The Life of Pi – Novel Study Activity Guide
by Yann Martel
Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel is the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India. Although born a Hindu, Pi is fascinated with other religions and attracts them “the way a dog attracts flees”. Much to his family’s and community's chagrin, he begins to practice being a Muslim, a Christian, and a Hindu. He cannot understand why each of his religious advisors suspects and fears the other faiths.
When Pi is sixteen years old, political turmoil in India causes his parents’ decide to emigrate to Canada. They sell many of the zoo animals and take the rest with them on a Japanese cargo ship heading for Canada. The intent is to deliver these animals to North American zoos. Shortly after the ship leaves India, Pi hears an explosion and learns the ship is sinking. Crew members throw him aboard a lifeboat and Pi finds himself floating on the Pacific. In the boat with him: a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a blood-thirsty hyena, and a four hundred and fifty pound Bengal tiger. Keeping himself alive amongst this dangerous menagerie becomes Pi’s main focus. He uses his experience and knowledge of zoology to keep the animals from focusing on him as a threat - or as a source of food. Soon, due to the tiger’s huge appetite, only he and Pi are left on the boat. Even though Pi lives each day in fear, he refuses to surrender to his fate and manages to coexist with the tiger for two hundred and twenty seven days. He accomplishes this by establishing himself as the tiger’s provider of fish and fresh water. Pi is so busy providing for the tiger, he does not have much time left to think about his own difficulties. Thus, he and the tiger become co-dependents in the game of survival.
As the months pass and his body weakens, Pi continues to pray to his many gods for rescue. When his lifeboat washes up on the shores of Mexico, the tiger jumps out and disappears, never to be seen again. Pi is interviewed by officials from the Japanese government, who want to know what happened to their ship. When they hear his tale, they are skeptical—so Pi provides them with another more gruesome version of his journey. The reader’s task is to decide which version is the true one. Has Pi merely created the tale told in his diary as a way of coping with a crueler reality or has he truly experienced the miracles born of faith?