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Life of Pi Analysis.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George

Life of PiContextYann Martel was born on June 25 1963 in Salamanca Spain to Canadian parents When Martel was a young boy his parents joined the Canadian Foreign Services and the family moved frequently living in Alaska France Costa Rica Ontario and British Columbia Martel went on to study philosophy at Trent University in Ontario where he discovered a love for writing After graduating in 1985 Martel lived with his parents and worked a number of odd jobs while continuing to write ction He published a collection of short stories The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios in 1993 and a novel Self in 1996 but neither book received much critical or commercial attention In 2002 however Martels international literary reputation was sealed with the publication of Life of Pi a runaway bestseller that went on to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize awarded each year to the best Englishlanguage novel written by a Commonwealth or Irish author and had since been translated into thirty languages Fox 2000 pictures bought the screen rights to Martels novel and a feature lm is expected in 2008Life of Pi is set against the tumultuous period of Indian history known as the Emergency In 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was found guilty of charges related to her 1971 election campaign and was ordered to resign Insteadand in response to a rising tide of strikes and protests that were paralyzing the governmentGandhi declared a state of emergency suspending constitutional rights and giving herself the power to rule by decree The Emergency lasted for eighteen months and was officially ended in March 1977 when Gandhi called for a new round of elections The historical legacy of the Emergency has been highly controversial while civil liberties in this emerging democracy were severely curtailed and Gandhis political opponents found themselves jailed abused and tortured Indias economy experienced a muchneeded stabilization and growth In Life of Pi Piscine Pi Molitor Patels father a zookeeper in Pondicherry India grows nervous about the current political situation Speculating that Gandhi might try to take over his zoo and faced with depressing economic conditions Pis father decides to sell off his zoo animals and move his family to Canada thus setting the main action of the novel into motionThough only a relatively brief section of Life of Pi is actually set in India the countrys eclectic makeup is reected throughout the novel Pi is raised as a Hindu but as a young boy discovers both Christianity and Islam and decides to practice all three religions simultaneously In the Authors Note an elderly Indian man describes the story of Pi as a story that will make you believe in God and Life of Pi continuously grapples with questions of faith as an adherent to the three most prominent religions in India Pi provides a unique perspective on issues of Indian spirituality Indias diverse culture is further reected in Martels choice of Pondicherry as a setting India was a British colony for nearly two hundred years and consequently most of the nation has been deeply inuenced by British culture However Pondicherry a tiny city in southern India was once the capital of French India and as such has retained a uniquely French avor that sets it apart from the rest of the nation Perhaps reecting Yann Martels own nomadic childhood Pi Patel pointedly begins his life in a diverse cultural setting before encountering French Mexican Japanese and Canadian characters along his journeyLife of Pi can be characterized as a postcolonial novel because of its postIndependence Indian setting as well as its Canadian authorship Like many postcolonial novels such as those of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garca Mrquez Life of Pi can also be classied as a work of magical realism a literary genre in which fantastical elementssuch as animals with human personalities or an island with cannibalistic treesappear in an otherwise realistic setting Martels novel could equally be described as a bildungsroman a comingofage tale or an adventure story Life of Pi even irts with nonction genres The Authors Note for example claims that the story of Piscine Molitor Patel is a true story that the author Yann Martel heard while backpacking through Pondicherry and the novel with its rstperson narrator is structured as a memoir At the end of the novel we are presented with interview transcripts another genre of nonction writing This mixing of ction and nonction reects the twist ending of the novel in which the veracity of Pis fantastical story is called into doubt and the reader like Pis Japanese interrogators is forced to confront unsettling questions about the nature of truth itselfMany critics have noted the books resemblance to Ernest Hemingways novel The Old Man and the Sea Both novels feature an epic struggle between man and beast In The Old Man and the Sea a sherman struggles to pull in a mighty marlin while in Life of Pi Pi and Richard Parker struggle for dominance on the lifeboat Both the sherman and Pi learn to respect their animal counterparts each pair is connected in their mutual suffering strength and resolve Although they are opponents they are also partners allies even doubles Furthermore both novels emphasize the importance of endurance Because death and destruction are inevitable both novels present life as a choice between only two options defeat or endurance until destruction Enduring against all odds elevates both human characters to the status of heroesAnother less attering comparison has been drawn between Life of Pi and acclaimed Brazilian author Moacyr Scliars 1981 novel Max and the Cats In a 2002 interview with Powellscom Martel discusses reading an unfavorable review of Scliars novel in the New York Times Book Review penned by John Updike and despite Updikes disparagement being entranced by the premise As was later reported no such review existed and John Updike himself claimed no knowledge of Scliars novel The similarities between the two novels are unmistakable in Max and the Cats a family of German zookeepers sets sail to Brazil The ship goes down and only one young man survives stranded at sea with a wild jaguar Martel claims never to have read Max and the Cats before beginning to write Life of Pi He has since blamed his faulty memory for the Powellscom gaffe and has declined further discussion on the topic Scliar considered a lawsuit but is said to have changed his mind after a discussion with Martel Whatever the real story Martel mentions Scliar in his Authors Note thanking him for the spark of lifePlot OverviewIn an Authors Note an anonymous author gure explains that he traveled from his home in Canada to India because he was feeling restless There while sipping coffee in a caf in the town of Pondicherry he met an elderly man named Francis Adirubasamy who offered to tell him a story fantastic enough to give him faith in God This story is that of Pi Patel The author then shifts into the story itself but not before telling his reader that the account will come across more naturally if he tells it in Pis own voicePart One is narrated in the rst person by Pi Pi narrates from an advanced age looking back at his earlier life as a high school and college student in Toronto then even further back to his boyhood in Pondicherry He explains that he has suffered intensely and found solace in religion and zoology He describes how Francis Adirubasamy a close business associate of his fathers and a competitive swimming champion taught him to swim and bestowed upon him his unusual name Pi is named after the Piscine Molitor a Parisian swimming club with two pools that Adirubasamy used to frequent We learn that Pis father once ran the Pondicherry Zoo teaching Pi and his brother Ravi about the dangerous nature of animals by feeding a live goat to a tiger before their young eyes Pi brought up as a Hindu discovers Christianity then Islam choosing to practice all three religions simultaneously Motivated by Indias political strife Pis parents decide to move the family to Canada on June 21 1977 they set sail in a cargo ship along with a crew and many cages full of zoo creatures
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