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The role of zoology and religion in Pi's survival at sea in Life of Pi


Zoology and religion both play crucial roles in Pi's survival at sea. His knowledge of animal behavior helps him manage the tiger, Richard Parker, while his religious faith provides mental and emotional strength to endure the ordeal. These elements work together to keep Pi physically safe and spiritually resilient throughout his journey.

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In Life of Pi, how does Pi's zoo knowledge help him survive at sea?

Pi's knowledge of zoos and zookeeping uniquely equipped him to survive his ocean voyage with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. He had a healthy fear of the tiger, he established his territory as an animal would, he used the tiger's weaknesses to his advantage to establish himself as the alpha, and he embraced his role as the animal's caretaker to reduce the boredom and despair of his plight.

At a young age, Pi's father demonstrated to Pi and his brother that a wild animal is not a pet or a plaything. He made his sons watch as he offered a goat to a tiger. The boys saw the creature brutally destroyed and knew that the tiger could easily do the same to a boy or man. This lesson served Pi well when he recklessly brought Richard Parker aboard the lifeboat. He instantly realized the foolishness of his rash rescue of the animal from the water and spent the night hanging over the side of the boat. He then constructed a raft so he wasn't within the same territory as the tiger. When around Richard Parker he never let his guard down, which undoubtedly kept him alive.

Knowing he needed safe access to the storage locker of the lifeboat, Pi used what he knew about how animals establish their territories to keep Richard Parker out of that end of the boat. He urinated at the edge of his territory, blew on the whistle, and stared at Richard Parker to show where the boundary was. This allowed him to freely use the lifesaving supplies on board the boat.

Pi had learned to observe animal behavior carefully, and he noticed that Richard Parker was not acting normally. That the tiger would have allowed the hyena to kill and eat the wounded zebra without claiming it for itself was uncharacteristic of a huge cat. Pi surmised that Richard Parker was especially susceptible to seasickness. When he decided to train Richard Parker, he did so using a whistle, as he had seen zookeepers do, but he also rocked the boat so that the tiger began to associate Pi and the whistle with its queasy stomach. Because the cat was naturally superior in size and strength, Pi had to use other methods to establish himself as the alpha, which he knew would be essential in keeping Richard Parker at bay. With what he knew about animal training from the zoo, Pi used the tiger's weaknesses against it.

Finally, Pi's knowledge of zookeeping kept him alive because caring for Richard Parker gave him something to live for. Pi acknowledged several times that if he had been alone on the lifeboat, he might have given up hope and lost his will to live. The challenge of training and the duty of feeding and watering the tiger kept his mind active and diverted his thoughts from his own nearly hopeless condition.

If anyone could survive an oceanic journey of several months with a vicious predator, it would be someone who had inside knowledge like a zookeeper. Pi's background prepared him to survive his unusual voyage.

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In Life of Pi, how does Pi's zoo knowledge help him survive at sea?

Without his background in zoos and how certain animals behave, Pi most certainly would have been a small snack of Richard Parker's within the first week of being caught on the lifeboat with him.  There are several key bits of knowledge about zoos and tigers that save Pi's life as he tries to survive with the huge tiger on board.

1.  He understands the entire "alpha male" concept.  He knew that animals cower to the rule of whatever alpha male is in the area.  Because of this knowledge, Pi knows that he must establish that HE is the alpha male, NOT Richard Parker.  He comes up with the ingenius idea to use the whistle; the whistle terrifies Richard Parker and strikes fear in his heart.  So, whenever Richard Parker is fed, Pi blows it.  Whenever Richard Parker venture anywhere near Pi's "territory," Pi blows it.  This firmly establishes Pi's territory and dominance.  Without that, Richard Parker would have most certainly killed him.

2.  He understands "tiger langauge."  Because he has studied tigers in the zoo, Pi is able interpret and understand all of the different noises and expressions that Richard Parker uses.  That enables him to be more safe, to better provide for the animal, and to keep his reign as alpha male. Without that, he would have misinterpreted things and there could have been trouble.

3.  Pi's father taught him a valuable lesson about the danger and majesty of predatory animals.  He learned that lesson at the zoo as he watched poor innocent animals torn to shreds, in order to learn that tigers and the such are not cute toys to play with, but fierce killers that one should respect. That lesson stuck with him, and because of it, Pi treated Richard Parker as the dangerous animal that he was, and never underestimated his abilities.  That saved his life.

These lessons, and many more, helped Pi to survive not only on  lifeboat with a fierce 450-pound tiger, but to survive at sea also.  He was uniquely prepared for his situation, and it is what helped him to survive for so long. I hope that helped; good luck!

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How does Pi use his animal experience and faith for survival at sea in Life of Pi?

This question is asking more than one thing, so this answer will address the first question in the post.

