More Pi, dear?
I don’t usually do Literary Symbolism, just developmental/psychological interpretation, but with The Life of Pi, I just can’t resist one quick foray.
The book itself is an allegory not only at a developmental level, which I mentioned last time, but also an allegory about the nature of belief. At the end of the book when the Japanese shipping officials don’t believe that the tiger exists since it left into the Mexican jungle before anyone else saw it and there was no evidence of the beautiful but corrosive island (except the small animal bones in the boat), Pi tells an alternative “logical” story in which the orang-utan is his mother and the jackal is the ship’s cook, who kills and butchers a sailor with a broken leg . . . the zebra . . . and eventually kills Pi’s mother. Pi kills the cook, becoming the tiger himself.
In the absence of proof of one or the other story, Pi states, the only way to make a choice is to pick the story you believe is the better, the story you wish. (That would work a little better without the small animal bones, which are proof of one of the stories, as, of course, fossils are proof of evolution). So of course there is a story with animals and one without and the Japanese officials wisely choose the one with the animals (God) rather than the “rational” (atheistic) one. And Pi makes the connection with religion for us in case we’re too thick.
So let’s look at the representations of religions.
First, it’s not hard to see Richard Parker, the tiger, as a representation of religion or gods in general: it is powerful, it must be appeased, there are rituals which must be followed. The original Richard Parker of the Poe short story gave himself as sustenance to the other sailors. I would argue that the tiger represents Hinduism, the religion in which Pi grew up. First, he grew up with the tiger–its rituals are rituals Pi has known from his childhood. I would argue the saffron color of the tiger’s coat is also the saffron of those ritual offerings. The ritual offerings the tiger demands, the attention that must be paid to the tiger day in and day out echo the life-sustaining demands of the gods.
This may or may not come as a shock, but [gasp] fish could be a symbol for Christianity. And throughout the 227 days of Pi’s journey the fish sustained him . . . no . . . not quite true. The fish did not sustain him until he gave up his vegetarian innocence and accepted the guilt for the death of that first (Christ) fish–the one he felt so guilty about he wrapped it in a blanket before he could break its spine.
That leaves us with the third religion that Pi embraced, Islam. I would argue the green island, the island which has no ground, but is rather a single plant, one organism, is Islam–Islam with only one God: no Son, no Holy Spirit and no Ganesha, no Vishnu, no Shiva. The island is home and provider to the huge colony of meerkats. It provides fish, fresh water and its own substance to the meerkats, to Pi and to Richard Parker. But it only does so as long as its rules are strictly followed; come down from the trees and walk on the surface of the island at night and you find it is easily as deadly as the tiger, deadly and corrosive.
I’ll leave things here. This is a good book. Have fun with it.
Filed under: Literature, What's it all mean | 4 Comments
Tags: Books, Literature, symbolism, The Life of Pi