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Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

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FICTION ESSAY

LIFE OF PI

EMBRACING RELIGION

The central theme of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi revolves around religion and human faith in God. This author chose not to focus on one religion over another, “They didn’t know I was a practicing Hindu, Christian, and Muslim" (Martel, 2001, p. 86) instead the reasoning behind Pi’s decision to embrace all religion was evident in his actions. Though Pi was born into a Hindu family and has been a part of that faith ever since. He said “I felt at home in a Hindu temple” (Martel, 2001, p. 66). His faith did not change his curiosity towards exploring other religions he understood the conception of religion being “more than just rite and ritual” (Martel, 2001, p. 66). This ideology encourages Pi to attend a Catholic church where he meets a priest and learns about Catholic faith. Shortly after Pi discovers Islam from a local who teaches him his ways of the Muslim faith. Each religion gives Pi something that he felt was missing in his spiritual life so, because of this, he never feels compelled to choose one belief system over the other.

Hinduism was Pi’s first religion and therefore has an effect on him throughout the story. His passion increases about the gods in Hinduism and what they symbolize to him: strength, passion, and love. Hindu gods have no faults or weaknesses, which is what he was brought up to believe, and he finds understanding through this belief system. He states, “The universe makes sense to me through Hindu eyes”. (Martel, 2001, p.66) In the Hindu culture orange is a prominent symbol which represents strength, “The fire which burns the impurities and cleanses itself in the process” (website), “Fire burns away the darkness and brings light” (website). In this novel, the boat, life jackets, and the tiger were all orange. Pi was faced with much darkness being stranded in the ocean with little materials to survive. He was forced to “fix on practical details of immediate survival” (Martel, 2001, p. 138). However Pi needed more than the supplies left on the boat to survive the 227 days at sea, he needed Richard Parker. The deadly orange tiger, who was the only animal to be given a human name on the boat, Richard gave Pi the will to survive. Cold wet nights brought out Pi’s darkest moments. Some nights he would wake up and instantly realize he was lost at sea with only a tiger for companionship. Instincts of survival were key to his success of surviving. Pi describes his feelings of fear being in the open sea to “sage of Markandeya, fell out of Vishnu’s mouth while Vishnu was sleeping and so beheld the entire universe, everything that there is” (Martel, 2001, p. 212). Pi remembered this Hindu story when he was afraid of being eaten by Richard Parker. Instead of falling to defeat he comforted himself back to sleep and the next day “I was feeling strong” (Martel, 2001, p. 214). He used this story to channel his strength. Relating back to the Hindu culture where the Gods were invincible and strength was a trait observed with Hinduism.

Hinduism actually peaked Pi’s curiosity into the Catholic Church, he wasn’t unhappy with his current faith. However when Pi learned about the sacrifices that Jesus had made for his people he couldn’t understand it, since Hinduism believes that Gods are invincible the passion he saw in Jesus made him more interested in learning about Christianity. Pi learned to keep himself busy while on the raft with daily routines, “This was one key to survival” (Martel, 2001, p. 225). Christianity symbolism is evident when the orangutan floating on an island of banana peels reminded Pi of the Virgin Mary floating to the lifeboat. The orangutan was seen as Pi’s savior, he was no longer alone in misery. However when the orangutan was killed it symbolized Jesus on the cross dying for Pi’s sins. Pi loved God, yet he would question his will. He didn’t understand why God wasn’t listening to his prayers and why everything seemed to be detrimental to his life after the sinking of the boat. Fighting for survival Pi knew he needed to kill the flying fish that attacked him. In that moment of being under attack Pi compared himself to Saint Sabastian “I felt I was living the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” (Martel, 2001, p. 217). “Despair was heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God is always passed” (Martel, 2001, p. 252). Pi’s constant struggle with God and his belief ultimately resulted in him still believing in god.

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