Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, “Life of Pi”, is an engaging narration by sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, where he tells of his story of survival on a lifeboat with a four-hundred-fifty-pound adult Bengal Tiger dubbed, Richard Parker. Pi’s reflects on his past and tells the story of how he managed to survive not only being stuck in the Pacific Ocean for 226 days but also how he managed to fail to become prey to a hungry, tired, starving wild tiger. Pi’s reflections give readers true insight into how his survival was possible during this frightening ordeal and demonstrates a unique human-animal experience, shedding light on the true nature of both of these animals; Bengal tiger and human. Some readers could argue that Yann Martel’s novel, “Life of Pi” is a book that reiterates the common anthropocentric belief that humans are superior to and hold a higher moral standard than animals; instead, the novel challenges the contrast between animals and humans by presenting a unique human-animal interaction that destroys this distinction. I argue that Martel’s novel challenges and re-examines this view through Pi’s ability to find companionship in Richard Parker, the superior position the tiger holds in the relationship, as well as Pi’s animalistic behavior.
In Yann Martel’s novel, “Life of Pi,” the main character Pi Patel’s story disproves the common distinction between animals and humans being that humans are by nature animals with emotional needs, whereas wild animals, such as tigers, are animals whose needs are solely survival-oriented. Martel’s novel breaks this stereotype through showing the companionship that the main character Pi finds in the Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, and their interdependent relationship with one another. Pi explains that “without Richard Parker, [he] would not be alive today to [tell his story],” describing the important role Richard Parker played in ensuring Pi’s survival in general (Martel, 182). Although it is common for humans to become connected to animals such as their domesticated pets, it is less common for a civilized human animal to find a deep companionship that suffices their emotional needs through a wild animal, and even less common for an animal to deliver similar feelings back. Pi knows that the tiger could use him to settle his hunger at any moment, but Pi still feels attached to Richard Parker. Pi cares for the tiger and wants him to survive, which he spends his days doing In this situation, man is dependent on an animal, and an animal is dependent on a man, causing their relationship to grow on a deeper level and illustrating that a true bond is capable between the two species. Pi values Richard Parker and spends his days focusing on Richard Parker’s survival, as well as his own. Pi’s narrative also reflects his wish to care for Richard Parker and keep him alive. Pi explains that “tending to [Richard Parker’s] needs gives [his] life focus,” expressing his true love for Richard Parker, and how it overpowered his own wish to survive (pg number). Readers may argue that the only reason Pi wants to keep Richard Parker safe was to assure his own safety, however, although Pi’s natural human fear of tigers caused him to fear for his safety, Richard Parker’s actions toward Pi never suggested he intended to harm, and that their relationship was more than just fear-driven, but instead a mutual dependency and emotional bond that kept them afloat. Some may argue that Pi only felt an attachment to Richard Parker because he was lonely, but even before his journey of survival Pi sees Richard Parker in the ocean after the ship has sunk, and exclaims, “don’t give up..” “..come to the lifeboat.” “..swim! swim!,” reflecting Pi’s personal bond with the tiger, whilst pleading for Richard Parker to keep himself alive. Pi reflects on his bond with the tiger, even once he has overcome the extreme situation, explaining that he “[misses Richard Parker], and he “see[s] him in his dreams,” showing that his bond with Richard Parker was true and went deeper than just his own survival (1.1.14). In one of Pi’s darkest hours he cries out to Richard Parker: “I love you!.” “.. truly I do. I love you, Richard Parker, don’t give up, I’ll get you to land, I promise,” another true illustration that Pi’s care and devotion for the animal went further than just caring for him to save himself. Although unfortunately the text is not written from the perspective of Richard Parker, making it impossible to gain first-hand insight into the mind of the tiger, through Pi’s narration of Richard Parker’s actions and behaviors, readers can see that animals are more than just inhumane survival-driven carnivores. Richard Parker’s emotional attachment to Pi is clear indirectly through the fact that Richard Parker never eats Pi, or even harms him, showing that the tiger does not view Pi as food, but instead a companion in this journey, even when enduring blinding starvation. Pi explains the tiger’s kind feelings toward him, as he describes the tiger communicating a sign of kindness the way animals can, through noise. Pi explains that the tiger communicates ‘prusten’, a type of sound that Pi even being around zoos a lot had never experienced in his life from an animal. Pi explains that prusten is “a puff through the nose to express friendliness and harmless intentions,” this action providing readers with direct insight into the true intentions and emotional feelings of Richard Parker (180). Richard Parker was starving even with the small amount of food Pi was giving him each day, and he still did not attack him, also illustrating the fact that non-human animals are more than just survival-driven, and are also capable of emotional bonds. Some readers may argue that this clear emotional companionship between Richard Parker and Pi was a result of Pi’s fear of the tiger and Richard Parker’s desire to survive, it is clear through Richard Parker’s friendly advances and failure to view Pi as prey, as well as Pi’s accounts of emotional attachment to Richard Parker both during, before, and after his adventure, that animals are not purely survival-oriented, but also have emotional needs, and that their relationship was more than just a manipulative façade (fear-driven), but instead a mutual dependency and emotional bond that kept them afloat.
