In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the three-toed sloth represents the miracles of nature and the connections between humans and the natural world. Pi studied the three-toed sloth for his zoology thesis because he was intrigued by how they were able to survive despite their lazy qualities, like sleeping twenty hours a day. He explains that although it seems unlikely that these sloths would survive, they survive because they are slow and because they blend in with the surrounding environment. This foreshadows Pi’s own ability to survive in the lifeboat and highlights the connection between humans and animals.
Also, recall how Pi says that the three-toed sloth lives a peaceful life “in perfect harmony with its environment.” The animal thus also symbolizes the beauty and mystery of nature and how different elements of the natural world work together to allow for a sense of natural harmony. This idea ties in with the book’s religious themes, as Pi says this makes the three-towed sloth “a beautiful example of the miracle of life” that reminds him of God.
By discussing the three-toed sloth in this manner right at the beginning of the book, Martel already has the reader reflecting on the miracles of nature and how animals and humans navigate the complex world around them. These ideas are then relevant throughout the rest of the story.