In the novel Life of Pi, Yann Martel uses indirect characterization to portray how the harshest elements can bring out the most primal instincts in man, and the unexpected cooperation in the most primal of animals. This is used to symbolize the close similarities in the behavior of man and animal, although seemingly worlds apart at first glace. It is a constant switch between Pi’s thoughts and Pi’s actions that is needed to extend this characterization to the fullest. Martel does this by showing Pi’s religious and peaceful vegetarian personality in the beginning of the novel; one that wouldn’t even drink milk because it came from an animal. Yet when the time comes to survive he shows much less compassionate actions, one fueled by starvation and the will to live. This characterization wouldn’t have been fully accomplished in the readers’ mind without strong imagery as well.
The relentless sun cast over the lifeboat along with the deep blue unforgiving sea is able to help the reader envision the intense wear down of Pi’s outer shell and revealing his inner primal core. Martel uses imagery to compliment the characterization of the tiger Richard Parker as well. The ferocity wouldn’t be nearly as fervent without the image of a 450 pound Bengal tiger with a vigorous orange coat complemented with striking black stripes. These characteristics will drag the reader to a higher level of interest than a basic description alone, as well as a better understanding of the tiger’s sheer strength and beauty.
Pi was afraid of Richard Parker more than anything else in the beginning of his voyage through the ocean, for it was the only thing he had known to be afraid of. His entire life had been serene, only being warned of the dangerousness of animals while tending the zoo. These emotions only lasted as long as his food rations, for quickly he realized he wasn’t going to live if he spent all of his time watching out for the tiger. It was then that his personality begun to change. His animal instincts had begun to show when he killed his first fish with his bare hands and ate it raw; a feat he would not have dared to do prior in his lifetime even if the fish had been cooked. This instinct had also created safety from Richard Parker.
Richard Parker could have easily killed Pi at any time, but Pi began to show a superiority that kept the tiger from attacking. It was superiority stronger than that of physical characteristics. In the tiger’s mind, Pi was the alpha male of the boat, regardless of Pi’s size. This was the key element in both of their survivals. Without the constant will to find enough food for both himself and the tiger in fear that the tiger would grow desperate and eat him out of hunger, and the dominance Pi wielded that kept Richard Parker from attacking his only food source, neither would have survived.
Nature often plays a key role in any novel dealing with survival. Any method of survival is in adaptation to nature. Without adaptation, there is no survival, and without nature, there is no adaptation. It is the key element in that which is living. However, it is the element of nature that made Pi and the tiger’s struggle to survive even more of a challenge. Bengal tigers as well as young boys do not normally live out in the middle of the ocean, so it is likely that both would have a struggle to survive in their unfamiliar surroundings.
Not only do the extremities of nature have a great strain on physical strength, but on mental strength as well. Even the smallest things become torture in large doses. Pi had more trouble with the lengthy sunlight than the occasional rain storm. Although the rainstorm could capsize his lifeboat in one quick wave, it would have been done and over with. The prolonged brightness and intensity of the sun however, could capsize his mind, which is a much more torturous death.
Once Pi has landed on the shore of Mexico and rescued, he no longer needs to struggle to survive, nor does the tiger need to depend on Pi for survival. It is then that both animals part and adapt to their new environments yet again. Pi returns to the peaceful vegetarian, and Richard Parker becomes an independent hunter. This indicates that it is the outside surroundings that will often change characteristics of the actions of an animal, but will not change their true personality. Although Pi and Richard Parker changed their behavior in order to survive, they kept their same basic personalities throughout the journey. This shows that although man and animal may seem different in many ways, in the end they are both geared for survival, and although they change their actions quite often to adapt to their outside surroundings, their true selves are unchangeable.