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.
Survival Theme Icon

Much of the action of Life of Pi consists of the struggle for survival against seemingly impossible odds. Pi is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for 227 days, with only an adult Bengal tiger for company, so his ordeal involves not just avoiding starvation but also protecting himself from Richard Parker. Pi is soon forced to give up his lifelong pacifism and vegetarianism, as he has to kill and eat fish and turtles. In a similar vein Orange Juice, the peaceful orangutan, becomes violent when facing the hyena, and Richard Parker submits to being tamed because Pi gives him food. In this way Martel shows the extremes that living things will go to in order to survive, sometimes fundamentally changing their natures.

The struggle to survive also leads the characters to commit deeds of both great heroism and horrible gruesomeness. Pi finds an amazing resourcefulness and will to live within himself, and he resolves to live peacefully alongside Richard Parker instead of trying to kill the tiger. When he leaves the algae island Pi even waits for Richard Parker to return to the lifeboat before pushing off. The French cook, on the other hand, (who is either the hyena or the blind castaway Pi encounters later) sinks to murder and cannibalism in his attempts to survive. In Pi’s second version of the story, Richard Parker is an aspect of Pi’s own personality, which means that the tiger’s violence is actually a manifestation of a side of Pi’s soul that will do anything to keep living. From the start we know that Pi will survive his ordeal, as he is telling the tale as a happy adult, but his constant struggle to stay alive and sane keeps up the tension throughout the book.

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Survival ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Life of Pi related to the theme of Survival.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Don’t we say, “There’s no place like home”? That’s certainly what animals feel. Animals are territorial. That is the key to their minds. Only a familiar territory will allow them to fulfill the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water. A biologically sound zoo enclosure – whether cage, pit, moated island, corral, terrarium, aviary or aquarium – is just another territory, peculiar only in its size and in its proximity to human territory.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pi tries to defend the concept of zoos from critics who suggest that zoos are like prisons for animals. Pi claims that all beings on the planet need a familiar territory--they all need a home (he even quotes from The Wizard of Oz to make his point, reinforcing his novel's fantastic qualities). Therefore, it's not cruel at all to put an animal in a smaller-than-usual environment, provided all its needs are met--the animal appreciates its new boundaries and its new territory.

Pi's argument is especially interesting because it foreshadows his own time on the ocean, during which he'll have an incredibly small, limited set of boundaries (thanks to the presence of the tiger, Richard Parker). Pi has lived by his own argument: he's truly come to believe that people, as well as animals, need boundaries. As we'll come to see, Pi learns to embrace his own boundaries and find freedom in the "territory" of his mind and spirit.


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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 8 Quotes

We commonly say in the trade that the most dangerous animal in a zoo is Man.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is important for a number of reasons. Pi is telling the author about his philosophy of animals. While many would say that tigers or lions are "dangerous," a moment's contemplation reveals that man is a far more destructive animal.

Notice what Pi is implying. First, man is an animal--just an instinctive, physical being. Second, Pi suggests that there's a commonality between animals and people--Pi's point will become crucial to the final chapters of the novel, when it's revealed that Pi has been blurring the distinctions between animals and people in his own life's story. In all, the passage foreshadows the ending of the novel, while also emphasizing man's savage, unpredictable nature.

Chapter 38 Quotes

We left Manila and entered the Pacific. On our fourth day out, midway to Midway, we sank. The ship vanished into a pinprick hole on my map. A mountain collapsed before my eyes and disappeared beneath my feet. All around me was the vomit of a dyspeptic ship. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt shock. I felt a great emptiness within me, which then filled with silence.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this abrupt, almost surreal section of the story, Pi describes how, during the course of a voyage with his family, his ship sank. Notice how little detail Pi provides about how the ship sank--in fact, he provides no detail whatsoever (an oversight that is, of course, completely intentional, as the "author" will ask Pi how his ship sank again before the book is over).

The spareness of Pi's prose during this passage emphasizes the violent unpredictability of the universe. One second, Pi and his family are sailing on a ship; the next, they're sinking--it's that simple. How do we make sense out of such a random series of events, out of uncontrollable acts of God or fate? With art and storytelling, Pi's life story seems to answer--fiction is the only way to create meaning in a meaningless world.

