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Life of Pi Book Review: Exerting Control in Uncontrollable Situations

By Jacob Kelly

Countless works of fiction have explored the emotional trials an individual goes through after disaster strikes and his attempts to persevere despite all hardship. Typically, in most of these narratives, it is human emotion and the feelings of loss and powerlessness these characters possess that make up the majority of the narratives’ content. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, an intelligent, pragmatic man navigates the struggles of being lost at sea with limited resources and deadly animals in a scientific, analytical manner, rather than with his heart. Pi loses both his parents, his brother, and nearly all of their animals when the ship they’re on sinks, but he recognizes there is no time to dwell on this. When Pi finds himself thrust into a situation that seems utterly hopeless, instead of lamenting over these terrible circumstances that he has no control over, he focuses on what he can do. Life of Pi tackles this myth of powerlessness in literature and instead aims to prove just how much power an individual can hold, giving a greater sense of hope to the global community as a whole.

Life of Pi’s purpose is rather unique in that it provides both literal and metaphorical advice to its readers, preaching that there is always hope and a reason to go on, while also including thoughtful discourse in its conclusion as to what means of survival we can and cannot accept. From the novel’s onset, it’s clear that Pi is a very intelligent man who prefers to keep himself occupied. Between practicing three faiths and pursuing multiple academic subjects, Pi has no time to be bored. As someone who has often felt my life was boring and devoid of any real excitement, reading this section of the text really resonated with me. It reminded me that by having access to all the things I do, I have no excuse to not be constantly expanding my horizons and exploring new subjects. Later on in the narrative, the advice Martel imparts onto his readers becomes more explicit. When Pi narrates his time at sea, he seems to be writing some guide for the reader on how to survive his situation. The text includes step-by-step instructions on how to train a wild animal, how to schedule your days, and just generally how to survive; this is not something commonly found in a novel of this genre. Very little of this section of the book delves into Pi’s emotional state, as this is not something he values as being important in the situation. In fact, the only mention of Pi have feelings at all is when he is analyzing his mental state and how to keep himself from losing his sanity, which is why he decides to keep a journal in the first place. Pi had no control in ending up in his situation, but he does have control over how he handles it, and this is Martel’s purpose in writing the novel. Despite what we may think, we always have the ability to make choices and exert control within our lives, even if it may be hard to do so. This is an essential message of hope to get across to the reader.

In the final chapters of the text, Martel further explores this idea of control when Pi is rescued and explains what he’s been through to two men in a hospital. While at first the men are simply amazed that Pi is still alive, upon hearing his story of survival, their sense of amazement surely wavers. There is, of course, only one true sequence of events that Pi has gone through, yet he tells two different accounts to the men. One of the accounts is what we, the reader, have been told about Pi’s adventures with his tiger, Richard Parker, and the other zoo animals. The other account, however, is more realistic and far more disturbing, involving far more violence and cannibalism. Ultimately, the story with the animals is the one that the men choose to believe. Once again, Martel is demonstrating how something seemingly uncontrollable can actually be controlled and manipulated. The concept of truth in literature is an interesting one, being that all works of fiction are inherently untrue, yet they often teach us values and lessons that can be extremely true and valuable within the real world.

Life of Pi is much more complex, layered work than I had imagined it to be. The text explores the power of man in the face of misery and apparent hopelessness in a poignant way, while maintaining a sense of light-heartedness and humor throughout. As far as its relevance in our global community, the text is of great benefit to humanity. In an unconventional narrative style, Martel provides the reader with thoughtful analysis of differing cultures and how they can coexist, the nature of truth, and most of all, the ability of man to exert control in situations that make us feel hopeless. Martel’s purpose with the work was a noble one, and his intentions translate into an incredible work that delves into the heart of humanity through the mind of a brave young man.

Works Cited

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: A Novel. New York: Harcourt, 2001. Print.