In the book "Life of Pi", what is revealed about society?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, many things about society are revealed in Yann Martel's novel The Life of Pi. One of these is that man doesn't always hold the answers to nature's mysteries. When Pi reaches the algae island inhabited by meerkats, he believes all his needs are taken care of and that he has found a place to survive endlessly. He finds food, fresh water, and gains strength on the island. However, by watching the behavior of the meerkats he finds that something is not right about the island. He discovers it is carnivorous and the algae becomes burning acid at night. The meerkats adapted to this. Pi would never have survived if he had not paid attention to the meerkats' behavior and learned from it. This parallels human society. People often seek to live apart from nature—certainly not in congruence with it. It often leads to their downfall. One example of this is the tsunami that hit Indonesia, killing hundreds of thousands of people in 2004. Survivors recant stories of animals fleeing before the tsunami hit, yet video footage shows people watching the wave come in from the shore.

Another thing that is revealed about society is the desire for territories and boundaries to separate us from those that frighten us or those we seek to rule over. Pi learned to peacefully coexist with a mighty Bengal tiger by constantly establishing his territory on the lifeboat. He even made several attempts to assert dominance, such as blowing the whistle and charging Richard Parker.

After Pi lands in Mexico and is visited by the investigators, he tells them the story of his survival. They find it impossible to believe the story of the hyena, zebra, orangutan, and tiger, which reveals man's tendencies to dismiss or disbelieve the improbable and miraculous. To satisfy them, he changes the story, turning the animals into humans, and here much is revealed about society.

In Pi's alternate story, he changes the hyena to the cook. He recants how he eats flies and rats, and the others find him disgusting and uncouth. Pi calls him a foreigner, suggesting that people do not accept differences in customs and beliefs in others.

Pi changed the zebra to the young sailor. The sailor couldn't communicate with them at all and was in great pain. Pi and his mother both showed him compassion and tried to comfort him, despite the communication barriers. This illustrates the times when people aid those in need in society, as often happens after natural disasters. Pi goes on to tell that the cook cut off the sailor's leg. No one wanted to go along with it, but he was a brute and dominated them all. This illustrates the brute force of dictators, militia groups, cartels, and gangs.

Mother tries to stop the cook from cannibalizing the sailor. She represents the orangutan from the animal story. She also represents all those in society who take a stand to help the poor and oppressed in the world. In this alternate story, Pi is the tiger, who uses violence to serve justice, killing the cook. This represents governments and other groups who have fought wars to end the unjust practices of others.

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you think about the animals in the boat as a microcosm of society, then you can see the various social roles that are played. The hyena represents the ruthless of society who play by the rule "the survival of the fittest".  He takes what he wants while not being concerned with the consequences of his actions.  His only concern is to eat.  The zebra represents those who suffer in silence and are powerless to act.  Those are quickly destroyed in the "survival of the fittest".  He passively accepts his fate, even though he is literally being eaten alive from the inside out.  Some people in this world also die from the inside out.  They refuse to speak up for themselves, and so suffer the actions of others.  The orangutan tries to intervene, representing those who recognize an injustice and make the attempt to step up for what is right.  Often, though, justice is beaten down by sheer power.  Richard Parker, after witnessing the defeat of the powerless, takes control and administers justice.  He does not kill at will, or else neither Pi nor Richard Parker would have survived.  His threatening power, though, is the impetus Pi needs to survive.  Pi musters his inner strength to overcome obstacles and rise to the position of supreme power in the boat.  As a good ruler, Pi provides for his subordinates and is concerned for the good of the whole, not just himself.