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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The story is initially set in India in the late 1990ís. The author has traveled to Pondicherry, a coastal town in the former French territory of India, which joined Independent India in 1954. The territory of Pondicherry still has many French citizens, as well as an unusually wide variety of churches/places of worship. The author then travels to Canada to interview Pi Patel, the narrator of the story, but little of the actual story is set there, save the authorís observations of the adult Piís home. Pi grew up in Pondicherry in the mid-1970ís, but the setting for the greater part of his story is the Pacific Ocean, specifically along the equatorial counter-current which runs east to west along the equator. The last pages are set in Mexico where Pi recovers from his 227 day ordeal at sea.
Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi)
Pi is the main character/protagonist of the story. He is a teenage Indian boy, son of a zookeeper. He practices three religions, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. His faith and knowledge of animal psychology help him survive 227 days at sea in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger.
He is the Bengal tiger that becomes Piís nemesis as well as his reason for living. The tiger ended up with a human name as the result of a clerical error where the name of the tiger, Thirsty, and the name of his captor, Richard Parker, were accidentally reversed.
Though it would seem unusual to include the author as a character, in Life of Pi, the author is more than a narrator. He interacts with the adult Pi as well as describes Piís home, family, cooking, etc. The character of the author adds authenticity to the story by reminding the reader periodically that the narration coming from Pi is the result of an interview process, not just the spinning of a tale.
He is a close friend of the Patel family and a former competitive swimmer. He teaches Pi to swim. Pi refers to him as Mamaji, mama meaning uncle and ji indicating respect and affection. He is also the man who refers the author to Pi for the ďstory that will make you believe in God.Ē
Father (Santosh Patel)
Piís father is the owner/keeper of the Pondicherry Zoo. He teaches Pi the finer points of animal care and control, along with respect for the animalsí strength. He dies in the shipwreck.
Mother (Gita Patel)
Piís mother is loving and nurturing, especially in the area of education. She reads widely and shares her books with Pi. She dies in the shipwreck, or, she may have had the role of the orangutan in Piís second story.
He is Piís older brother who loves to tease Pi. Unlike Pi, he is popular and athletic. Nonetheless, the brothers are close. He dies in the shipwreck.
Mr. Satish Kumar
He is an excellent biology teacher who finds nature to be an illustration of the logic of science. He is an atheist, and through him Pi learns to accept atheists as believers - but of another faith. This Mr. Kumar inspires Pi to study zoology in college.
Mr. Satish Kumar
Ironically, this man of faith has the same name as the atheist science teacher. He is a shopkeeper in the Muslim section of town. He is also a Sufi, a Muslim mystic. Pi feels that Mr. Kumarís shop/home is a sacred place and learns to practice Islam there. This Mr. Kumar inspires Pi to study religion in college.
He is the Catholic priest who exemplifies Christís love to Pi. He meets with Pi several times, each time explaining that Jesus Christ lived the way He did because of love. Father Martin unknowingly catalyzes Piís acceptance of multiple faiths.
Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto
He is the senior representative from the Japanese Ministry of Transport. He and Mr. Chiba question Pi in Mexico about the sinking of the Tsimtsum and about Piís incredible survival story. He is reluctant to believe the story.
Mr. Atsuro Chiba
He is the junior representative from the Japanese Ministry Of Transportation who accompanies Mr. Okamoto to Mexico. He sees deeper meaning in Piís story, but goes along with whatever Mr. Okamoto says.
The protagonist, Pi, is also the narrator. Therefore the reader gains understanding through Piís point of view. He is a young man who is confident about his knowledge of zoology, but eager to learn more. He respects and appreciates the beauty of Hinduism, the religion he was born into, but is still striving to find his connection with God. Pi has not done anything to cause his life-threatening situation.
On the surface, it would appear that the antagonists here are Richard Parker and Nature. Piís hardships at sea begin with the threat presented by the tiger, and progress to surviving starvation and the elements. However, the real conflict is an internal struggle. Pi must maintain his faith in order to survive, but he must compromise his beliefs in order to live. For example, he includes prayer in his daily routine at sea, but he must kill and forego vegetarianism to stay alive. Pi Patel is a seeker of knowledge and a seeker of God. He is striving to choose ďthe better storyĒ for his life.
The climax comes in Part Three of the book. The reader has known all along that Pi survived his ordeal because it is he who is narrating the story. So none of the drama at sea is truly climactic. The twist at the end, when Pi reluctantly offers a second story devoid of animals and devoid of faith, brings the climax. Pi allows Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba to believe the second story if they choose, but presses them to confess which story they think is better.
Both men admit the first story is better. This reaffirms Piís own beliefs (even though the men may or may not really believe the story). Mr. Okamoto chooses to include the first story in his official report. However, the ultimate outcome is left to the reader because which story is actually true is never firmly established.