Martel’s “Life of Pi,” tells a story that destroys the belief that separates humans and animals into emotional beings and survival-driven beings, as well as the belief that humans are superior to animals. In Martel’s novel, the human, Pi, although commonly considered the more superior animal, is in a clearly vulnerable situation as he lives alongside a four-hundred-fifty-pound adult Bengal tiger in a small lifeboat. Richard Parker is the superior animal now, and Pi the inferior. Pi, a former zookeeper’s son claims before his time at sea that “getting animals used to the presence of humans is at the heart of zookeeping,” but now, even though Richard Parker was before a zoo animal, Pi is aware that the change of setting has caused a change in who holds the superiority in the relationship, and attempts to tame Richard Parker to survive (1.9.1). The tiger’s clear superiority in power is not the only superiority that he holds, as he also has a superior ability to survive in the wild. Pi explains that “Richard Parker was tougher than [he] was [with survival] and far more efficient,” showing that man is naturally inferior to animals when placed outside of their natural setting(2.61.19). Humans view humans as superior to animals when in a zoo-keeping setting, but in the natural world, animals are superior to humans in both strength and authority. Pi’s realization of this is evident as he mentions many times his feelings of vulnerability throughout his narrative, including explaining that he believed “[he] had a chance so long as [Richard Parker] did not sense [him],” as he believed if he did, he would kill [him] right away,” as his natural human fear allowed him to realize his defenseless nature against the wild tiger when put in the tiger’s place of superiority; the wild (119). Richard Parker, a wild animal, thrives when put in a wild environment because that is what they are accustomed, where humans are viewed as superior in civilizations surrounded by civilization, a truth that is often mistaken for the idea that humans are superior to animals. Through Pi’s narration, it is clear that he, the human, is inferior when put in wild territory, and animal is superior, debunking the myth that humans are superior to animals in aspects such as strength and authority.
Martel’s novel, “Life of Pi” punctures many of the commonly held beliefs about humans and animals, one being the idea that humans are moral and civilized beings, and animals are immoral and uncivilized. Martel’s novel disproves this distinction drastically through Pi’s so-called ‘animalistic’ behavior when surviving in the wild, mirroring that of Richard Parker. Pi’s behavior is immoral and uncivilized in many ways according to human standards, but truly is just depicting the survival tactics used by wild animals in their everyday survival journey. Part of Pi’s survival plan consists of urinating on the tarpaulin to mark his territory, something that humans don’t naturally do, however, it is necessary for Pi to do to communicate a sense of authority and identity to his fellow animal on board. As Pi gets thrown into the wild to survive on his own, away from the comforts of civilization, he reflects that he realizes himself beginning to “[eat] like an animal” and that the “noisy, frantic unchewing wolfing-down of [his] was exactly the way Richard Parker ate,” another sign that Pi’s behavior during survival caused him to resemble that of animals (2.82.5). In trying to quench his thirst, Pi considers drinking his urine and explains that “[he] resisted the temptation” to put the urine in his mouth as “[his urine] looked delicious” to him, an act that would easily be viewed as quite inhumane. Pi’s time battling nature causes him to change completely in his habits of eating, sleeping, cleanliness, and survival. Pi, a strict vegetarian in his civilized life, eats meat to survive in the wild, even the flesh of his own kind. Pi’s diet changes, as he explains that “in such a short time [he went] from weeping over the muffled killing of a flying fish to gleefully bludgeoning to death a dorado,” illustrating the change he underwent once placed in an environment outside of what he knew (2.61.32). Pi also admits that he once “tried to eat Richard Parker’s feces,” an absolutely absurd idea to most human animals privileged with the comforts of home-cooked meals, but not a huge deal to wild animals, as represented by the hyena at the beginning of the novel who eats his own vomit (2.77.7). Pi’s supreme exhibition of animalistic behavior occurs when Richard Parker eats the lone sailor that they stumble upon, and Pi confesses that “driven by the extremity of [his] need and the madness to which it pushed [him], [he] ate some of [the sailor’s] flesh,” truly exhibiting the behavior of a starving animal in the wild (284). Pi is solely an animal surviving in the wild, putting to use animalistic instincts and survival tactics to survive, the exact way that we observe wild animals to do in the wild. Although humans commonly see these sorts of behaviors as inhumane and immoral, human animals can end up acting the same when taken out of a life where everything is given to them and forced to fend for themselves. Richard Parker in this situation becomes a role model for Pi, and taking on his qualities allows him to survive in the wild, using tools and behaviors he would not have learned without Richard Parker. Pi, a human, is not used to living in the wild, nor does he know how to thrive in it. He is helpless outside of his civilized life and must look to one who truly can thrive in the wild, and he takes on this character without even truly realizing it. This life-changing alteration of Pi truly illustrates the distinction between animals and humans is not absolute, and both animals ultimately will act the same when being put in a situation like this, in ways that as immoral, and uncivilized.
Yann Martel’s novel, “Life of Pi,” tells a unique story about a boy named Pi who survives almost a year on a lifeboat with adult Bengal tiger, Richard Parker. Through this unique relationship, Martel’s novel debunks the common anthropocentric views surrounding animals and humans, through Pi and Richard Parker’s companionship, Richard Parker’s superiority, as well as the so-called animalistic behavior Pi develops as a result of his ordeal. Through these aspects, “Life of Pi” makes it clear that humans and animals are not as different as many may believe, and that the humane and moral superiority of humans only exists when in civilization, but when released to the wild, they will behave just like animals.