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Allusions in The Life of Pi

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What are allusions? While reading or watching the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, you are introduced to Cinna, the stylist for Katniss. If the mention of this name does not ring a bell, then that is probably because you were never introduced to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which in turn, caused you to miss out on a major allusion. When mentioning allusions, it is not referring Katniss’s dress made of gem, project the illusion of fire. An allusion, is a literary element where it briefly and indirectly refers to an idea, person, place, or thing of historical or literary significance (Tran). It is used as a passing comment to spot the allusion and understand its importance in text (“Figurative Language”). Above all, they are used to helping the reader gain an in depth understanding of a character or plot within a book. In the novel, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster, various examples of allusions where conveyed that also correlated with the autobiography, Life of Pi, written by Yann Martel. The following that will be discussed are the following: symbolic, historic, and situational ironic references.

Referring to chapter twelve of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster incorporates the message of symbolism within literature. Generally speaking, symbols can have a range of possible meanings and interpretations. “It is a history that includes, but is not limited to educational attainment, gender, race, class, faith, social involvement, and philosophical inclination” (Foster,110). These factors inevitably influence the clear understanding of symbolism because they include a diverse set of instances that a reader could relate to based upon individual history and previous readings.

This ties in with an instance mentioned in the beginning of the novel, Life of Pi, when Pi and his brother, Ravi went venturing out in the city of Munnar, just over in Kerala. Unintentionally, Pi came across three hills that later served a greater purpose towards the representation of the three religions he encountered. “…on each stood a Godhouse. The hill on the right, across the river from the hotel, had a Hindu temple high on it’s side; the hill in the middle, further away, help up a mosque;while the hill on the left was crowned with a Christian church” (Martel,51). In this case, the hills are acting as a symbol towards the different religions that Pi continues to simultaneously practice. Martel also does not fail to claim that Pi would have to climb up the hills repetitively, probably because his journey has significance. It conveys that as Pi uncovers an attachment to all of these religions, there is conflict between the external audience, representing their own beliefs. There is some sort of “competition” in claiming which religion is the most, “rightful” in serving their form of idolism. In a historical reference to Charles Darwin, Pi, and Darwin share a similarity towards the idea that they both struggled with their own ideas. According to Darwin grew up in a considerably conservative household, however he was always open-minded and was not full-filled with what presented him. Pi always falls off the wagon of responsibly following his natively inherited religion, Hindu.

In addition, referring to chapter 5: Now, where have I seen this before, Foster uses figurative language to describe reading as “those papers from elementary school where you connect the dots (Foster, 23). Literature in this example is used as a combination of patterns to display the recurrences that are conveyed throughout the novel. As Pi ventures out on his journey from his departure from India, his travel later encounters a series of unfortunate event as the ship then on sinks due to uneven seas. The form of an allusion is shown in comparison to the well-known movie Titanic, by James Cameron. In this movie, the ship sinks because they come across a dilemma where they hit an iceberg that then leads to the downfall of the ship. Therefore, what Martel and Foster are portraying is another form of literature that display references of past inferences in varying forms of art.

Last but not least, situational irony is another factor in literature that intercorrelated with the concept of Pi. Many roads, oceans, and river in literature act as paths so that one can travel. And within those roads, we sometimes take our experience and upend them, making them work against us. E. M. Forster wrote books in the twentieth century, A Passage to India and Howards End (1910). The latter deals with the class system and issues of individual worth. The character, Leonard Bast, is a working class man who determined to better himself. He does so by reading books to expand his knowledge, in which he effort pays off as he tethers closer relations with people of the higher class. On the flip side, that only served as greater distraught and death where he had hoped for his soul’s ascent. Leading unto his death, the way of its occurrence is the biggest irony of all. “As Leonard collapses, however, the last thing he sees are the books from the book case he pulled over on himself…” What you perceived to be your greatest accomplishment, turns out to be your greatest curse.

In Pi’s relativity, he conveys situational irony in which he explains explicitly in the following. “It was Richard Parker who calmed [him] down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared [him] witless to start with was the one who brought [him] peace, purpose, [he] dares to say even wholeness (Martel, 162).” In this case, that same form of irony is being shown as Pi explains that he finds value in Richard that normally would not be considered otherwise. Keep in mind, Richard is a typically seen as a threat towards people considering it being a wild animal. Pi overwhelmingly had many promatic issues that he struggled to cope with on a regular basis spending his time stranded at sea: having a lack of resources, no personal contact… (etc). He then soon realizes that Richard is a first an problem that is bluntly presented in front of him. So as a part of his struggle to survival, his mind majorly spent on how to stay alive with a wild animal on your own boat.

In conclusion, allusions is a tool in literature that allows the readers to make a connection and seek the understanding of context. Foster provides a clear understanding on how to analyze literature for a blind spotting point of view whereas people normally tend to focus one form of interpretation. As seen above, Life of Pi shown itself many forms of how Martel recalls the perspective of Pi and his symbolic connections with Pi’s philosophical and symbolic instances through his rough journey to find sanctuary. Literature is seen in many shapes and forms, the only way to admire is to make it your own.

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Allusions in The Life of Pi. (2019, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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