Life of Pi

Life of Pi

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Themes and Colors
Survival Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Boundaries Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Life of Pi, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Storytelling Theme Icon

The nature of storytelling itself is threaded throughout Life of Pi, as the book is told in a complex way through several layers of narration. The real author writes in the first person as a fictional author similar to Yann Martel himself, and this author retells the story he heard from the adult Pi about Pi’s younger self. At the end, in a transcript of an interview which the author provides, the young Pi then retells an alternate story of how he survived his days at sea, giving a version of events with only human survivors instead of animals. The larger question raised by the novel’s framework is then about the nature of truth in storytelling. Pi values atheism as much as religion, but he chooses to subscribe to three religions because of the truth and beauty he finds in their stories. He also possibly invents the animal version of his story as a way of finding more truth in his ordeal – as well as staying sane by retelling his gruesome experience in a more beautiful way. The Japanese officials think Pi’s human story is the “true” one, but they both admit that the animal story is much more compelling and memorable. In the end Martel comes down clearly on the side of storytelling as its own truth. When actual events and realities are unknowable – like the existence of God, the reason the Tsimtsum sank, or just how Pi survived the Pacific for 227 days – we must choose the stories that seem the most true, beautiful, and moving, and make them our own.

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Storytelling ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Storytelling appears in each chapter of Life of Pi. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Storytelling Quotes in Life of Pi

Below you will find the important quotes in Life of Pi related to the theme of Storytelling.
Author’s Note Quotes

He took in my line of work with a widening of the eyes and a nodding of the head. It was time to go. I had my hand up, trying to catch my waiter’s eye to get the bill.
Then the elderly man said, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.”

Related Characters: The Author (speaker), Francis Adirubasamy (speaker), Francis Adirubasamy
Page Number: x
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the "author"--a stand-in for Yann Martel himself--meets with a man named Francis, who claims that he's heard a story that will convince the author that God exists. As we'll later see, Francis's story isn't actually about Francis at all--he's heard it from Mr. Pi Patel, whom we'll meet later on. Furthermore, the story is only indirectly about God, and isn't what you'd expect from such an introduction. In short, the wondrous story we're about to hear has been filtered through several different storytellers, making us wonder how accurate it is in the form in which we're hearing it, as any one of the storytellers along the way could have exaggerated or distorted it. (But this also brings up the idea of storytelling and relative "truth," a central theme of the novel.)

The passage is also important because it brings up themes of spirituality and faith. Martel doesn't endorse any particular religion, but his novel is intensely religious, asking readers to suspend their disbelief and embrace the truth of a fantastic story that probably isn't "true" on a literal level, but that certainly achieves a kind of truth on a spiritual or aesthetic level.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

In the literature can be found legions of examples of animals that could escape but did not, or did and returned… But I don’t insist. 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.
The Pondicherry Zoo doesn’t exist any more. Its pits are filled in, the cages torn down. I explore it now in the only place left for it, my memory.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pi continues to defend zoos (but also denies defending them) from accusations of cruelty and imprisonment. Zoos do not, he insists, imprison animals at all--rather, they at least protect them and allow them to live relatively normal lives by making them safe and giving them a stable, unchanging environment in which they can develop a new territory for themselves.

The passage is interesting in that it makes an analogy between zoos and the belief in God. Those who dismiss zoos as cruel and backwards are the same kinds of people, Pi suggests, who dismiss God. Just as God is the being who gives people boundaries and rules by which to live, the zoo gives animals boundaries in which they must survive. It's easy to dismiss God as a "tyrant," just as it's easy to say that boundaries of any kind are imprisoning--and yet Pi claims that some boundaries are vital to happiness and, ironically, to freedom.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I can well imagine an atheist’s last words… and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Pi goes off on a tangent (not the first, nor the last) about what it must be like for an agnostic to die. An agnostic, because of his constant doubting of both religion and atheism, would probably dismiss his dying experiences with psychological causes--when he saw the proverbial light, he would just suggest that he was hallucinating, not seeing his own entrance into Heaven (or accept his own journey to nothingness).

The passage reinforces why Pi has more respect for atheists than agnostics. Paradoxically, an atheist is more likely to make a "leap of faith," because an atheist at least believes in something, even if that something is rationality and reason--an agnostic, by contrast, hasn't committed to any worldview, and therefore will continue to doubt even on his deathbed. Note also that Pi continues to characterize religion as a "story"--whether or not a story is literally true, we should recognize, it can be productive to those who believe in it. Thus, the passage foreshadows Pi's theories of religion (and later his interpretation of the entire novel): even if a religion isn't literally true, it has redeeming spiritual value: the value of its "story."

Chapter 99 Quotes

“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?... Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
“We’re just being reasonable.”
“So am I! I applied my reason at every moment… Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater.”

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Tomohiro Okamoto (speaker), Tomohiro Okamoto
Page Number: 297-298
Explanation and Analysis:

In this crucial section of the book, Pi is confronted by a two interviewers who want to know how a young man could survive such an incredibly long and dangerous journey across the oceans. The interviewers find it nearly impossible to believe that anyone could survive in a boat with a tiger. Pi fends off the interviewers' criticisms for a while--but then he becomes exasperated. There's no point, he insists, in poking holes in the truth of his story. His story might not be totally reasonable, he admits, but it's still a good story.

Pi's defense is as interesting for what it doesn't say as for what it says. Pi never claims that his story is literally true--indeed, he even hints that he's been making up the story all along. And yet he makes an eloquent argument for the usefulness of believing in his story: people need to maintain their faith and their sense of wonder and meaning. To rely too excessively on truth and science, as the interviewers do, is to lose one's reason to live--to throw out the whole "universe with the bathwater."

“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?”
Mr. Okamoto: “That’s an interesting question…”
Mr. Chiba: “The story with animals.”
Mr. Okamoto: “Yes. The story with animals is the better story.”
Pi Patel: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Tomohiro Okamoto (speaker), Atsuro Chiba (speaker), Tomohiro Okamoto, Atsuro Chiba
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Pi has revealed a surprising twist: the story of the animals (i.e., the book we're almost finished reading) was never exactly "true." In other words, the story of Pi and Richard Parker may have been a metaphor for what literally happened--Pi was stranded on the lifeboat with a group of other people, who turned to increasingly violent and dangerous means to survive. It's possible that Pi was so disturbed by what he's witnessed on the boat, and by his own actions, that he transforms his experiences into a more satisfying story of animals--i.e., creatures who aren't answerable to the law or to religion for their acts of violence.

In the true climax of the novel, Pi's interviewers are faced with a tough decision: print the story of how Pi came to be stranded in a boat with people, or print the story of how Pi survived with animals. In the end, they choose the story of the animals, because it is a "better" story.

What makes the story of the animals "better?" In the absence of total knowledge (i.e., the interviewers can't possibly know for sure which story actually happened, as Pi is the only survivor) they choose to embrace spiritual truth, with some redeeming religious value, rather than literal truth, which reveals nothing but the ugliness of human nature. The passage sums up everything the novel has been suggesting about the value of religion and storytelling. Reality is ugly and often depressing--stories, by contrast, have the power to inspire humans to achieve better and behave better. This idea of choosing to believe the "better story" is then intimately equated with religion, particularly in Pi's words--"so it goes with God."