In the book Life Of Pi by Yann Martel, how is chapter 22 a summary of the entire story?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter 22 of Life of Pi by Yann Martel is unusual is quite short; however, it is an accurate reflection of at least one of the major themes Pi deals with throughout the novel: the difference between fact and imagination. The entire chapter reads as follows:

I can well imagine an atheist’s last words: “White, white! L-L-Love! My God!”—and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

This chapter is an end-of-life comparison between an atheist and an agnostic. Death for an atheist is "the better story," a "leap of faith" which captures the imagination, light, warmth, and love of a potential God.

On the other hand, death for the agnostic is a miserable proposition. If the agnostic dies while clinging to his reasoned belief that there is no God, he will undoubtedly try to explain away the warmth from God above which is pouring over him. Perhaps he will say it is simply caused by a lack of oxygen to his brain or some other fact-based explanation.

The "dry, yeastless factuality" to which the agnostic insists on clinging is a sharp contrast to the limitless possibilities of the imagination to which the atheist holds. Pi narrates this chapter, therefore it is his choice of words. From this we must infer that Pi's theological/faith/belief position is not agnostic; he clearly has some sense that a "leap of faith" is far superior to clinging to a dead, dusty factuality. 

These two ideas are actually expressed in exactly the same words in the previous chapter. In Chapter 21 he expands on both of these ideas. His conclusion is that "moral exultation" is a far superior way to thinking about life than a purely intellectual approach to understanding life and what happens after life is over. 

In chapter 22, then, Pi expands his thinking about living life in these two ways to ending life in those same two ways. Again, the man who lives with moral possibilities and moral imagination embraces the light and warmth of God as he leaps from his deathbed to whatever awaits him. In contrast, the man who lives a life that embraces mere facts and intellect will only try to rationalize the light and warmth which surrounds him, meanwhile missing the "better story" of the imagination.

This theme of faith, belief, and intellect is a constant thread (theme) throughout this novel, as Pi is on a spiritual journey which is every bit as challenging as his physical journey. As he studies, thinks, prays, and searches, he is ever challenged by this seemingly simple choice between imagination (faith) and intellect (unbelief). 

Pi is a young man on a journey of faith. He says he "just wants to love God," and his choice to embrace the imagination of faith rather than dry, dead facts is evident in chapter 22 of the novel.

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