How does Pi draw upon his culture and use his intelligence to help him survive life at sea?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Culture can be defined as the education, beliefs, and behaviors associated with a certain group of people. Pi grew up in India and is influenced by what he learned in his father's zoo and at school, but he has also learned and accepted beliefs from Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. All of these institutions helped to shape Pi's culture and education, and he draws upon them all while surviving life at sea. One of the ways that Pi draws upon what he learned from his father's zoo is when he applies what he knows about animals, enclosures, and territorial boundaries to "tame" the tiger, Richard Parker.

As Pi finds himself on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger, he must figure out how to get rid of it or live with it. In chapter 54, Pi uses his intelligence to come up with six ways he might be able to kill or lose Richard Parker. All six ideas seem probable, but he eventually discards them for logical reasons. By chapter 57, though, he intelligently comes up with the idea to tame the tiger like a lion tamer in a circus. He uses a whistle to condition Richard Parker to accept Pi's existence and dominance in the boat. Pi also uses the whistle when feeding and watering Richard Parker to establish his importance as provider and caregiver. Urinating on a certain section of the boat to establish his territory helps to draw physical boundaries as well. Therefore, Pi draws upon his culture and intelligence through how he handles and manages Richard Parker on the lifeboat.

Another way that Pi draws from his culture to keep him alive is when he remembers the story he learned from Christianity about Christ on the cross. Once Pi realizes that he hasn't paid attention to his eating or drinking during the first couple of days at sea, he realizes the following:

"Look: Christ on the Cross died of suffocation, but His only complaint was of thirst. If thirst can be so taxing that even God Incarnate complains about it, imagine the effect on a regular human" (135).

Pi then uses his intelligence to apply the story to his own situation on the boat. He needs to get something to drink, and quickly. This realization sets him on the path to search the boat for supplies. Without this moment, he may have wallowed in suffering for a longer period of time and could have died.

One more example of Pi using his culture and his wits to help him on the boat is when he reads the survival manual and applies its information to a daily schedule in chapter 63. Pi says, "I kept myself busy. That was one key to my survival" (190). His schedule is broken up into five parts and each part has chores he needs to accomplish. He also prays during each part of the day. He mentally plans and follows through with maintaining the boat, himself, and Richard Parker. He keeps his mind active rather than dwelling on tragic events by managing the boat like his father's zoo. He then applies what he has learned from his three religions through meditation, prayer, and practicing religious rituals to keep him anchored and hopeful.