Once Pi is in the lifeboat with Richard Parker, he is forced to draw on the knowledge that he obtained from being around all of those animals at the zoo. I would recommend going back and looking over chapters 13 and 14. These two chapters have Pi explaining to his readers the concept of the "alpha" in any group of animals. Pi tells readers about how a lion tamer must present himself as the alpha in the ring. That way, the lion looks with fear upon him and respects that leadership.

They are in the presence of a strongly dominant male, a super-alpha male, and they must submit to his dominance rituals. . . .

Only the trainer better make sure he always remains super alpha. He will pay dearly if he unwittingly slips to beta. . . .

It is interesting to note that the lion that is the most amenable to the circus trainer's tricks is the one with the lowest social standing in the pride, the omega animal. It has the most to gain from a close relationship with the super-alpha trainer. It is not only a matter of extra treats. A close relationship will also mean protection from the other members of the pride.

Pi takes this knowledge of the alpha and lions and immediately begins working to find ways to signal to Richard Parker that he, Pi, is the alpha in the boat.

I had to devise a training program for Richard Parker. I had to make him understand that I was the top tiger and that his territory was limited to the floor of the boat, the stern bench and the side benches as far as the middle cross bench. I had to fix in his mind that the top of the tarpaulin and the bow of the boat, bordered by the neutral territory of the middle bench, was my territory and utterly forbidden to him.

As for religion, that is what gives Pi hope and mental strength. Pi even foreshadows to readers just how important religion is to him (and how useful it will prove later in the book) when he tells a teacher just exactly what religion will do.

"Religion will save us," I said.

Readers get to see just how much faith and religion really do save Pi in chapter 53. We get a great quote that shows just how much Pi is digging into his faith reserves to give him hope each day. The quote also shows that religion and religious practices give Pi a routine to keep his mind active while on the boat.

I was giving up. I would have given up—if a voice hadn't made itself heard in my heart. The voice said, "I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen."

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In Martel's Life of Pi, how does religion help Pi survive at sea?

Pi learns about Islam, Catholicism, and Hinduism. He does so of his own accord—much to the chagrin of his parents and brother who find his behavior bizarre. But Pi loves all three religions in spite of (or perhaps because of) their contradictions. Thus, he is able to believe many different stories about the same situation at the same time.

This helps Pi on the lifeboat because he is able to view the horror he sees in different light, one that allows him to process the events and ultimately survive. He is overwhelmed by what he sees, so he tells a different story. No one can prove which story is factually true, and it doesn't really matter. Pi simply asks the investigators at the end which story they prefer.

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In Martel's Life of Pi, how does religion help Pi survive at sea?

Pi is a very spiritual and religious teenager. He converts to Hinduism, Islam and Christianity! It is no surprise, then, that he would turn to God during the biggest trial of his life. Pi is also very intellectual and reasonable; so, he draws upon everything in his life to help him to survive. In chapter 49, for example, he's been on the lifeboat for almost three days and he realizes how thirsty he is. He analyzes his situation based on what he remembers of Christ's crucifixion, as follows:

"Christ on the Cross died of suffocation, but His only complaint was of thirst. If thirst can be so taxing that even God Incarnate complains about it, imagine the effect on a regular human" (135).

Remembering this information helps him to assess his situation, which also motivates him to find water quickly, which saves his life by providing needed hydration.

In chapter 53, Pi believes that it is a miracle that he has survived so far. He takes his belief and applies it to his current information as follows:

"Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen" (148).

He combines his belief in miracles with a prayer that shows gratitude, humility, and faith that he is not alone. Not feeling alone is one critical factor that helps Pi continue fighting for survival. This is a far better way to approach his situation because he could sit down and cry or give up. 

Another example of when Pi uses prayer and faith to help him to survive is when he prays aloud, "God, give me the time" (150) to help him finish building a raft, thereby securing himself safety, before Richard Parker spots him. Fortunately, his prayer is granted and he is given enough time to finish the raft. Later, in chapter 63, during a long and lonely night at sea, Pi remembers the great Vishnu of Hinduism and then says a Muslim prayer to comfort him. These prayers help him to regain control of his psyche and faith to continue living. Also in chapter 63, Pi lists everything he does each day and prayers are on it five times, just as it directs in Islam.

Finally, in chapter 74, Pi goes into more detail about his faith in God and how it helps him through his ordeal at sea. He practices any ritual that he can think of from his three main religions, such as Mass, Communion, pujas, and devotions to Allah. He says that all of these things help to bring him comfort, but they also help him to let go of pain and to trust in and love God. In an effort not to lose his faith in and love for God, he also practices being grateful for everything that he has. For example, he would touch his pants, for example, and say, "This is God's attire!" Then he would point the boat and say, "This is God's ark!" These actions and words of affirmation hold his faith in God strong and then he would "go on loving" and surviving (209).

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How do zoology and religion help Pi survive on the lifeboat in Life of Pi?

Pi is fascinated with religion and science.  He uses this to sustain him through the difficult journey, where he develops a mystical fantasy to sustain his faith.  The animals are metaphors for his reality.

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