Life of Pi

Life of Pi

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Life of Pi Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Yann Martel
Yann Martel was born in Spain to French-Canadian parents. Martel’s father worked as a diplomat, and the family moved to Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Canada during Martel’s childhood. He grew up speaking both French and English. Martel studied philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, and later spent a year in India visiting religious sites and zoos. His first three books received little critical or popular attention, but with the publication of Life of Pi in 2001 Martel became internationally famous, and he was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2002.
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Historical Context of Life of Pi
Most of Life of Pi takes place at sea, but the novel’s initial setting is Pondicherry, India, during a period of Indian history called “The Emergency,” which lasted from 1975 to 1977. The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been found guilty of misconduct in her recent election campaign, but instead of resigning she declared a state of emergency. This effectively suspended all constitutional rights and gave Gandhi dictatorial power. While the Emergency was a time of political oppression and violence, India experienced much-needed economic stabilization and growth as well. Pondicherry is also a unique part of India because it was once a French colony (while most of India was ruled by Britain), so it has a diverse and unique culture where Pi could be exposed to Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.
Other Books Related to Life of Pi
Martel’s “magical realism” style was pioneered by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the plot (struggle between man and beast at sea) resembles Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and Sea. The idea for the book was heavily influenced by Moacyr Scliar’s Max and the Cats, though Martel claims to have only read a review of this novel before writing Life of Pi. He gives credit to Scliar in the acknowledgements, thanking him for “the spark of life.”
Key Facts about Life of Pi
  • Full Title: Life of Pi
  • Where Written: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Setting: Pondicherry, India, the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, and Toronto, Canada
  • Climax: Pi finds land
  • Antagonist: The hyena/French cook
  • Point of View: First person limited from both the “author” and the adult Pi
Extra Credit for Life of Pi

Richard Parker. Martel got the name “Richard Parker” from Edgar Allen Poe’s nautical novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The name also appears in at least two other factual shipwreck accounts. Martel noticed the reoccurring “Richard Parkers” and felt that the name must be significant.

Zoo. The historical Pondicherry did have a zoo in 1977, but it lacked any tigers or anything larger than a deer.