The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is part philosophical meditation, part “Survivor” story. It tells the tale of a young protagonist, a boy named Pi, who must survive on a raft with wild animals after a shipwreck. Martel’s book poses the question—how can a religious person like Pi continue be moral yet survive according to his moral laws in an amoral, dog-eat-dog world? The answer the book provides is complex and simple all at once—Pi must hold true to his values of tolerance, yet be adaptive enough to learn to and respond to his environment.
At first, before he becomes a castaway, Pi is obsessed with religion, and how to live as a religious person. But when cast adrift from civilization, Pi is faced with the even more pressing dilemma of how to survive physically in the natural world. Soon, one of the animals, a hyena, eats every animal on board—except for the tiger, that Pi names Robert Parker. The tiger eats the hyena, thus saving Pi, as Pi was sure that he was the hyena’s next meal! Pi takes care of the tiger but grows weak and blind. He is nearly murdered by another traveler
The tiger is not purely thoughtless and cruel like the hyena, a creature which simply stuffs itself and feeds its belly. His attitude on the raft encompasses the acceptance of fate of the Eastern religion of Hinduism, and the forgiveness of Christianity. Pi claims at the beginning of his tale to be a believer in three religions, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Even apparently predatory animals like the tiger, depending on the circumstances they find themselves in over the varied courses of their lives, have advantages as a species and can show compassion if it is in their interest. Their two examples show what may be appropriate in human society may not be appropriate on a raft, just as Pi did not behave like the tiger when he was learning from religious teachers. passing, but once again the tiger saves Pi. In the end, he does not deny the need for human belief and a moral code. The tiger is not a moral beast, but the boy and the tiger forge a connection, out of their difficult circumstances. Pi to learn the lessons of the tiger, eat flesh, and adapt to his immediate fate. So-called civilized human beings, the story counsels, are not necessarily superior to animals. Pi, although he is a kind and caring individual, quickly sickens when he is away from civilization. Without the intervention of the tiger he would have been either eaten by a beast or murdered by an evil member of his own kind. Embracing a moral code does not mean exclusivity in faith. Pi is tolerant of his shift in circumstances and embraces the need to be responsive to the natural world.