What can Pi's strategies for dealing with Richard Parker teach us about dealing with other fearsome "caricatures" in our lives?

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tinicraw's profile pic

tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Richard Parker's ferocity in life equals Pi's resolve to find land; therefore, the two together fight to survive almost a year at sea alone on a lifeboat. Richard Parker not only represents Pi's alter ego, but he also represents Pi's knowledge about wild animals in captivity. The way Pi deals with the tiger parallels how he deals with the rest of his life. For example, Pi comes up with six ways to get rid of Richard Parker in chapter 54. Unfortunately, none of those are possible for one reason or another. As a result, Pi decides to tame Richard Parker in order for both of them to survive. Metaphorically speaking, this means that Pi comes to recognize the animal within himself, and he decides to conquer it rather than to get rid of it. Pi also acknowledges that in this extreme predicament, he needs Richard Parker to help him to survive. When Pi realizes that the answer isn't to get rid of the tiger, but to embrace it, he says the following:

"What was missing here to tame Richard Parker? Time? It might be weeks before a ship sighted me. I had all the time in the world. Resolve? There's nothing like extreme need to give you resolve. Knowledge? Was I not a zookeeper's son? Reward? Was there any reward greater than life? Any punishment worse than death? I looked at Richard Parker. My panic was gone. My fear was dominated. Survival was at hand" (165).

With this passage, Pi teaches us that we can handle any situation in our lives if we apply time, resolve, knowledge, and reward. He uses the first three to achieve the fourth. We can do that, too. If we are resourceful and patient, then we can eventually meet our goals. Therefore, when we are faced with "fearsome caricatures" in life, all we have to do is use our skills and knowledge to create a plan that works for us. For Pi, this means applying what he knows about animals from his father's zoo to help him approach each situation that he encounters on the lifeboat. For us, it means that when we feel trapped, isolated, or afraid, we can draw upon our knowledge and resolve to bring us through as well.

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misstemple1261 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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At the end of The Life of Pi (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the very last few pages), the entire story of Pi’s time on the life raft can be viewed as an extended allegory for a much more brutal story. In this crueler and more realistic version, “Richard Parker” represents the side of Pi that emerges once he is trapped on the lifeboat: savage, animalistic, and oriented only for survival. Pi watches his loved ones die, and then must confront their murderer, and trapped alone on the lifeboat, has no one and nothing to comfort him. Because Pi is able to tap into his animalistic side, he survives.

However, tapping into this animalistic side isn’t only a necessity for survival--it becomes a pathway to enlightenment. Through becoming Richard-Parker-like (seeking fulfillment in the natural world, thinking less about the mind and more about the body) Pi is forced to see a different view of the world. He sees himself as a part of the universe instead of its observer, and through his journey, finds redemption for the evil he suffered.

Pi’s strategy for dealing with Richard Parker can help us when dealing with difficult characters in our own lives. It shows us that we can deal with difficult situations and people by looking deep into ourselves and finding/using unknown strength, even if this strength scares or surprises us at first. We can befriend our anger or fear, and work with it so that it helps us, not hurts us.

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cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Great question - the model of Pi dealing with Richard Parker can teach us several things.  The first and most obvious is that we need to face our fears, looking them dead in the eye.  Pi noted that tigers only attack when you are not looking at them.  Also, dealing with things in our lives requires perseverance.  Pi never gave up even when Richard Parker swatted him several times.  We also need to take practical steps to conquer fears and difficulties.  In the novel, Pi worked on getting Richard Parker to associate the whistle blow with seasickness so he could control him with it.  And finally, we need to 'blow the whistle' on our fears/struggles.  If we acknowledge them and share them, they become easier to control.


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