Summary and Analysis: Part One—Toronto and Pondicherry—Chapters 1-11
This chapter shifts around a bit in time as Pi attempts to recover from his ordeal on the ocean, but it primarily focuses on his education after he arrives in North America. He finished high school, then attended the University of Toronto, where he studied both zoology and religious studies. His zoology thesis focused on the three-toed sloth.
Pi's double major reflects his longstanding interest in the meaning of life. However, this interest is given particular emphasis by the memories of his ocean ordeal, which continually drift through his mind in this chapter. He is continually marked by what he suffered.
"Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students—muddled agnostics who didn't know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool's gold for the bright—reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God."
Pi's thought here shows the importance of his religious beliefs and how fully the different realms of reality interweave.
Just a few lines long, this chapter introduces Pi as an adult, telling his story to the author.
All chapters in italics will be from the author's point of view.
"No small talk."
This line seems to be a minor observation, but it will gain importance as Pi's story is revealed; all trivia has been burned out of him by his suffering.
Pi tells the story of his relationship with Francis Adirubasamy (Pi calls him Mamaji), a close friend of his father's who had once been a championship swimmer and still swam every day. He taught Pi to swim, the only one of Pi's family that Adirubasamy was able to teach. He entertained the family with stories of swimming competitions and swimming pools, including the great pools of Paris. To Adirubasamy, no pool compared to Paris's Piscine Molitor, "a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in." Pi was named after that pool: Piscine Molitor Patel.
Pi looks back on these details about Adirubasamy from an unspecified future time. Some of this story is clearly not things he could have experienced, as they occurred before he was born, but all details are presented with vivid immediacy, among them his name and his training to swim: it is as if he were being selected from before birth for an ocean adventure.
Pi discusses the nature of zoos, and of his father's zoo in Pondicherry in particular, noting that his father ran a hotel in Madras before starting a zoo.
Here Pi seems to be talking simply about his past, in a way that foreshadows his expertise with animals, and to be discussing issues related to zoos that he cares about because he encountered them through his father's zoo, such as freedom, territory, and confinement. However, he will later experience all of these issues first hand on the lifeboat with Richard Parker (the tiger).
"I have heard nearly as much nonsense about zoos as I have about God and religion."
Pi's thought here suggests that most people understand neither biological life nor God—and that zoos contain animals like religions contain spirituality.
"Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured."
Pi's thought here refers first to the zoos he knew so well as a child but also to his own ordeal to come on the lifeboat.
"I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both."
Pi's thought here underscores the relationship between his two main obsessions, both of which he ends up living from the inside.
Pi explains how he was teased for his name "Piscine," sounding like "Pissing," and how he renamed himself "Pi" his first day at Petit...
(The entire section is 1,330 words.)