for Parker’s life) See page 236. • Parker distracts Pi from thinking about his lost family and his tragedy. • An “idle mind” tends to sink. Parker’s presence keeps Pi’s mind alert and active. (Chapter 57)
Survival:Pi’s Faith and Will to Live • When Pi is about to give up, he hears a voice in his heart. The message is a prayer: “I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen” (Chapter 53) • Pi prays five times every day and practices the devotions of all three of his religions, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam • “The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving,” Pi says (Chapter 74).
Survival: Zoomorphism • Zoomorphism is a phenomenon when an animal takes a human or another species as one of its own • Pi identifies potential causes for this phenomenon • One is need for companionship • Social well being is another; staves off violent anarchy • Tells of a mouse living with vipers (i.e. snakes) • A dog serving as surrogate mother for lion cubs • The rhinos and the goats • All of this lends credence to his later tale of life with Richard Parker on the lifeboat
FREEDOM: ZOOS AND RELIGION • “I don’t mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” (19). • “You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life, now you will know the free confinement of a jungle” (Chapter 94). Part of Pi’s imagined farewell speech to Richard Parker. Consider these two statements. What do they mean?
Two Approaches to Life: • Science and Religion/Reason and Faith • Mr. Kumar, Pi’s Biology Teacher, is an atheist. He says, There are no grounds for going beyond a scientific explanation of reality and no sound reason for believing anything but our sense experience. A clear intellect, close attention to detail and a little scientific knowledge will expose religion as superstitious bosh. God does not exist” (27). Mr. Kumar had polio as a child and called out to God for help. He does not think God heard him. Pi says that polio must be an awful disease if it “can kill God in a man.”
Two Approaches to Life:Science and Religion • The author describes Pi’s faith and spirituality as: “Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes me as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably” (63).
Two Approaches to Life: Science and Religion • “Bapu Ghandi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God” (69). Pi gives this response to the three holy men of the three different religions that Pi embraces. These men and Pi’s parents insist that a person can only have one religion. Pi disagrees.
On Religion • Pi also says, “The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. To me, religion is about our dignity, not our depravity” (71).
On Religion • Pi’s father and mother are not religious people, and they do not understand Pi’s religious practices. His father says, “Progress is unstoppable. It is a drumbeat to which we must all march. Technology helps and good ideas spread—these are two laws of nature. If you don’t let technology help you, if you resist good ideas, you condemn yourself to dinosaurhood!” (75).
On “Dry, Yeastless Factuality” • When Mr. Okamota and Mr. Chiba do not believe Pi’s story, Pi becomes angry with them. Mr. Okamota tells Pi, “We believe what we see.” • Mr. Okamota also tells Pi his story contradicts the “laws of nature” (i.e. science) • Pi says, ”If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?”
“Dry, Yeastless Factuality” • When they persist in their disbelief, Pi shouts at them: “Don’t you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” (297)
“Dry, Yeastless Factuality” • Pi also tells Okamota and Chiba, “be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater” (298). “Tigers exist, lifeboats exist, oceans exist. Because the three have never come together in your narrow, limited experience, you refuse to believe that they might. Yet the plain fact is that the Tsimtsum brought them together and then sank.” (299)
Dry, Yeastless Factuality • Pi finally gets frustrated and tells Okamota and Chiba, ““I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality” (302).
Pi’s Second, Factual Story • Pi finally gives the men what they want, a more believable story. • When he is finished telling this second story, he asks them, “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” • They agree the story with animals is better and Pi says, “And so it goes with God.”
Science and Religion: Mutually Exclusive? • Mr. Okamota’s report makes reference to the tiger, so it appears that Pi converts him to believing what is hard to believe. • When we study Inherit the Wind, this issue of a scientific vs. a religious view of life and knowledge will arise again. • Pi uses both reason and faith in his life. At least for Pi, the two approaches to life are not mutually exclusive.