What is the thematic significance of the exchange between Pi and Mr. Okamoto about Pi's story?

Quick answer:

The exchange is important because it brings into focus one of the central themes of the book, of the nature of truth and how stories can be "true." The suggestion is that Pi's story about the tiger may not be factually accurate, but it is "true" nevertheless.

Expert Answers

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Mr. Okamoto's interview with Pi centers around the themes of truth and storytelling. During the interview, Pi gives two accounts of his shipwreck, the one featuring the animals and his encounter with the Frenchman, and the other a horrifying story of his escape on a lifeboat with his mother, a boy and the cook, which ends in cannibalism and murder.

Mr. Okamoto finds the first story, about the tiger, to be unbelievable. But the problem of "believability" is what is at stake in this interview. Since Pi is the only survivor, neither story is verifiable in any way. The evidence of the meerkat bones found in the lifeboat are inconclusive. It becomes clear to Mr. Okamoto that the the story about the tiger could be a kind of symbolic retelling of the other story, in which Pi's mother is murdered. The murderous cook in one story is the hyena in the other; his mother becomes the orangutan; Pi himself is the tiger. Pi asks which is the "better" story, and Okamoto agrees that the story with the tiger is better.

The interview sequence is important because it brings the book into thematic focus. The "truth" of Pi's experience is more than simply what happened to him. The story of the tiger is "true" in that it provides a kind of psychological and moral "truth" to the horrible things that "really" happened to Pi.

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