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Free Study Guide for Life of Pi by Yann Martel-Book Notes/Summary
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SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY

Pi

Piscine’s nickname, Pi, has a symbolic relationship with the mathematical pi (p). The ratio of the circumference (circular) of a circle to its diameter (linear) is pi. The correlation between the linear journey to North America and the cycles of doubt and faith are experienced by Pi. Mathematical relationships are calculated and explained logically and rationally by the irrational number pi. Unbelievable experiences and irrational events are explained logically and rationally by Pi. Neither Pi nor pi can be confined by logic or taken to a coherent ending point. Pi is sixteen when he is shipwrecked, and pi is the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. Pi even uses pi (p) to work out the circumference of the algae island.

Algae Island

The island itself is symbolic as a Garden of Eden. It offers temporary salvation to Pi, but he must leave the island Eden once he discovers the black “forbidden fruit” on the twisted branches of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” His illusion of the island is shattered. There is a kind of heaven and hell associated with day and night. By day the meerkats eat without having to kill and show no fear, even of Richard Parker. At night, the island becomes carnivorous and the ecosystem feeds on itself. (See Chapter 92 Notes)


Tsimtsum

The name of the ship comes from the Kabbalist concept of tsimtsum, where God withdraws himself to make room for the creation of the universe. The sinking of the ship may symbolize God withdrawing from Pi to make room for Pi to develop as an independent creature. Tsimtsum is necessary for creatures that are to become independent so they can freely choose a relationship with God. (See Chapters 35 and 37 Notes)

Orange

Orange is the color of survival. The whistles, life jacket, lifebuoy, tarpaulin, and Richard Parker are orange. It is also the color of the second Hindu chakra. (See Chapter 40 Notes)

Animals

The animals in Pi’s lifeboat symbolize human traits and may also represent people. hyena - French cook, cowardliness orangutan - Pi’s mother, maternal instincts zebra - Chinese sailor, exoticism tiger - Pi, animal nature meerkats - mirage, meekness

Pi’s Story

The lifeboat ordeal is a metaphor for the human condition. We aspire to higher things (religion, justice, salvation), but we are entrenched in our own basic animal needs. These aspirations and needs are brought together in the lifeboat. If the aspirations are grand, the journey will be perilous.

MOTIFS

The motif of the reconciliation of science and religion as equal ways to understand the world stems from the concept of pi - using the irrational to explain the rational. Throughout the book science and religion, two seemingly opposite areas of study, intermingle and complement each other. The two Kumars represent these concepts, and even they come together to marvel at the zebras in the zoo. Next, Pi’s knowledge of science and his faith combine to effect his survival. And the adult Pi ends up with degrees in both zoology and religious studies.

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