17 October 2018
The Primacy to Survive
Human beings have the power to worry themselves sick over the irrelevant infatuations of life, failing to register that any action paramount to existence happens for a reason. In his novel Life of Pi, Yann Martel tests his audience by presenting a story so vast in wisdom and imagination that one forgets its predetermined fictional heritage. Pi Patel, helpless on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a bengal tiger, rationalizes his situation by operating on every ultimatum he encounters: “Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway's worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little” (Martel, 186). While life-preserving action is necessary to survive inevitable death, a strong faith in the impractical ultimately leads Pi to salvation. To be delivered from sin, Pi must liberate himself from his past deeds and trust in faith and imagination to set him free.
As Pi reflects on his traumatic experience on the lifeboat, he acknowledges those who preserve his emotional condition: “It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story” (Martel, 182). His consuming fear of this large, 450-pound tiger is ironically the very sentiment that keeps him alive and preserves his sanity. Richard Parker acts as a distraction from the immense loss that lingers nearby. The overwhelming grief of his family and traditional life is detrimental to his mind, especially when accompanied by feelings of loneliness and distress. Pi also understands that Richard Parker is inescapably stronger than him, so this inevitability of death contrastingly inspires him to pursue life:
You might think I lost all hope at that point. And I did. And as a result, I perked up and felt much better. To cope with a hyena seemed remotely possible, but I was so obviously outmatched by Richard Parker that it wasn’t even worth worrying about. With a tiger aboard, my life was over. With that being settled, why not do something about my parched throat? (Martel, 149)
A crucial element of survival includes the acceptance of reality, just as a part of Pi’s journey to salvation is recognizing his past sins before progressing in life: “All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive” (Martel, 44-45). Although too much hope is dangerous for any castaway, Pi’s ability to hold onto a small fragment of promise allows him to process reality with caution.
When life simplifies itself to merely conserving existence, all supplementary concerns become inferior. This includes tending to the life of a murderous cook, whom Pi vengefully kills and feasts on to survive. Richard Parker killing the blind Frenchman provides insight on the animalistic instinct that overcomes Pi when he kills the cook. The conversation...