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.
Storytelling Quotes in Life of Pi
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”