Life of Pi, a novel written by Yann Martel depicts the story of a sixteen year old boy named Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi). Pi goes through some harsh struggles as he has managed to survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for 227 days, after losing his family in a shipwreck. When the reader first meets Richard Parker, a fierce Bengal tiger hiding in the lifeboat, he is regarded as a very dangerous creature. Although Pi had practically lost everything, which gave him a deep depression and made him feel hopeless, he eventually used all his acquired skills throughout this terrifying journey to make himself endure through his painful faith.
Towards the end of the novel, Pi is interviewed by two men that work for the ship’s company. They do not accept his initial story with all the animals on the lifeboat, so he decides to tell them a more realistic version which uses the animals as metaphors for humans.
The reader’s limits on reality, faith and belief are then tested when they are left to decide which story they believe. In Life of Pi, Richard Parker assumes a prominent role towards Pi’s survival, as there are many emotional, physical and metaphorical aspects at various extremes throughout the novel that point to this. In this critical essay, we will explore different points of interest in parts one, two and three, such as the lessons instilled at a young age, the physical and emotional comfort Richard Parker presents, and the strength of his character.A few ways Richard Parker contributed to Pi’s survival can be found in part one. In this section of the novel, Pi gives the reader some context about his childhood, where he snuck in the area Richard Parker was held. When his father heard of this attempt, he was furious. He then decided to teach both his sons a lesson: Pi’s father showed his sons how dangerous the animals of the zoo were, by making an example out of a goat he placed near Richard Parker’s cage. The tiger ended up ferociously killing the goat and devoured it. Most people would see this as a cruel act on the part of the father as he is exposing his children to barbaric acts, but this was very useful for Pi as he retained this information for the rest of his life. This experience taught Pi the importance of not invading an animal’s territory. He goes on to give the author many examples to back up his claim and ends up mentioning: “So you see, if you fall into a lion’s pit, the reason the lion will tear you to pieces is not because it’s hungry-be assured, zoo animals are amply fed- or because it’s bloodthirsty, but because you’ve invaded its territory.” (Life of Pi by Yann Martel, page 47, chapter 13). Another point can be taken from this quote. When Pi mentions the animals in the zoo are amply fed, it is not the first time he says something of the sort. Earlier in part one he explains that a zoo is like a hotel for the animals and they find comfort in their living situation. The knowledge and fear he acquired at a young age was very beneficial to his situation, as he seemed to believe if he could recreate the comforting ambiance for Richard Parker and give him the space he needs, the two could coexist on the lifeboat. Another way Richard Parker contributed to Pi’s survival can be found in part two. As a very religious and spiritual boy, killing other animals for his own survival is contradictory to his beliefs. Richard Parker represents Pi’s will to survive on the lifeboat, because he will do whatever is necessary in order to ensure it (just like most wild animals). Richard Parker was responsible for killing a hyena on the boat, a predator who surely would have attacked Pi, as well as his dangerous friend that embarked the boat later on. Not only did Richard Parker save Pi’s life physically, but he helped him avoid severe boredom: Pi felt the obligation to take care of him and train him (part of his many schemed plans). It is seen in the following quote that Pi and Richard Parker eventually build a bond, as he realizes they need each other to survive: “I love you!’ The words burst out pure and unfettered, infinite. The feeling flooded my chest. Truly I do. I love you, Richard Parker. If I didn’t have you now, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I would make it. No, I wouldn’t. I would die of hopelessness. Don’t give up, Richard Parker, don’t give up. I’ll get you to land, I promise, I promise!’” (Life of Pi by Yann Martel, page 262, chapter 86). Richard Parker was a manifestation of his fears in the beginning of their journey, but Pi grew to make him a representation of his strength. It is a strength he didn’t know that he had until he had to face it, to turn his fear into power. In a sense, Richard Parker becomes Pi’s alter ego. He overcame many fears, gained courage, built a bond and survived multiple noxious things, all due to the presence of Richard Parker.Part three of this novel concentrates more on metaphorical aspects, as Pi changes his story to a more believable one. He did this because the two Japanese men, Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba, who work for the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transportation did not believe his initial statement. After comparing both stories told by Pi, the two men came up with: “So the Taiwanese sailor is the zebra, his mother is the orang-utan, the cook is the hyena- which means he’s the tiger!’” (Life of Pi by Yann Martel, page 346, chapter 99). Many would connect the dots the same way these men did; both stories are the same but with different characters. Depending on which of Pi’s stories the reader decides to believe, Richard Parker is either a real tiger or simply a very developed figment of his imagination. It is very illuminating to entertain the possibility that Richard Parker is nothing more than an imaginative extension of Pi. In both stories he survives, but in the changed version, he takes on the role of the tiger. Many would take this as the tiger metaphorically describing survival. This previous claim, proves once again to the reader that simply the idea of Richard Parker is beneficial to the progress of Pi’s journey. Richard Parker embodies the will to survive, as tigers are very courageous, have good instincts and do not let anything get in their way. Therefore, if he is indeed a figment of Pi’s imagination, it is that strength that pushes Pi to never let go.To conclude, this critical essay proves the thesis of Richard Parker assuming a prominent role towards Pi’s survival, as there were many futuristic, physical, spiritual and metaphorical examples pointed out throughout the text. As seen throughout this piece and along the novel, the author stresses that Richard Parker brings along courage, happiness, joy, determination, knowledge and good spirit. Each of these different emotions collaborate to become a very motivating push for Pi to keep going. In the first argument the reader learns a bit of context about Pi’s childhood, where he learns various lessons that become crucial in his future. The second depicts the bond they created, as well as the physical protection Richard Parker assured him. In the final argument of the text, various metaphorical and mental aspects are explored to show the effect of Richard Parker. After reading this essay, the reader is left to wonder how the outcome of Pi’s adventure and potentially the novel would have been affected without the presence of this adult Bengal tiger.