Student Question

In what ways might the tiger have helped Pi survive in "Life of Pi"?

Quick answer:

Richard Parker is Pi's best friend and protector. He helps Pi to stay focused, calm, and hopeful to survive.

Expert Answers

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There are many times that Pi refers to Richard Parker saving him either mentally, emotionally, or physically. There are times on the lifeboat that Pi experiences stress and strain with each facet of survival. For example, in chapter 56, Pi discusses the effects of fear on a person in his circumstances. Fear can be both mentally and emotionally draining, but in chapter 57, he says the following:

"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" (162).

Remaining calm or finding a calming trigger helps Pi to endure each day of such a traumatic experience. Another emotional factor that helps to save Pi, and directly relates to the tiger, is when Pi tells the tiger he loves him:

"I love you, Richard Parker. If I didn't have you now, I don't know what I would do. I don't think I would make it. No, I wouldn't. I would die of hopelessness" (236).

Love is a feeling that can override hopelessness and loneliness. By feeling love for the tiger, Pi makes a needed connection that strengthens him emotionally. Another way Richard Parker is mentally helpful to Pi is that he needs to be taken care of. Pi feeds him and cleans up after him. This gives Pi something to do and to think about other than his tragic situation. Pi explains as follows:

"If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker. He kept me from thinking too much about my family and my tragic circumstances. He pushed me to go on living" (164).

Finally, Richard Parker saves Pi physically by killing the Frenchman who tries to kill him. In chapter 90, Pi explains how it happened:

". . . the next moment my dear brother shrieked in my face like I've never heard a man shriek before. . . . This was the terrible cost of Richard Parker. He gave me a life, my own, but at the expense of taking one. He ripped the flesh off the man's frame and cracked his bones" (255).

Based on the evidence, Richard Parker physically saves Pi's life, but he also helps Pi to stay focused and calm through his seven months at sea.

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