Many people that are religious look to God for guidance and comfort. Especially in disastrous situations. In Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, the theme of will to survive is presented and demonstrated as having faith, letting animal instincts take over, and determination.
Pi keeping his faith shows how strong his faith in God is. He discusses some Hindu symbolism to describe how insignificant he feels, then “mumbled words of Muslim prayer and went back to sleep”(177). Praying is a sign of hope for Pi. Pi is hoping to live through the night and he is trusting God to keep him safe. Instead of being terrified, he trusts God enough that he is able to be comforted in a very vulnerable state. Describing religious rituals he practices, he says that “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love-but sometimes it was so hard to love”(208). In Pi’s situation it is only natural to question God and fear that no one is watching out for him.
If he loses his belief then there is nothing holding him back from just giving up and dying. Pi is afraid of dying; even though he throws away a lifetime of vegetarianism, it does not mean that he will throw away a lifetime of faith in God. But after this, he says that his faith always remained “a shining point of light in my heart”(209). Even when he is contemplating the existence of God and his faith, he is determined to not lose faith and keep moving forward. His faith is what is keeping his confidence intact and not be filled with despair.
The instinct of survival and letting go of Pi’s moral human self shows his determination to survive. In Pi’s darkest moment he explains that “This was the terrible cost of Richard Parker. He gave me a life, my own, but at the expense of taking one. 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”(255). Pi is not only talking about killing another person, but he is talking about himself. Each time Pi took a life he was killing a piece of Pi’s old self. When he killed the Frenchman that is when all of Pi’s old self was killed and pure instinct took over. Pi can only bear to remember so much; he can list the sensations but he does not go into the awful event’s effect on his psyche. This moment, more than any other in the text, seems to mark an absence of God because of his hopelessness and guilt.
It is also the moment where Pi’s life is most explicitly threatened. If Richard Parker is seen as a symbol of the pure survival instinct, this is the one moment in the text where that instinct wins out completely over morality and control. Describing the scarcity of food and water, Pi realizes “of how low I had sunk the day I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic, unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate”(225). He is starting to connect Richard Parker and himself. Pi’s subconscious makes up Richard Parker because he does not want to connect and accept responsibility for his animal-like actions. But when he starts connecting Richard Parker and himself, his is starting to realize that there is a connection and that in order to survive he must act animal-like. Even though he was vegetarian, he threw it away and ate viciously because he wanted to survive.
Determination is key to Pi’s survival and is what keeps him going. Pi says, “Didn’t I have here a perfect circus ring, inescapably round, without a single corner for him to hide in? . . . Wasn’t this an ideal source of treats with which to condition him to obey?”. Then he goes on asking if there was “any reward greater than life?”. This all shows how determined he is for survival. He starts showing confidence during the most chaotic and disastrous event of his life. Pi decided to “tame” Richard Parker so that he could “trick him into dying first, if we had to come to that sorry business”(165). This also makes Pi have a dominant attitude towards Richard Parker. By taming Richard Parker, Pi is basically saying that he is the alpha male. It makes him feel in control of his situation and himself. In the second story, Pi is talking about controlling his wild self. Restraining his instincts makes him seem more human. Either way, each story has determination to survive. His strong belief of God, his superior tone, the determination to live on, all support the presence of the will to survive. People must sacrifice things in order to remain alive. For Pi it was to sacrifice his morals and vegetarianism. For others it might be something different. But for survival, people have to sacrifice something in order to exist.