In Life of Pi, what were the 5 most important events in chapters 1-8?
In no particular order, we can isolate the following as being important plot points in Chapters 1-8:
1. Pi had a double major in zoology and religious studies at the University of Toronto, and excelled in both fields. These interests have been with him for his entire life, and as the book progresses we learn why, and how different people in his life have influenced him in different ways to pursue these studies.
2. We learn that he spent a good deal of time in a hospital in Mexico – that he was in a severely weakened state, and malnourished – and that he has gone through some terrible hardship with someone named Richard Parker. As the story progresses, we learn in detail what he has been through.
3. We learn about Pi’s name: how a close friend of the family, an exceptionally talented competitive swimmer, studied in Paris and talked often about the many swimming pools in the city. Pi is named after “the only pool that made Mamaji fall silent, his memory making too many lengths to mention” – the crown jewel of Paris swimming pools, the Piscine Molitor. And so Pi came to be called Piscine Molitor Patel. Unfortunately, in school the other students nicknamed him Pissing Patel, an agony that Pi could barely endure. So, upon graduating to middle school, Pi encouraged his new classmates to call him by this nickname, drawing a circle on the board in every class when the time came to introduce himself, emphasizing the Greek letter in ritualistic fashion – and the name stuck. He had found a constructive way to silence the demons.
4. Pi’s father is the director of the Pondicherry Zoo, and Pi speaks at length about the common misconceptions people harbor about animals in zoos. He puts to rest the myth that animals in the wild are somehow happier or freer than animals in a zoo, and compares a zoo enclosure to a human’s home – a compact area that has everything one needs within a very short walking distance. “Territories in the wild are large not as a matter of taste but of necessity,” he argues.
Whereas before for us the cave was here, the river over there, the hunting grounds a mile that way, the lookout next to it, the berries somewhere else – all of them infested with lions, snakes, ants, leeches, and poison ivy – now the river flows through taps at hand’s reach and we can wash next to where we sleep, we can eat where we have cooked, and we can surround the whole with a protective wall and keep it clean and warm. A house is a compressed territory where our basic needs can be fulfilled close by and safely. A sound zoo enclosure is the equivalent for an animal.
Within this long speech about zoos and their reputation, Pi draws a parallel with religion: “Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” This will not be the last parallel, nor has it been the first, drawn between Pi’s two subjects of study, and helps set the stage for a theme that runs through the entire book.
5. Finally, in Chapter 7 Pi speaks of Mr. Satish Kumar, his biology teacher in middle school and “the first avowed atheist I ever met.” Mr. Kumar visited the zoo often, and one day when Pi encountered him there, Pi was given quite a bit of religious philosophy to think about. Mr. Kumar claimed that “religion is darkness,” and this fell quite contrary to Pi’s young beliefs. Pi recalls later that Mr. Kumar had provided him with “my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith.” Mr. Kumar had a profound influence on Pi as a child and contributed very strongly to his understanding of the world. These lessons will carry Pi through all the hardship he faces in life afterward.