Life of PI is a great novel by Yann Martel. In this novel, he has tried to symbolize a lot of animals with human behavior or vice versa. There are four animals that have major roles in this novel. Each and every animal has its own meaning and purpose that either closely relates to the plot, or to PI. This anthropomorphism also has impacts on how the protagonist PI grew and developed in being a man. He stated, “When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted in a terrible… for survival,” (Martel 120).
When the ship sinks, PI gets thrown into a lifeboat. There he meets with four animals in specific: the zebra, hyena, tiger, and orangutan. He tells two stories in that novel.
One is associated with all the animals, and one is associated without any animals. All these animals are portrayed as humans at the end of the novel when PI gives a different, believable story to the Japanese when they don’t believe his story with the animals.
He relates the zebra to a young injured sailor, the hyena to the vicious, aggressive French cook, the orangutan to his loving mother; Geeta, and the tiger named Richard Parker to himself. The zebra represents the innocent nature of human being. It was injured when it fell from the ship. It stayed in its place and didn’t move, was assaulted by the hyaena, and its leg was bitten off. “A slow and constant grinding of its teeth was the only visible sign of distress,” (Martel 120) shows that the zebra was innocent and helpless like a child who has no way to defend itself other than let the predator devour him.
It closely relates to the young sailor PI mentions in his later story. In the second story, he mentions the injured sailor who broke his leg quite similar to the zebra, who was helpless when the cook cut his legs off to use as a bait for fishes. The injury shows the suffering of the zebra. But also shows the strength and struggle to stay alive. PI describes the zebra as a beautiful creature. Mr. Kumar, one of PI’s teacher mentions that zebras are “The Rolls-Royce of equids,” (Martel 84). PI details it as a lovely animal with wet markings glowing bright white and intensely black. The zebra also represents Pi’s weak nature. Pi also thought once in a while to give up and let everything go, stop trying, and let fate decide. Similar to the zebra when it gave up when the hyena was running around and round and scaring it, it was crying each time the hyena passed by him, but later gave up. “Even the zebra, which at first snorted each time the hyena raced by its head, fell into a stupor,” (Martel 115).
The second animal that PI came onto was the hyena which it relates to the French cook. PI did not see how the hyena got into the lifeboat, and hence assumed that it must have already been on the boat. He also says similar about the cook in his later story. “… the cook was already aboard, as was the sailor,” (Martel 303), which means that the cook and the sailor were already on board. Moreover, PI mentions the similarity of the cook and the hyaena to how the cook has tricked everyone in the lifeboat into cutting off the frightened sailor’s leg, which is the zebra in the first story. He states “…he whispered that the blackness would spread and that he would survive only if his leg were amputated. Since the bone was broken at the thigh, it would involve no more than cutting through flesh and setting a tourniquet…” (Martel 408), and it’s just like how hyena attacked the zebra, cut the leg and ate it when the zebra was lying lifeless in the boat. The hyaena was moreover symbolized as death because everywhere, every time when it was there, death always followed. Secondly, the hyaena being a carnivore, and is described as an ugly creature.
“It is ugly beyond redemption. Its thick neck and high shoulders that slope to the hindquarter look as if they’ve come from a discarded prototype for the giraffe…All the parts put together look doglike, but like no dog, anyone would want as a pet,” (Martel 115-116). This shows how ugly and hateful the hyaena was in PI’s view. This description is also moreover related to the hyena’s cruel and aggressive nature. The hyaena ripped the zebra’s legs off, ripped his stomach open, and started feeding on the zebra alive. The hyaena also represents the dark side of PI. PI was a Hindu, religious, vegetarian who could never think of killing or harming other animal but started gulping on meat and blood when he had to on the lifeboat. He started killing others just like a hyena. When Pi had his first kill, he stated, “I was a killer now. I was now as guilty as a Cain. I was sixteen years old, a harmless boy, bookish and religious, and now I had blood on my hand,” (Martel 183). PI also states that he ate human flesh.
This shows that PI had turned into a criminal and was no less cruel than a hyaena. The third animal Pi was introduced to was the orangutan. The orangutan came to the boat floating on a bunch of bananas. As soon as PI saw her, he exclaimed, ‘Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arm spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy too? Better that you had died right away…How bitterly glad I am to see you. You bring joy and pain in equal measure. Joy because you are with me, but pain because it won’t be for long,’ (Martel 111). He was happy that his motherly orangutan joined him in his journey but was sad that he knew she was not going to last long in that same dangerous journey for long. Orangutan resembled his mother; Geeta, who was also a mother of two kids. “… zoo star and mother of two fine boys…” (Martel 111-112).
The story starts with the mention of Richard Parker. “Richard Parker has stayed with me. I’ve never forgotten him. I still … pain is like an axe that chops at my heart,” (Martel 6). This statement represents two things; One that PI has not forgotten him. This shows the deep relationship between the protagonist and Richard Parker. Second, there is no mention that Richard Parker is the name of the tiger until later. So, this makes readers feel as the relationship between these two is really close like two close humans. The novel explains that Richard Parker was one of the important characters in this novel. He was the reason Pi survived this tremulous life-death situation. If it was not the tiger, he would have given up his life like he gave up on orangutan when he knew the hyaena was about to attack the orangutan. “…It was certainly so clear in my mind that I gave up on Orange juice’s life before she even had a chance to defend it…” PI also states that the tiger was the reason he survived this incident. “…I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally; Richard Parker, thank you.
Thank you for saving my life…” (Martel 286). Fear of the tiger was the first thing that made him keep on surviving and deterred him from thinking about his parents, grieving about them and giving up. He states “I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent,” (Martel 161). That is the fear with which he reasoned and stayed alive by training the tiger, controlling the situation, and became the alpha of the boat. Thus, these different animals had different natures, they each represented something really important for Piscine Patel and had a vital role in making Pi survive and growing him as a man. All the animals had different traits that were associated with a human being, and those traits I described were the important ones displayed in the novel.
‘anthropomorphism, n.’ OED Online. Oxford University Press, July 2018. Web. 15 October 2018. Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Florida: Harcourt INC, 2001. Print.