A. Example one
In the early stages of Life of Pi, Martel mentions a place that Pi and Ravi had gone to visit while on vacation. While looking aimlessly through the window, they noticed three hills. On top of one hill was a catholic church, another a Hindu temple, and the other a Muslim mosque. Each hill portrays each of the religions in Pi’s complex faith. The hills represent Pi’s struggles to understand each religion. Later on, we find out that Pi is caught in between these three religions. He couldn’t completely disregard any of the religions, so each one kept warring for a place in his life. In How to Read Literature like a Professor, Foster repeatedly says how symbols usually have more than one possible meaning. So another possible meaning for the three hills is that each of the warring religions has a different part in his life. The religions are separated by being on each hill, but they live simultaneously in the same general area. Just as, in Pi’s life, each religion has its separate area of his mind, but they all partake in his life.
B. Example 2
In How to Read Literature like a Professor, Foster also talks about allegories. The relationship between the tiger and Pi can be considered an allegory. A lot of the time spent on the boat is the classic fight of good vs. evil. Pi, seen as a naive child who could do no wrong, takes the role of the good character. Richard Parker represents the savage “dark side” and takes the role of evil. As the story progresses you see that each could not survive without the other. Richard Parker showed Pi that he could not have survived by being the sweet faultless boy who could not kill and eat a fish. Pi showed Richard Parker that he is inferior to Pi by training him and getting him food. The battle between the two at the beginning digressed to a mutual realization that good cannot always conquer evil and evil cannot always conquer good. “It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” (Martel, 164)
C. Example 3
Colors play a very important role in Life of Pi. The color orange represents hope and survival. He had an orange life buoy and an orange whistle. “If there hadn’t been a life buoy, I wouldn’t have lasted a minute.” (Martel, 117) There was an orange tarpaulin that he secured himself in on the life boat. All of these objects helped him survive the sinking and gave him hope for future survival. Richard Parker might’ve been the biggest thing keeping him alive, and he was a 450 pound orange Bengal tiger. Orange is the color of Hinduism as well which shows how religion still gives him hope. The next color is green. It is the symbolic color of Islam. Muslims believe that green represents home and safety. The Algae Island was a blinding green and kept him safe from starvation for a day and let him be on solid ground like his home. Green and orange represent two of the three religions that kept Pi fighting for life. Green gave him safety and a sense of home and orange gave him hope for survival.
2. Chapter 5: Now, Where Have I Seen Her Before?
A. Example 1
“There’s no such thing as a wholly original work of literature.” (Foster, Chapter 5) Foster presented the idea that, knowingly or not, every author takes ideas from other stories and twists them into their own. In the case of Life of Pi, Yann Martel may not have been thinking about any other particular piece of literature, but Life of Pi, specifically the sinking of the Tsimtsum, is very similar to a very famous story known as Titanic. The Titanic was an enormous ship that was thought never to sink in a million years. According to Piscine, the Tsimtsum could not sink either. “For days the ship had pushed on, bullishly indifferent to its surroundings. The sun shone, rain fell, winds blew, currents flowed, the sea built up hills, the sea dug up valleys—the Tsimtsum did not care.” (Martel, Chapter 38) But nonetheless, both the Tsimtsum and the Titanic ended up at the bottom of the ocean with a great fight.
B. Example 2
Later in the story, Pi reveals a second interpretation of the seven month journey. He replaces the animals with humans like his mother and the cook. In this side, Pi portrays himself as the ferocious tiger, Richard Parker, essentially becoming his doppelganger. While Pi was on the inescapable lifeboat, he was trapped with Richard Parker. In accordance to Foster’s idea that no literature is original, this version could be extremely comparable to The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is forced to deal with an evil side of him after he trades his life for youth. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll accidentally creates a concoction that gives him another personality called Mr. Hyde who commits crimes and can easily be named evil. In all three cases, the protagonist is faced with an uncontrollable alternate personality.
C. Example 3
Another obvious comparison is the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. One can clearly see the resemblance between Life of PI and Beauty and the Beast if they figure the plot of both stories. Pi is a normal Indian boy with a somewhat eccentric father who goes through a series of unfortunate events. These events somehow lead to him being stuck in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. With time, the tiger becomes his friend and his savior from other wild animals. Belle is a normal young woman with an unusual father. She is also dragged through a series of unfortunate events in which she finds herself stranded in the middle of a forest kept in a castle with another unidentified wild beast that also saves her from a pack of wild dogs and also gradually becomes her close friend and lifelong companion. It is easily assumed that Piscine and Belle, and Richard Parker and Beast, are the same. “The point is this: stories grow out of other stories, poems out of other poems.” (Foster, Chapter 5)
3. Chapter 26: Is He Serious? And Other Ironies
A. Example 1
In How to Read Literature like a Professor, Foster says, “Irony trumps everything.” (Foster, Chapter 26) “I was named after a swimming pool. Quite peculiar considering my parents never took to water.” (Martel, Chapter 3) Water is the element of torture in Pi’s existence. The very basics of Piscine’s life are ironic. He is named after a swimming pool, but throughout the early parts of his life, he is tortured because of his name. His parents and the rest of his family are killed by drowning after a shipwreck. He spends the most grueling seven months of his life surrounded by water. During that time, he comes close to dying of dehydration because he has no water to drink. The whole time he has an abundance of water, but since it is salt water, it will only make his situation worse. He needs water to live, but it has been the main factor in most of the tragedies he has experienced. The irony of Pi’s relationship with water trumps everything else in the book, just as Foster said it would.
B. Example 2
“It seemed the presence of a tiger had saved me from a hyena- surely a textbook example of jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” (Martel 136) It is ironic that the tiger, the animal thought to pose the most danger, saves him from the less dangerous hyena. It is thought that Richard Parker would be the end of Pi because he is the most ferocious animal, but instead he becomes Pi’s savior from the other animals. It is ironic that at the beginning of the book, Pi and the rest of the people surrounding him have power over the animals. “Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on the wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.” (Martel 31) Pi came from a world where he was always in a position of superiority, but now on the boat, he is helpless and inferior to the tiger and the other animals. “I am alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging onto an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, and a storm raging above me.” (Martel 107)
C. Example 3
At the start of the book, Piscine is seen as a sweet innocent naïve boy. In his mind and religions, doing bad things never led to good things, so he remained innocent and faultless. He held doing the right thing and never the wrong very close to him. Ironically, all of his values went out the window by the end of the book. At first he wouldn’t eat meat because of his religions, but his sustenance on the boat was fish. Murder used to be the worst possible thing someone could do, but he murdered the other man on the lifeboat in order to stay alive. He loved God and his religions so much, but he finds himself screaming and yelling at God. In all of these instances, he loses his innocence, morals, and everything he treasured before the wreck, but without making the hard decisions he had, he wouldn’t have survived. In a way, his loss of innocence is what kept him alive.