How does the use of deception in Life of Pi by Yann Martel compare and contrast with the use of deception in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare? 

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A major premise in Life of Pi is introduced in the author's note in which he asserts the relativity of truth. The novel then lays out two completely different versions of the character Pi's survival story. In the first version of the story, after the ship sinks, Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger that were all being transported on the ship as a part of his father's zoo. In this first version, the hyena kills both the zebra and the orangutan, and the tiger kills the remaining hyena. Pi then constructs a raft from which he can train the tiger at a safe distance. Pi tells the second version of his story to two officials who are investigating the shipwreck when the officials disbelieve his first version. His new version involves the ship's cook, a sailor, and his mother on board the lifeboat. The cook kills both the sailor and his mother for food, and Pi kills the cook. Since the main premise of the novel is to show the relativity of truth, both of these stories probably have their own degrees of deception. However, if the second story is more likely the truer story, then the first holds symbolic truth, but that symbolic truth acts as deception with respect to the second story.

The greatest difference between the deception found in Life of Pi and Twelfth Night seems to be the motive for the deception. All throughout the novel, Pi is trying to reach an understanding of God as well as an understanding of the meaning of life. It troubles him that so many of his actions for the sake of survival transgressed against his beliefs. Hence, the story involving the animals becomes a method of understanding what he had to experience from an objective standpoint without having to consider how the activities on the boat transgressed against the God he is striving to know. In Twelfth Night, on the other hand, the motives for deception are for many different reasons. Among those reasons are self-preservation, exposure of human nature, and revenge. The deception surrounding Malvolio is an excellent example of deception for the motives of exposing true human nature as well as revenge.

Maria's and Sirs Toby and Andrew's main motive for deceiving Malvolio into believing Olivia is in love with him and making him seem insane is because they severely dislike Malvolio's arrogant, self-righteous nature. In deceiving him, they prove and expose him and his nature to be foolish, thereby gaining revenge. Even Feste the clown proves Malvolio to be foolish by deceiving him into believing that Sir Topas the curate had come to talk with Malvolio about his insanity, which Feste did out of revenge for Malvolio insulting Feste's intelligence and his abilities as a court jester. We see the revenge motive for the deception clearly explained when Feste asks Malvolio in the final scene if he remembers that he insulted Feste before Olivia, as we see in Feste's lines:

But do you remember? "Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal? An you smile not, he's gagged." and thus the whirlgig of time brings in his revenges. (V.i.387-90)

The "whirlgig of time" is basically another way of saying "what comes around, goes around." In other words, Feste has insulted Malvolio through deception because Malvolio insulted Feste, which is an act of revenge and also exposes Malvolio's true human nature to be foolish. Hence, we see that the motives of deception in both the novel and the play are completely different.

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Twelfth Night

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