Chapter 45 Quotes

I didn’t have pity to spare for long for the zebra. When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival. It was sad that it was suffering so much… but there was nothing I could do about it. I felt pity and then I moved on. This is not something I am proud of. I am sorry I was so callous about the matter. I have not forgotten that poor zebra and what it went through. Not a prayer goes by that I don’t think of it.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), The Zebra
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pi experiences a turning point in his coming-of-age. Suddenly stranded at sea, Pi witnesses two of the animals trapped with him, a hyena and a zebra. The hyena has attacked the zebra, and the zebra, wounded but still alive, writhes in pain. Pi is sorry for the zebra, but he doesn't have the luxury of compassion at this time--he has to focus on his own survival first, and compassion comes later.

Pi is an enormously compassionate person, but at the end of the day he's also a human being--which is to say, he instinctively cares about his own survival above anything else. Pi wants to cling to life in a deadly situation; thus, he ignores the zebra for the time being. In the process, Pi's notions of nature and beauty are changing rapidly. Nature, symbolized by the zebra and hyena, proves itself to be savage and self-destructive--thus, Pi is miles away from the calm, innocent beauty of the zoo and religious stories.

Chapter 49 Quotes

To be afraid of this ridiculous dog when there was a tiger about was like being afraid of splinters when trees are falling down. I became very angry at the animal. “You ugly, foul creature,” I muttered. The only reason I didn’t stand up and beat it off the lifeboat with a stick was lack of strength and stick, not lack of heart.

Did the hyena sense something of my mastery? Did it say to itself, “Super alpha is watching me – I better not move?” I don’t know. At any rate, it didn’t move.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Richard Parker , The Hyena
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

In this interesting passage, Pi comes to realize that his problems are bigger than he thought. There's a huge tiger, Richard Parker, in his boat, hidden beneath a tarp. The tiger is an enormous, dangerous animal--the other animal on his boat, a hyena, is tiny and pathetic by contrast. Pi begins to despise the hyena, and even imagines beating it away with a stick out of pure anger and disgust.

The passage shows Pi beginning to master his surroundings. Paradoxically, his awareness of a greater danger--the tiger--helps him gain more control over the smaller, more manageable dangers in his life, such as the hyena. Critics have interpreted Pi's boat as a metaphor for the human consciousness (a fact signaled by the original cover art for the book). Thus, one could say that Pi, the rational human, being learns to master his own anxieties and neuroses (the hyena) by accepting the fact of his own inevitable death (symbolized by the tiger).

Chapter 53 Quotes

I was giving up. I would have given up – if a voice hadn’t made itself heard in my heart. The voice said, “I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen.”

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Pi, still stranded in a tiny boat, here comes to terms with his own death--but then resolves to struggle against it to the last. He's trapped only a few feet from a huge tiger, Richard Parker, that could easily kill him. Pi is frightened and sure that he's going to die. Yet paradoxically, in the very instant that Pi comes to accept the fact that he will die, he suddenly finds the inner strength to fight for his life--and, in the end, he survives his time on the boat.

The irony of the passage is that Pi finds the courage to survive because he accepts that he's going to die. Pi is a tremendously brave, courageous person. Because he has so much control over his thoughts and feelings, he can calm himself, even in times of crisis. The overall message of the passage is that accepting one's death and giving up are not the same thing at all. On the contrary, Pi begins with death, and then moves past it. He's a gifted reader and storyteller who's used to accepting the impossible in fiction and religion--and here, Pi will put his imaginative powers to use, envisioning a future in which he survives his time at sea (and, in light of the novel's ending, even reimagines his time at sea itself).

Chapter 57 Quotes

I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realized this necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me. We were, literally and figuratively, in the same boat. We would live – or die – together…
But there’s more to it. I will come clean. I will tell you a secret: a part of me was glad about Richard Parker. A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker… It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Richard Parker
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Pi gives arguably his most eloquent explanation of what Richard Parker truly represents. As dangerous as Richard Parker the tiger might be, Pi admits that he wanted to keep him alive--he and Richard Parker were two sides of the same coin, trapped in the same place. Without Richard Parker, Pi would have no companion--thus, he respected Richard Parker and accepted that Richard Parker was a part of him.

