In Life of Pi, how does the author use imagery? Why does the author use imagery?

In Life of Pi, the author uses imagery to create realistic impressions within a fantastic story and to emphasize the combined human and animal characteristics of Pi’s boat mates. The imagery is primarily visual but also draws on the other senses. The appearance of realism is important in helping the reader believe in Pi’s version of events while he was lost at sea.

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Throughout Life of Pi, author Yann Martel relies heavily on imagery to bolster a realistic atmosphere within a fantastic setting and highly improbable narrative. The detailed imagery supports the information that Pi is providing. While Martel relies primarily on visual images, he includes the other senses as well. Visual,...

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Throughout Life of Pi, author Yann Martel relies heavily on imagery to bolster a realistic atmosphere within a fantastic setting and highly improbable narrative. The detailed imagery supports the information that Pi is providing. While Martel relies primarily on visual images, he includes the other senses as well. Visual, aural, and tactile elements are often combined to create vivid images of the animals, thereby showing how Pi understands them as having both human and animal features.

Building up this realistic impression is important to the overall credibility of Pi’s story. Martel apparently wants the reader to get caught up in Pi’s version of his adventures while adrift in the boat, however unlikely the reader actually believes them to be.

Examples of significant imagery appear in the early descriptions of the frightening tiger, Richard Parker. For example, when he enters the boat, he is described as large and imposing, but also wet and unsteady. The imagery includes references to the size of his head by comparing it to an object, saying it “was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth.” Although the tiger is not steady on his feet, his features are fearful: ”eyes blazing as they met mine, ears laid tight to his head, all weapons drawn.” Creating a clear portrait of the tiger is important because it helps emphasize Pi’s impressive feat in dominating him later.

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Yann Martel uses imagery masterfully in his novel Life of Pi. He mixes the use of imagery with similes, metaphors, personification, and more to bring an intriguing story to life for the reader. For example, he uses imagery of sight and sound to contrast the behavior of the hyena and the tiger on the life boat. First, in chapter 43, Martel describes the hyena's behavior with visual and auditory imagery:

"All morning the hyena ran in circles going yip yip yip yip yip . . . every lap was identical to the previous one, with no variations in movement, in speed, in the pitch or the volume of the yipping . . . Its yipping was shrill and annoying in the extreme. Even the zebra, which at first snorted each time the hyena raced by its head, fell into a stupor" (115).

Notice the use of onomatopoeia to engage the sense of sound, accompanied by the exhaustion of sight and emotion that Pi and the zebra feel as a result of the hyena's crazy behavior.

In contrast, from chapter 53, Richard Parker is also described with visual images. Words such as "glossy coat," "black vertical stripes," and "Atop the head were small, expressive ears shaped like perfect arches" (151). Richard Parker also moves more slowly and deliberately than the hyena. Consequently, Pi feels respect and amazement when he first sees the tiger. In fact, Pi notices that the tiger is silent whereas the hyena, as shown above, is loud and frantic with its movements. Then, Martel uses two similes to provide visual and auditory images of Richard Parker eating a rat:

"Richard Parker opened his maw and the squealing rat disappeared into it like a baseball into a catcher's mitt. Its hairless tail vanished like a spaghetti noodle sucked into a mouth" (153).

From this example, one might imagine hearing the squeal of the rat, the baseball going into the catcher's mitt, and a spaghetti noodle being sucked (sight and sound) into someone's mouth. These are just a few examples of the use of sight and sound from Life of Pi. There are many more examples, and readers searching for imagery will reap rewards by turning to any page of the text. Martel, along with other authors, use imagery in order to help readers to relate to the story through real world experiences and senses. If this use of imagery is successful, readers will be more engaged in the story and have a good experience reading the book.

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