Life of Pi Summary

Life of Pi is about a young Indian man who is trapped on a lifeboat with a large tiger. 

  • Piscene, or “Pi,” grows up in India as the son of a zookeeper.
  • Pi’s father sells the zoo and the family embarks on a sea voyage to Canada along with a selection of animals.
  • The ship sinks, taking Pi’s family along with it. Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger.
  • Pi survives in the lifeboat for 227 days by taming the tiger and overcoming hunger, thirst, heat, and loneliness.

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Introduction

It is easy to see why Yann Martel's 2001 novel, Life of Pi, was widely praised and went on to become an international bestseller. Martel tells a story both striking and unique, the life story of Piscine Patel. When he was growing up in India as the son of a zookeeper, Piscine was teased unmercifully for his name, so he shortened it to Pi, as in the mathematical symbol π. This change of name is only the first of several fascinating changes Pi experiences. Some are more or less under his control, like his pursuit of truth by simultaneously studying Christianity Hinduism, and Islam. Some, like his father's decision to move the family to Canada, are not under Pi's control, especially when the ship carrying the Patel family sinks and Pi is stranded in a lifeboat with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a 450-pound tiger for company.

The bulk of this fascinating, colorful novel focuses on Pi's struggles to survive and to make sense of this dehumanizing condition in which he finds himself. Every setting, from India to the lifeboat and on to Mexico once Pi is rescued, is vividly rendered. Martel has an eye for vivid details and piles them on, making this novel a joy to read and supremely easy to imagine.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Life of Pi begins with an author’s note written by a character named Yann Martel. Martel confesses that his previous novel received poor reviews and faded into obscurity and he lost interest in writing another novel. Martel sought inspiration in India, where he met a strange old man who directed him to Piscine “Pi” Molitar Patel. Pi’s life story inspired Martel’s new novel.

Piscene grows up in Pondicherry, India, the son of a zoo keeper. Young Piscine suffers as a boy because of his name, which sounds very close to the word “pissing.” When Piscine changes schools, he takes the opportunity to rename himself “Pi” after the mathematical symbol, publically declaring his new name to all. With his new name, Pi enjoys a happy childhood, free from mockery, as he explores the zoo, makes many friends, and relishes life with his close-knit family.

An intelligent and deeply religious boy, Pi excels in the study of his native religion, Hinduism. Surprisingly, however, Pi explores two more of the world’s major religions—Islam and Christianity—when his family vacations in Munnar. With the help of a Muslim mystic named Satish Kumar and a parish priest named Father Martin, Pi becomes a devotee of both religions. As an old man, Pi will still practice the three faiths of Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, making him a unique religious figure.

Pi’s life in India ends when his father sells the zoo and moves the family to Canada. The family embarks across the Pacific Ocean on the Japanese cargo ship Tsimtsum with a menagerie of zoo animals to be sold to North American zoos. Unfortunately, the Tsimtsum sinks, taking Pi’s family with it. Pi makes it safely onto a lifeboat, where, besides some vermin, his only companions are a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an orangutang, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

At first, Pi does not see the tiger, so he lives in fear of the hyena. Since Pi paid such close attention to everything his father said about wild animals, he manages to survive the hyena’s predatory advances long enough to see it kill and eat the zebra and orangutang. Pi observes nature’s cruelty with horror, realizing that he will become the hyena’s next victim. Pi has virtually surrendered himself to the savage hyena when, suddenly, the tiger...

(The entire section is 1,921 words.)