The passage is also one of the best pieces of evidence that Pi and Richard Parker, trapped in the boat together, symbolize the workings of the human mind (and in the "reinterpreted" version of events at the novel's end, Richard Parker truly is a representative of Pi's survival instincts and "savage" self). Pi cannot sever himself from his own aggressive instincts--just as rationality and aggression, ego and id, are just different parts of the same person. In general, Pi emphasizes the importance of connection and cooperation: it is human nature to look for friendship and connection, even in a tiger--indeed, connection is a basic human need, as basic as food or shelter. So even if Richard Parker doesn't literally exist in the final, factual version of events, the story of and belief in his existence is what truly kept Pi alive during his incredible ordeal.

Chapter 61 Quotes

You may be astonished that in such a short period of time I could go from weeping over the muffled killing of a flying fish to gleefully bludgeoning to death a dorado. I could explain it by arguing that profiting from a pitiful flying fish’s navigational mistake made me shy and sorrowful, while the excitement of actively capturing a great dorado made me sanguinary and self-assured. But in point of fact the explanation lies elsewhere. It is simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even to killing.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

As Pi spends more time on the boat, he becomes a vastly different person. Previously, Pi was a pacifist--now, he's forced to kill fish for his food. At first, Pi kills the fish regretfully--but quickly, he learns to enjoy the act of violence required to kill a big dorado fish. The message is clear enough: all people, even someone as calm and peaceful as Pi, have the potential to do violence to others. Violence and aggression are as basic a part of human nature as tranquility or rationality.

The passage suggests the way that Pi and Richard Parker are merging with one another during their time on the boat: Pi is becoming a little more aggressive and violent, while Richard is becoming a little tamer and more cooperative.

Chapter 65 Quotes

Lord, to think I’m a strict vegetarian. To think that when I was a child I always shuddered when I snapped open a banana because it sounded to me like the breaking of an animal’s neck. I descended to a level of savagery I never imagined possible.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Pi continues to describe the way that he survived on the boat. He became a fisherman, catching fish and other sea creatures in order to feed himself (and feed Richard Parker the tiger). Pi is devastated and ashamed of what he did on the boat: he was always raised to be peaceful and gentle, to the point where the slightest hint of pain or violence made him cringe. Now, Pi has become the thing he hates most: a violent "savage."

For many readers, of course, Pi's supposed acts of violence aren't really that bad: he's killing to survive. Yet Pi, because he's been a pacifist all his life, is shocked by what he's capable of on the boat. Perhaps Pi is shocked by how much he enjoys killing fish and surviving off of the death of others--not the literal act of eating meat. By savoring the act of bludgeoning a fish to death, Pi proves that being aggressive and "savage" is a constant part of human nature (as potentially represented in the very figure of Richard Parker).

Chapter 74 Quotes

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

In these chapters, Pi crafts his own religion--a religion that focuses on the day-to-day"rituals" of fishing, eating, and generally surviving in his desperate circumstances, and revolves around the acceptance of one's fate in life. Pi endures great despair during his time on the raft--there are many times when he's sure he's going to die, or is simply depressed at being so alone. But he always turns to God in his times of darkness: Pi's faith in the existence of God gives him the confidence to continue fishing and waiting for a rescue boat.

The passage shows the relationship between survival and religion. Whether or not it's literally true that God exists, the belief in God is an important survival mechanism: Pi needs to believe in something larger than himself in order to find the strength to save his own life. Some people criticize religion for being nonsensical or irrational, but the passage suggests that religion is actually the most practical thing in the world: it's a way to inspire people to keep on living, and to give their lives meaning.

Chapter 78 Quotes

Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher. Physically it is extraordinarily arduous, and morally it is killing… You get your happiness where you can. You reach a point where you’re at the bottom of hell, yet you have your arms crossed and a smile on your face, and you feel you’re the luckiest person on earth. Why? Because at your feet you have a tiny dead fish.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

As Pi's time in the lifeboat goes on, he becomes more aware of the spiritual dimensions of his existence. His entire life is only a few "moves" from death--a couple bad days of fishing and he'd starve to death. And yet Pi's "imprisonment" on the life raft is a blessing as well as a curse. The very danger and frugality of Pi's existence puts him in touch with the spiritual side of existence, removing all external distractions and teaching him to savor the tiny pleasures of pure survival, such as catching a "tiny dead fish." Pi goes through a series of incredible challenges and dangers--and yet there's a grander point to the dangers he faces. His time on the boat teaches him to embrace life in all its complexity and ugliness, and to truly be confirmed in his belief that life itself has meaning and value.

