Why does Pi have two accounts of his ordeal? Which is the true story, and which one would you rather believe?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, the title character gives an account of his survival of a shipwreck in which he and his family, along with several animals from the family's zoo, were onboard. Pi tells of being in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. When he is finally reunited with civilization, men come to investigate the cause of the shipwreck. They are from the Maritime Department of the Japanese Ministry of Transportation.  When Pi tells them of his adventures with the animals, they just cannot believe their ears. They press him for the true story many times, so Pi changes the story to a version which is identical except all the animals were changed to people. In this alternate version of the story the zebra turned into a sailor, the hyena into the cook, and his mother became the orangutan. The sailor became the zebra who had broken its leg. The cook became the hyena who ate the zebra. And his mother became the orangutan who tried to defend the zebra against the hyena's attacks. Pi himself became the tiger.

One of the unique elements of this novel is that it is up to the reader which version of the story he or she will choose to believe. As for me, I choose to believe the animal story. And in the last pages of the novel, one of the men who came from the Japanese government chose to believe this version, too. In his report he writes:

As an aside, story of sole survivor, Mr. Piscine Molitor Patel, Indian citizen, is an astounding story of courage and endurance in the face of extraordinarily difficult and tragic circumstances. In the experience of this investigator, his story is unparalleled in the history of shipwrecks. Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pi finally gives in to the pressure of the men asking him about the story of what happened because they don't want to believe his account with the animals.  For Pi, in some ways he seems to feel that the account with the animal is far more acceptable, both for himself and for others.  The image of the cook cannibalizing his mother and the other sailor and then Pi eating him is so incredibly horrifying that the animal story seems to be far more acceptable as a "true" account.

Pi gives the men the choice as to which they want to believe or recount as the "true" story and they choose the one with the animals as it is in some ways easier to "believe" than the one that is perhaps more "true."

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Life of Pi

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