souza ENG 4U Period 3 October 5th, 2011 The Role of Symbolism Humans, animals, plants and all living organisms are fighting for their rights in order to live in this world. The novel Life of Pi, Yann Martel uses a wide range of literary devices to present the different themes in the novel, one of which is symbolism. The significance of Pi and what it symbolizes, the adaptation of survival and the settings in the novel Life of Pi shows the presence of symbolism in the novel. Yann Martel presents the scenario as being real, he is trying to make us believe what we are going to read.
In the author’s note, Yann Martel explains that he flew to India in spring 1996 after his second book wasn’t successful in his native Canada. He describes meeting Francis Adirubasamy in a cafe, and is told the story about Pi. He eventually meets Pi back in Canada and Yann Martel decides to tell the story from Pi’s perspective. Many of the names of animals, objects and humans in the novel have a symbolic meaning. Many of these symbols are connected with the name ‘Pi’. One of these is the number 3. 14. The number describes the symbol ? , an ancient mathematical symbol. We learn in Chapter 63 that Pi spends 227 days at sea. I survived 227 days. That’s how long my trial lasted, over seven months” (Martel 254). Even this small detail is significant as 22 divided by seven is 3. 14. Pi describes the number 3. 14 as elusive and irrational. This can be seen in chapter 5 “And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge” (Martel 32). This reflects Pi’s own unusual personality. He attends three different places of worship mentored by three separate men without them knowing of Pi’s multi-faith, until they meet accidentally.
Pi’s uniqueness is also illustrated in the way he speaks out against the criticism of zoos and has a different way of thinking to many people, who believe that zoos are cruel. Martel has certainly chosen ‘Pi’ as a name for its various symbolic associations. Survival has been a major issue in the novel Life of Pi. Richard Parker and Pi has struggled for survival while staying on the boat. This can be seen in chapter 59 “I was about to drink from the rain-catcher pouch slung across my shoulder when my eyes fell upon the graduated drinking beakers. If I couldn’t go for a dip, could I at least have a sip?
My own supplies of water would not last forever” (Martel 229). This is symbolic of Pi’s constant struggle to obtain fresh drinking water on the lifeboat in order to survive. He even had to steal water from Richard Parker to quench his thirst. Besides that, after the sinking of the Tsimtsum, only a handful of survivors (Pi, Richard Parker, Orange Juice, the Grant’s zebra, the hyena) remain. The few that are left are forced into a strategic battle of wits to see who will ultimately prevail. This can be seen in chapter 57 “Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life.
It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher” (Martel 217). The tensions between the lifeboat’s inhabitants immediately after the ship sinks are high; each inhabitant knows that the game is “sudden death” and that each move must be considered with special care. The zebra, the orangutan, and the hyena all make missteps and lose. But Pi painstakingly charts out his plan of action, and his diligence and foresight saved his life. Life on a lifeboat is simple, but, stripped of all else, the stakes become considerable.
Pi’s life in the middle of the Pacific has no luxuries, no complex processes to participate in, and no obscure signals to follow. Faced with numerous physical dangers such as Richard Parker, sharks, starvation, the blind castaway, his only real choice is whether to fight to live or to give up and die. Though he considers doing otherwise, Pi chooses to fight. Another way in which Martel uses symbolism is through his use of settings and in particular the island that Pi comes across in chapter 92. This is the longest chapter in the novel and here Martel really challenges us to suspend our disbelief and believe in the island’s existence.
This can be seen in chapter 92 “I made an exceptional botanical discovery. But there will be many who disbelieve the following episode. Still I give it to you now because it is part of the story and it happened to me. ” (Martel 343). Pi thinks the island is self-sufficient and good, but when he finds the teeth he discovers the secret of the island at night and realizes it is an evil place. Richard Parker knew of its secret, he came back to the lifeboat every night during their stay, and the meerkats always retreated to the tops of the trees at dusk. Despite this Pi enjoys his time exploring during the daytime.
In a review of the book, Jennifer Dunn comments that when Pi encounters the island in chapter 92, it is “the only time the narrative overstretches itself”. It is true that this chapter pushes the reader’s ability to suspend their disbelief to its maximum. In an interview with ABC News, when asked about the island, Martel said that the island “means what you choose to see in it”. His argument is that “every great thing in life be it religion, love, any ideal has an element of the unreasonable to it”. He is leaving it to the reader to draw their own conclusion on what really happened.
Martel forces us to challenge our own set views. Our instinct tells us that such an island could not exist but Martel is asking the reader if they have the faith to believe in the island’s existence. Furthermore, the sea also plays a very intricate role in the novel because water usually represents some sort of cleansing or new start. This can be seen in chapter 78 “There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches.
The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent” (Martel 289). Pi was on that raft for more than 200 days in which he had tons of time to think. It made him expand as a person, for example he was forced to eat fish and stray away from his vegetarian diet. Also, he learned how to fend for himself and not rely on his pampering parents for everything. He became a much stronger, more mature person once his ocean journey was completed. In conclusion, the story of Life of Pi by Yann Martel used many symbols to get the points across to the readers.
The significance of Pi and what it symbolizes, the adaptation of survival and the settings in the novel Life of Pi is what which proves the symbolism in the novel. What makes the novel special is the direct relationship between storytelling and belief. This reflects the allegoric nature of the book as different people interpret it in different ways. The book can also be read on different levels. If you explore the narrative more deeply, however, you discover a new aspect to the novel and you see the symbols that Martel has created. It is a book which can be read on different levels and interpreted in many ways.
For me, Martel’s use of symbolism makes the novel and intriguing and memorable read. Work Cited Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2001. Print. Carteaux, Bill. “Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher”. Famous quotes about. Famous Quotes About, 2011. Web. 3 October. 2011. ABC News. ABC News Internet Ventures, 2011. Web. 4 October. 2011 Dunn, Jennifer. “The only time the narrative overstretches itself”. Oxonian Review. The Oxonian Review of Books, 2002. Web. 5 October. 2011.