What do these quotes from the book Life of Pi mean?

"For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart."

 

"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life."

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Both these quotes deal with the nature of internal struggle, the first about evil and the second about fear.

The first quote is making a case against the idea of “evil” as an outside, corrupting force. There are no forces of darkness in the world preying upon humanity. All the...

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Both these quotes deal with the nature of internal struggle, the first about evil and the second about fear.

The first quote is making a case against the idea of “evil” as an outside, corrupting force. There are no forces of darkness in the world preying upon humanity. All the evil that has ever existed and ever will exist springs from the hearts of men. It is a quote about taking ownership for one’s own flaws. It is a dodge, according to this quote, to seek out evil in the world and try to defeat it with the swing of a sword. It is much more difficult, and necessary, to try to expunge the evil within our own hearts, and not let our own negative deeds or thoughts spread into the world.

The second quote is saying that the great blockade to life is fear. In a deeper sense, the author might mean that the great blockade to enjoying life, and living the life a person wants to lead, is fear. Fearful thoughts can hold people back from taking risks and putting themselves out into the world. The destruction of fear is key to embracing life to the fullest.

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The first quotation points out that all public evil begins with private evil. It is possible that a war may be fought between two armies, one of which fights for good and the other for evil (though wars are practically never this simple), but before this can happen, evil must have won a private, invisible battle in the heart of the commander fighting on behalf of evil.

When this quotation is read out of context (as quotations necessarily are), it sounds as though the author is discounting many possibilities, such as stupidity and error, which lead to evil without the person responsible intending or realizing this. On context, however, this comment is a plea for introspection; to concern ourselves not with the great evils of others but with our own failings, which may one day enter the public sphere if not corrected.

The second idea may be taken as a truism, but perhaps this is only because it has been so frequently expressed in works of philosophy and theology. Once again, knowing the context makes the quotation more interesting. Fear is anthropomorpized as "a clever, treacherous adversary." Pi overcomes fear again and again in the course of his adventures and, by doing so, finds that fear dwindles into a far less formidable adversary than it first seems. However, he warns, just as overcoming fear can become a good habit, so giving way to fear can easily become a bad one which will prevent you from achieving anything, because you will never develop courage—the tool necessary to defeat fear.

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The first quote is a commentary on the universal struggle between good and evil. It states that the evil that we see in the world is only a representation of what is within ourselves. It is not some isolated incident or aberrance. If a person is concerned with the state of the world or with the depravity of acts that they see in their day to day lives, their energy would best be directed inward, where they could direct themselves to making more godly acts in their day to day lives.

There are certain types of people that defend the "concept" of God adamantly but then do not act in accordance with godliness at all—or, as Pi puts it, they "walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual.'" This quote is a criticism of religious persons who defend the dogmatic nature of faith yet do very little to act on the virtue of it. The theologian James Fowler would describe them as stuck in the "synthetic-conventional" stage of faith.

The second quote refers to a platitude that has been deeply ingrained into the American conversation: that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In the context of the book, this quote goes on to describe the feeling of being taken over by fear. What Pi is saying here is that fear breaks you down, and the majority of people do not face it. They simply let fear live inside them until they cannot articulate it, and it begins to rule them. When one is ruled by fear, they cannot truly live.

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One of the remarkable aspects of this story is the number of highly thoughtful and often provocative quotes that it contains as Pi shares with us his strange experience and what he learned as a result. The first quote you have selected points towards the way that the evil forces that we face in our lives have actually all emerged from within us. The focus on the "small clearing of each heart" as the "main battlefield for good" argues that evil is an internal force that must be fought internally and triumphed over not externally but within our hearts. This is of course a particularly interesting quote when we remember the allegorical nature of the central tale and when we question the identity of Richard Parker and if he was actually some form of projection of Pi himself.

Secondly, Pi should definitely know all about fear from his experiences of being stranded on a boat for so long. Fear in this quote is set in opposition to life, and we are told that it is the "only true opponent" of life. This of course speaks of Pi's desperate struggle to cling on to life and not give in to the force of fear, no matter how bad things get in his life and no matter how his situation worsens.

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