Explain the symbol of the island in the Life of Pi
As we look back at the history of our civilization, people’s lives used to be given much more spiritual meaning. Its main purpose was to provide higher values in various moments and events of our journey. We can provide a statement, that religion is the tool that supports our spirit. Religion fills our lives with faith in morality, honesty and spirituality. Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi is an allegory which proves that “a story with God is the better story” (ABCNews, 2012). By the end of the book, the reader learns about the true counterparts of the shipwrecked crew. Yet still, the book has a lot of unrevealed secrets. One of them is a carnivorous island which produced gastric juices by night and devoured its inhabitants.
ABC News conducted an interview with the author of Life of Pi and on the question regarding the island, Yann Martel did not give any substantial comments. “It means what you choose to see in it.” – claimed the author and added – “We are not computers. We need the pull off the unreasonable to get us through life. The island represents that unreasonable element in the first story” (ABCNews, 2012). It seems the island can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the reader’s imagination. Since I am one of those fortunate readers, let’s follow the advice of Mr. Martel and explore my own interpretations of the island.
Firstly, the island strongly symbolizes the concept of religion. When Pi arrives on the island, the first thing he sees is the green and vast color of plants. He compares it to the color of muslim religion: “Green is a lovely colour. It is the colour of Islam. It is my favourite colour” (Martel, 2001, p. 141). We also see the island as a religious place, where Pi meets a pack of meerkats: “To see so many beings bending down at the same time reminded me of prayer time in a mosque” (Martel, 2001, p. 145). The strange thing about those little creatures is their total lack of fear. These animals have never seen a human face before and it would only seem logical that meerkats should begin to run, when Pi had approached them. But they did quite the opposite. The meerkats stayed close and cleared the path for him. They were a representation of a community, which greets their newest member.
In chapter 91, Pi was in a very bad physical condition. The island was a breath of new life for him: “I spent the following days eating and drinking and bathing and observing the meerkats and walking and running and resting and growing stronger. My running became smooth and unselfconscious, a source of euphoria. My skin healed. My pains and aches left me. Put simply, I returned to life” (Martel, 2001, p. 147). This represents yet another religious symbol of the island. Through meditation and prayer we become healthier and stronger, both physically and mentally.
However, after Pi finds a single tree with fruits, on which he discovers signs of human teeth, he decides to sail away from the carnivorous island. This tree can symbolize the Bible’s Tree of Knowledge and refer to the story of Adam and Eve. Pi’s newfound island is portrayed as the religion that gave him motivation to live. But after acquiring full knowledge about its finite space, he wanted to look for something more, explore undiscovered places and unanswered questions. That’s why Pi confessed to different religions, instead of devoting himself to a single philosophy. It helped him expand his horizons about life and the world around him.
Another theory about the symbolism of his island is a parallel between the carnivorous island and Pi being a cannibal. The island was a reflection of Pi himself. He satisfied all his physical needs on the island but his spirit was empty: “I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island” (Martel, 2001, p. 154).
To summarize, the island can be anything we want it to be. Its main task is to show the reader, that any story you create in your head eventually becomes a true story, even if you’re the only person that makes it so.
- Martel, Y. (September 2001). Life of Pi [E-reader version]. Retrieved from http://www.scollingsworthenglish.com/uploads/3/8/4/2/38422447/_life_of_pi_full_text_pdf.pdf
- ABC NEWS. (August 22, 2012). Q and A With ‘Life of Pi’ Author. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/story?id=124838&page=1
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