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The Spirit Under Pressure: The Life of Pi

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Throughout the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the protagonist, Pi Patel struggles with survival yet manages to maintain a level-headed outlook on his situation. He does not lose his belief in God, in whatever form He may take, although physically he begins to lose hope. He is able to remain rational through believing the irrational. He maintains his humanity throughout the entire novel, and as a result is able to survive both physically and emotionally and eventually be assimilated back into society and normal life.

As one’s physical body breaks down, his or her mind automatically turns to survival and only survival. This change in mindset has caused people throughout history to make choices in a time of distress that they otherwise would never have even considered. The body and mind turn to the most basic needs: food, water, and shelter. Basically, anything other than those three essential elements of survival loses precedent in terms of overall priorities in one’s existence. There have been many historical instances where a boat sank and people became stranded, and they turned to cannibalism to survive. One of these cases was the case of Richard Parker, a cabin boy who was eaten by two other crew members after they became stranded in a lifeboat together. That case became famous after the crew members were tried and convicted for murder, and the cabin boy is the partial namesake of the tiger Richard Parker in Life of Pi.

Pi has many “tactics” that he uses during his time at sea in order to maintain his sanity, morals, and humanity. He constantly occupies his brain with a wide range of thoughts, from God to new methods of fishing. He turns to believing the irrational, but instead of allowing it to construe his perception of reality, he uses it as a portal to escape from his current existence, and as a way to occupy his brain with thoughts other than the barbaric thoughts of survival that he is trying to avoid. According to Pi himself, “Only fear can defeat life,” and so he uses these irrational thoughts and ideas, as well as his love and belief in God, to avoid fear and occupy his days (Martel 161). It is possible that his entire journey was a case of him believing the irrational, as he presents a new story without a tiger after he reaches Mexico. Because he is an introvert and has an ability to occupy himself through only his thoughts, he is able to survive and maintain a stable state of mind throughout the ordeal.

There are times, as there would be with any human, that Pi’s faith waned and he struggled to uphold his morals. The difference between him and people of other doomed journeys who reverted to things such as cannibalism was that he was able to recognize and immediately put a stop to these moments of barbaric behavior. At one put he recognizes his eating habits are becoming animalistic, and he states, “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 was this noisy, frantic, unchewing, wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate” (Martel 225). It is said the first step, and the most important, to solving a problem is recognizing it, and Pi is able to recognize this problem of him becoming animalistic, and take steps to solve it. One of his methods for solving this problem is he makes sure that whenever he is forced to eat an animal, he always says a prayer for it before he eats it. This helps him to accept that he is eating a living creature.

Although it took him somewhat of a heroic effort, Pi managed to maintain his humanity throughout his journey. His belief not only in God, but also in the irrational, occupy his time without distorting his reality. Although he does lose sight of his humanity and begins to revert to barbaric methods, he is able to keep these actions under control, and when he finally reaches Mexico, he is still a sane and rational person. Many people might say he did not maintain his humanity, but because he was assimilated back into normal life, and still had a sense of morals, there is no argument that he was not able to. His ability to right his course when he begins to lose sight of his humanity is essential to his mental survival, and he uses it to enable himself to remain sane and keep his mind sharp.

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The Spirit under Pressure: The Life of Pi. (2018, April 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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