One day Richard Parker seems to go blind. Pi throws a dorado at him and it smacks into the tiger’s face. Pi pities Richard Parker and again feels that the end is near. Two days later Pi himself goes blind. He suffers through heat and hunger, barely clinging to life. He feels that he has failed as a zookeeper, as he can no longer care for Richard Parker.
Richard Parker has been giving Pi a reason to live, as the tiger would die without Pi as a source of regularly consistent food and water. The blindness has come from extreme dehydration and malnutrition. Pi has little hope of surviving now.
Pi feels death approaching and he bids a vocal farewell to Richard Parker. He hears a voice answer him. Surprised, Pi begins a conversation with the voice, sure that he is going mad. Pi and the voice start discussing food, and while Pi longs for vegetable dishes the voice only talks about meat, beef and brains and dishes that Pi finds disgusting. Pi finally assumes that he is hearing Richard Parker’s voice.
Pi has failed in any attempt to communicate with the outside world, and now it seems that in his loneliness he has gone mad and started talking to the tiger. These scenes dip into surrealism and magical realism, and it is unclear whether Pi is actually hearing the French castaway from the start, or whether the whole thing is a hallucination.
Pi asks Richard Parker if he has ever killed a man, and the voice says that he has killed a man and a woman. Pi then realizes that the voice has a French accent, which doesn’t make sense because Richard Parker is an Indian tiger. The voice disappears for a while and Pi falls into a daze.
Richard Parker could not have killed any humans, as he was taken to the zoo as a cub. We will later learn that the French cook of the Tsimtsum, who takes the hyena’s place in Pi’s human story, did kill and eat a man and a woman though.
Pi wakes up and hears the voice again, and he realizes that it doesn’t belong to Richard Parker at all, but instead to another castaway. Pi shouts out his own name and the man answers. The man says that he has no food either, and reveals that he too is blind. They both start weeping. Pi offers to tell the man a story, but the man says he has no use for it. Pi starts rowing his boat towards the castaway.
Considering the alternate story we hear at the novel’s end, this scene is especially surreal. The castaway does seem to be the French cook, although in the human story Pi has already killed the cook by this point. Unlike Pi, the castaway rejects hearing a story to distract himself from reality.
The castaway finally asks for Pi’s story, which is about a banana falling to the ground and making someone feel better. The man wants to trade with Pi, and offers his leather boot. He describes it in great detail but then admits that there is no boot after all, as he ate it long ago. In a fit of affection for his fellow man Pi paddles his boat towards the castaway’s, and finally they join their boats with a rope.
Pi’s “story” is hardly a story at all, but in his state the ideas of fresh fruit and genuine happiness seem like outlandish fantasies. Pi’s conversation with the castaway rambles on and implies that both have gone mad, or else that Pi is hallucinating the whole thing – even within the context of the possibly-fictional animal story.
Pi embraces the castaway, but the man suddenly tries to kill Pi, threatening to eat his flesh. As soon as the man touches the floor of the boat, however, Richard Parker kills him. Pi is traumatized by the castaway’s dying scream, and the “terrible cost” of Richard Parker, which was that Pi should live at the expense of another man’s life. Pi says that something died in him then that has never come back.
This moment is especially poignant if Richard Parker is in fact an aspect of Pi himself. The “terrible cost” of indulging this bestial part of his soul is that he is willing to kill others to save his own life. If the human story is the true one, then this scene could be Pi declaring his guilt over the cook’s death without actually naming the deed. The story could be one of Pi reliving his sublimated guilt.