Based on David W. Edgerly's "Three Faces of Fear," does Pi have a "hurtful fear" and/or "hokey fear"? If so, what are they?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is ample evidence in the text that Pi had to face some hurtful fears during his journey of self-discovery. David W. Edgerly states that there are three types of fears: helpful fears, hokey fears, and hurtful fears.

Hokey fears are irrational or unrealistic fears. On the other hand, while hurtful fears may not be irrational in nature, they may interfere with an individual's personal growth or material advancement. Last, but not least, helpful fears allow us to intelligently assess any threats to our physical and emotional well-being. In the book, Pi has to face some hurtful fears that threaten his survival. 

In the novel, an example of hurtful fear is Pi's numbed inaction in the face of danger. He knows that he is lost at sea and is bereft of his entire family. In the meantime, death stares him in the face. The sea is a threat to him; surrounded by water, he can't quench his thirst with what the ocean offers. Meanwhile, wild creatures like the mako sharks, the spotted hyena, and Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger, pose even more immediate threats to his life. Pi reports that Richard Parker is a "fierce, 450-pound carnivore," whose claws are as sharp as a knife. Meanwhile, the spotted hyena is an unabashed and indiscriminate cannibal. In the midst of feeding on fresh kill, the hyena is as likely to reach for meat as it is to "take in the ear or nostril of a clan member, no hard feelings intended." Pi states that the hyena's jaws are formidable weapons of savagery. His fears immobilize him; he is anxious about Richard Parker's formidable presence, the hyena's vicious cannibalizing tendencies, and the mako sharks' "long, murderous teeth that protruded noticeably from their mouths." Pi initially allows his fears to incapacitate him, rendering him helpless to craft effective solutions for his survival.

According to David Edgerly, a fear becomes potentially hurtful to us when it keeps us from being proactive. In the novel, Pi is afraid of dying alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His fear paralyzes him, preventing him from thinking rationally. David Edgerly maintains that, in order for their power to be nullified, hurtful fears need to be confronted with skill and courage. In the story, Pi eventually comes to realize that giving in to his fears will jeopardize the likelihood of his survival; essentially, he must confront his fears in order to live. Edgerly argues that individuals who confront their hurtful fears with skill and courage eventually build the confidence and self-mastery needed to be successful in life. This is exactly the conclusion Pi comes to as well. He learns to respect Richard Parker's boundaries so that both can co-exist on the boat. The fear he still has is no longer hurtful to him. Instead, it becomes an incentive for him to map out his plan for survival. 

After he discovers solar stills on the boat, he sets about making sure that he will have a continuous supply of fresh water (the solar stills distill sea water to produce drinkable water). He also works on fashioning an oar and a mast for his raft. During intervals, he uses a cargo net as a fishing lure and learns that turtles are an easy catch. He muses that turtle "blood is a good, nutritious, salt-free drink" and that turtle flesh and eggs are "tasty and filling." Once he understands how destabilizing his fears are, Pi sets to work to raise his chances of survival. It is his changed attitude that eventually saves him:

Don't let your morale flag. Be daunted, but not defeated. Remember: the spirit, above all else, counts. If you have the will to live, you will...

So, once Pi changes his perspective, his fears become "helpful" rather than "hurtful." David Edgerly theorizes that fears are helpful when they inspire us to respond with courage to potential threats.