Summary and Analysis: Part Two—The Pacific Ocean—Chapters 37-46
This chapter begins with a dramatic line: "The ship sank." After that event, Pi is in the lifeboat, screaming for Richard Parker to swim to the boat. Pi screams at heaven, throws first a life buoy, then an oar, to try to save Richard Parker, who finally makes it on board. In the chapter's last paragraph there is another telling line, "Truly I was to be the next goat."
This chapter marks the beginning of Pi's tremendous ordeal, but also demonstrates how his mind works. In the lifeboat in the heat of the moment, Pi calls to heaven for explanations, always seeking divine meaning even in the midst of loss. He also tries to save Richard Parker, calling for him as if he were a human; the chapter does not reveal that Richard Parker is an animal until the final paragraph, showing how Pi's world view treats animals as human.
"'Every single thing I value in life has been destroyed. And I am allowed no explanation? I am to suffer hell without any account from heaven? In that case, what is the purpose of reason, Richard Parker?'"
Pi shouts this and other questions at the world in the time just after the Tsimtsum sinks. It is the question at the heart of his account, the question of his suffering: why me?
These chapters describe the sinking of the Tsimtsum, moving back a bit in time to describe how the ship had functioned while it was successfully underway. The ship is very noisy all the time, but some unfamiliar noise wakes Pi the night that it sinks. Three of the sailors throw Pi to safety in the lifeboat, then throw a zebra after him.
What is essential about these chapters is that Pi is saved by forces beyond himself that he does not understand. He notes that he does not know why he woke up or why he investigated the strange noise, since that was more something Ravi would do. Pi's new environment is also shaped by these forces as the sailors create the strange and contained ecosystem he will live in from now on.
In chapters 40-42, three things happen. First, Pi faces his fear for the first time that Richard Parker is going to eat him. Second, the ecosystem aboard the lifeboat is completed: first by Pi discovering a male hyena there, and second by Orange Juice, the female orangutan, joining them on the lifeboat. Third, Pi begins to see that as unnatural as it is, the ecosystem has developed its own rules; Richard Parker does not kill the zebra because the hyena would be there, and this competing predator would have access to his prey.
Pi's discovery of the hyena is another of those seemingly strange or negative things that he sees as shaping his fate for the better. Pi decides that the sailors had thrown him onto the lifeboat not to save him but as fodder for the hyena, so it would not attack them. Therefore, their self-centered behavior actually saved him. The hyena's presence in turn keeps Richard Parker from killing the zebra or Pi, which is a prime example of natural/biological laws working towards what Pi sees as divine purpose: his salvation.
"'Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arm spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy too?'" (Chapter 42)
Pi cries this when he sees Orange Juice the orangutan floating towards him on a "raft" of bananas. This line shows Pi's ability to connect the sublime with the ridiculous and his tendency to find meaning in everything.
The last trace of the ship vanishes. The hyena seemingly goes crazy, racing in circles around and around the lifeboat. Pi recalls his father's teaching about how hyenas will eat and drink anything.
Pi had seen zoos from the outside when growing up and had spoken of them with confidence, indicating that animals were happy there so long as sufficient distance was provided. Here Pi experiences life in a zoo himself—and what happens when that distance is compromised....
(The entire section is 1,177 words.)