Part 2, Chapters 47–57 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on May 16, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1129
The next day, the zebra dies. That afternoon the hyena attacks Orange Juice. She fights back, but the hyena kills her and bites her head completely off. Pi looks away and sees Richard Parker’s head under the bench.
The ecosystem aboard the lifeboat is being whittled away, becoming simplified, and reducing Pi’s chances to hide. Soon he will have to be part of it.
Pi sees Orange Juice as a “simian Christ on the Cross” when she is killed. This indicates both his wish to think that suffering has meaning and his recognition that in some ways she did die to save him.
In this chapter, Pi thinks back on how Richard Parker was captured near Bangladesh by Richard Parker, a hunter who had been sent to capture a panther but accidentally stumbled upon a tiger and her cub. He also remembers how Richard Parker got his name; when the baby cub arrived at Pondicherry Zoo, there was a clerical error on the shipping papers, which stated the cub’s name as Richard Parker and the hunter’s name as Thirsty (the cub’s name).
Pi thinks back on this event now because it is a pleasant event, and he needs to escape from the slaughter he has witnessed aboard the lifeboat. However, it also shows three other factors that are thematically important. First, Richard Parker is also in this situation (a zoo/the lifeboat) by accident. Second, both the tiger and the man were originally named something else. Third, the tiger’s original name was Thirsty, which he will be in a literal sense from now on.
The next morning, after some time spent recovering from fear and weakness, Pi takes stock of the lifeboat. He is driven in part by the fact that he missed seeing Richard Parker for two days, having convinced himself that his first sighting of the tiger was mistaken, and in part by his incredible and growing thirst. Pi finds the dimensions of the lifeboat; then, once he dares to go under the tarpaulin where Richard Parker is, he finds food and water and other emergency supplies. Pi makes a list of his supplies, which ends with “1 God.”
This sequence develops several crucial elements of the novel. First, Pi recognizes how necessary it will be for him to pay extremely close attention to detail if he wants to survive; this shapes much of his conscious behavior. This sequence also shows Pi expanding his perspective to include the tiger and hyena as assets, rather than liabilities. Finally, in the list of supplies and the description of thirst as being like that suffered by Christ, Pi again shows his ability to retain a religious perspective in difficult times.
I would be in the direst of dire straits, facing a bleak future, when some small thing, some detail, would transform itself and appear in my mind in a new light. (Chapter 50)
This sums up how Pi survived: by keeping his mind focused on the tiniest details until he spied a chance for survival.
After a period of anxiety and depression, Pi makes his first plan to improve his situation in the lifeboat: he builds a raft from life jackets and oars, and ties it to the boat. As he is in the middle of doing so, the tiger kills the hyena. Pi gets onto the raft while Richard Parker is eating the hyena and lets himself get distant from the boat.
Richard Parker killing the hyena narrows the ecosystem even more: now it is just Pi and the tiger. However, Pi’s actions show a rising ability to cope with the situation and his ability to combine materials from the present with lessons from the past, in this case his knowledge that animals need distance from humans to prevent attacks.
Oncoming death is terrible enough, but worse still is oncoming death with time to spare, time in which all the happiness that was yours and all the happiness that might have been yours becomes clear to you. You see with utter clarity all that you are losing. (Chapter 53)
Pi’s thoughts here cut to the essence of his ordeal. His suffering is physical, emotional, and mental because of it.
As it rains all night, Pi works through six plans for dealing with Richard Parker. These range from pushing him off the lifeboat to killing him outright. Pi settles on fighting a “war of attrition” and outlasting Richard Parker. The next morning, however, Pi realizes that this will not work—that Richard Parker has the lifeboat, will catch him on the raft, and so on.
These plans for dealing with Richard Parker are not so much realistic plans in most cases as mini-adventure stories with Pi cast as the hero. As such, they fail as plans for dealing with Richard Parker, but they do sustain Pi, getting him through darkness and despair.
At the end of chapter 55, Pi had given in completely to his fear. Chapter 56 is a meditation on the power of fear. Chapter 57 describes Pi’s road out of fear, which he finds through Richard Parker’s actions. Richard Parker makes noises that Pi recognizes as friendly, and Pi decides on a new plan: he will dominate Richard Parker like a lion tamer does. That leads to the seventh and final plan: keep Richard Parker alive.
This is another transitional passage for Pi. He surrenders completely to fear but manages to come out the other side after passing through a literal version of that time of despair which religious writers have called the dark night of the soul. His gratitude toward Richard Parker both recognizes the tiger’s role in their zoomorphic existence and treats his actions as, once again, a kind of divine favor.
I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. (Chapter 56)
Pi’s thoughts on fear, which continue for some time after these lines that open chapter 56, mark a transition in his thinking. Previously he was simply suffering, in pain from all he had lost. At this point, no matter how afraid he is, he is fighting back for his life.
It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness. (Chapter 57)
This is why Richard Parker is so important to Pi, in the lifeboat and after; Richard Parker lifted Pi to new heights and is the reason Pi survived.