Chapter 80 Quotes

For two, perhaps three seconds, a terrific battle of minds for status and authority was waged between a boy and a tiger. He needed to make only the shortest of lunges to be on top of me. But I held my stare.
Richard Parker licked his nose, groaned and turned away. He angrily batted a flying fish. I had won…
From that day onwards I felt my mastery was no longer in question, and I began to spend progressively more time on the lifeboat… I was still scared of Richard Parker, but only when it was necessary. His simple presence no longer strained me. You can get used to anything – haven’t I already said that? Isn’t that what all survivors say?

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Richard Parker
Page Number: 222-223
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Pi faces off against Richard Parker, and wins. Having just caught a dorado (fish) that jumped into the boat, Pi stares Richard Parker (who's suddenly gone into attack position) in the eyes, knowing that there's a good chance he could be killed and eaten in competition for the fish. Yet Pi's reckless bravery and willingness to sacrifice his life intimidates Richard Parker into submission, reaffirming Pi as the "alpha" on the lifeboat.

Pi here further learns to control the "territory" of the lifeboat, dominating Richard Parker with his own confidence and bravery. By the same token, Pi learns to master his own fears and anxieties, again transcending death by accepting death. The passage closes by reinforcing something we already knew: Pi is the ultimate adapter. He embraces multiple religions at once, and learns to control Richard Parker because of his fundamental desire to survive. In short, Pi learns to carve out a place for himself in the universe, rather than accept defeat and die.

Chapter 82 Quotes

It came as an unmistakable indication to me 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.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker), Richard Parker
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Pi again reaches a moment self-awareness. He's been fighting against Richard Parker throughout the novel--but here, he realizes that he is becoming Richard Parker. In other words, Pi is becoming an animal--wild, selfish, violent, etc.--in the process of trying to survive.

It's important to note that Pi's "sins" don't seem all that bad. Pi hasn't hurt anyone or threatened anyone. The change he's describing is mental and psychological, not external. The broader irony here is that Pi has learned to dominate Richard Parker by showing that he's not afraid of death--yet in the process, he's fallen to Richard Parker's level (and in one interpretation, he's always been Richard Parker). Pi holds himself to the highest standards, even when he's stranded at sea; he refuses to accept his own inner greed, even when a little greed seems totally appropriate.

Chapter 92 Quotes

By the time morning came, my grim decision was taken. I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Algae Island
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the strangest chapters in the book, Pi finds a temporary home on a floating island made entirely of algae, and inhabited only by docile meerkats. On the island, life is easy--there's plentiful food and placid beauty everywhere Pi looks. And yet Pi eventually comes to see through the shallow pleasures of the island. At night, the island becomes a dangerous place, its algae-filled ponds turning acidic and dissolving anyone or anything ignorant enough to swim in them. The island itself is carnivorous, and Pi even finds proof (in the "tooth tree") that another human has been killed by it before. Pi could live on the island, always avoiding the ponds and returning to the lifeboat at night. But instead of living such a stunted, fearful life, he decides to return to his boat and search for human contact once again.

What does the algae island symbolize? Critics have suggested that the island is a symbol of the shallowness of physical pleasure. There is no such thing as a "free lunch"--even the seemingly endless joys of the algae island inevitably "dissolve" (literally) into suffering and death. Life itself, Pi seems to conclude, is a dangerous place. The only way to redeem life, then, is to seek out spiritual or emotional enlightenment through interpersonal connection. (Notice that the island episode also mirrors the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden--Pi leaves terrestrial paradise when he achieves knowledge of death.)

Chapter 93 Quotes

High calls low and low calls high. I tell you, if you were in such dire straits as I was, you too would elevate your thoughts. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar. It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God.

Related Characters: Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) (speaker)
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Pi describes what his life was like after he left the island of algae. He doesn't give many details, having already offered much description of his daily rituals of survival, but he makes a profound point about God and sadness. It's the lowest, most miserable people who turn to God first, he argues. The very practice of worshipping God, one could say, is a product of sadness and suffering: people in the throes of despair want to believe that their lives have meaning, and so they turn to religion.

Pi's religious faith is tested many times during the novel, and yet instead of doubting God, Pi reshapes his religion in response to each new challenge. He's the very embodiment of humanity's capacity to survive and maintain its sanity through hope, resourcefulness, and creativity.