The situation of much of the novel is a contradiction between boundaries and freedom. Pi is surrounded by the boundless ocean and sky but is trapped in a tiny lifeboat, and within that lifeboat he has his own clear territory separate from Richard Parker. Pi marks his territory – the raft and the top of the tarpaulin – with his urine and “training whistle,” and Richard Parker has his territory on the floor of the lifeboat. From the very start of his tale Pi muses on the nature of animal territories, especially regarding zoos, as his father is a zookeeper. Pi explains that animals love rituals and boundaries, and they don’t mind being in a zoo as long as they accept that their enclosure is their territory. As a castaway at sea, Pi then uses his zoological knowledge to “tame” Richard Parker, presenting himself as the “alpha” of the lifeboat and keeping himself safe.
This idea of boundaries moves into the psychological realm with Pi himself, as he (possibly) creates the character of Richard Parker as a way of dealing with the darkness and bestiality within himself. By making his brutal actions belong to a totally different being, and not even a human being, Pi sets a clear boundary in his mind. Richard Parker disappears when Pi first crawls ashore, showing that the tiger (if he is fictional) was a part of Pi that existed only on the lifeboat, where he needed to do terrible things to survive. Pi is then able to move on with his life – he goes to school, gets married, and has children – because of that boundary between himself and Richard Parker. He kept himself sane and human by symbolically cutting off the animal part of his nature.
Boundaries Quotes in Life of Pi
Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students – muddled agnostics who didn’t know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool’s gold for the bright – reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.
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.
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.
So you see, if you fall into a lion’s pit, the reason the lion will tear you to pieces is not because it’s hungry – be assured, zoo animals are amply fed – or because it’s bloodthirsty, but because you’ve invaded its territory.
The pandit spoke first. “Mr. Patel, Piscine’s piety is admirable. In these troubled times it’s good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that.” The imam and the priest nodded. “But he can’t be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. It’s impossible. He must choose…”
“Hmmm, Piscine?” Mother nudged me. “How do you feel about the question?”
“Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.
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.
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?
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.
“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.”