Life of Pi Life of Pi discussion

The "Carrnivorous Island"?

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Sophia I loved every part of this book, but there was one thing I got really confused about.
When Pi was on the Island with the leemurs, what happened at night? I know that the island sort of burns you, I think, or it becomes toxic or something. And then what happened with the tree with the teeth wrapped up in the leaves? I have no idea what that was about.
Anyway, thanks for helping me out.

Pippin Sophia, i read Pi a couple years ago, so my memory is a little shackey. I remember being a little puzzled by the island as well. I think it was safe during the day but at night it drugged creatures and then consumed them. I remember Pi struggling to get back in the trees. Didn't he have a recovery period as well? So the teeth were not digested and became part of the tree. I too was not sure what process got the teeth to where Pi found them. Is that just 'artistic license' by the author?

Lena The island turned somehow acidic at night. The teeth belonged to someone who was basically devoured by the carnivorous plants/seaweed(?) and the teeth were the only thing left. But the island did confuse me some, as I wondered if Pi made it up as so much of his tale was a fiction.

Geoffrey That entire scene is a twist on Doris Lessing`s book, I suspect. It`s his homage to a better writer.

Valerie I think the author put in the carnivorous island to portray an example of astounding evolution that exists out in the ocean, unknown to humans and isolated from all other life, so that the carnivorous island and the meerkat-like creatures have developed a bizarre symbiosis. The teeth, I think, were proof that the island devours life, and perhaps devoured some other unlucky castaway. If you go to the end of the novel where he has been rescued and is being questioned by some authorities who doubt his story, he speaks about how science can be as hard to believe as faith or fiction. The island was an example of that. I read the book a few years ago, so I hope I am remembering correctly.

Conor Dunne Up to that point in the story, the whole thing is somewhat plausible.You are then given the alternative version at the end and the choice is up to you.I wonder if he was trying to see how far people are willing to go in their belief in order to escape grim reality. I found myself wanting to believe the whole scene even though it was completely made up.

It's also interesting how Pi suggests the color of the island (green) is the color of Islam ; Then there's the scene were the hundreds of thousands of meerkats stand up and all look in his direction - like Muslims pointing to Mecca, haha. Is there something in that??

Again, this scene (the whole scene about the island) represents the difference between how you see the world. He said he wished he hadn't opened the "fruit", because this exposed the grim reality. Is ignorance really bliss, perhaps?

It's an amazing book that still has me thinking and wondering.

Geoffrey Yup, Conor, I believe you got it right.

Kimber Conor wrote: "Up to that point in the story, the whole thing is somewhat plausible.You are then given the alternative version at the end and the choice is up to you.I wonder if he was trying to see how far peopl..."

I just finished reading this book and I absolutely loved it. I, too, was confused about the island and what part it played in the story. You might be onto something Conor. I wonder if each part of Pi's journey somehow relates to his journey thru religions. He began with Hinduism, then Christianity and then Islam. If the island does represent Islam then what events before it stood as metaphors for Christianity and Hinduism? The multiple animals in the boat (multiple gods of Hinduism) being devoured until only one remains (the singular god of christianity)? Any opinions or ideas on this? Again, loved this book!

message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Willow I also read it some time ago, but the impression that sticks is that he was exploring, more than anything, the reader/writer contract; the voluntary and deliberate suspension of disbelief undertaken by the reader of fiction. I thought the comparison to religion was a secondary aspect of this primary exploration.

Geoffrey Yes, Ian, that was my take on it as well but the passage serves well on some more minor points. I do believe its placement is homage to Lessing`book as well as casts doubt on the continued sanity of the narrator. At this point in his misadventure, it`s plausible the narrator would be losing his mental balance and I took that scene as well as that of the passing boat as hallucinations. You can interpret it either way.

message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ian Willow Thanks Geoffrey. I'm afraid I haven't read the Lessing novel in question. Please post the title so that I can catch up.

Geoffrey Briefing for a Descent into Hell. Strange book about a man recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Jacque I read this book quite a few years ago, but I still think about it. My take on the island is that it was not a real place, but a halucination. Some invention of his mind because he was struggling with what he had done - killing a man, eating flesh, etc. On the one hand he is an innocent boy, thus during the day the island was innocuous and even helpful, but at night the island turns deadly, like the tiger that the boy has become in order to survive.

Stacia Jacque wrote: "I read this book quite a few years ago, but I still think about it. My take on the island is that it was not a real place, but a halucination. Some invention of his mind because he was struggling ..."

This was my take too, Jacque....

message 15: by Wayne (new)

Wayne Green Okay, I have read many interpretations on the Internet on what the role of the Carnivorous Island is but I have given my the film some reflections and thought I would put my two pennies in. I hope it makes sense.

Firstly, I think the true story is the one involving the cannibalism. He made up the other story to hide the horrors of what happened on the boat. While he was living this "Fantasy" he come across the Island.
The Island was a way for him to get lost in the fantasy and live out his life without ever having to be reminded of these horrors.

It was mentioned that he got in a fight with the cook and was slapped around the face. At night, the island would turn bad and the water would turn to acid. It was at night that he had a chance to reflect on the true events. It was only after he discovered the tooth in the plant (knocked out in the fight I guess) that he knew he would always be reminded of the horrors on the boat and that staying would only drive him to madness so he chose to leave. By leaving he did not have to dwell on his memories.

The heartbreak at the end by the non acknowledgement of the tiger as it left him, was the time he let the fantasy go and accepted his fate. This is my interpretation of it and makes a lot more sense then some things I have read.

message 16: by Patrice (last edited Dec 25, 2012 01:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Patrice I thought the carnivorous island was the earth, which in the end, devours us all. After all, when we are consumed by the earth it's often just the teeth that are left.

It also made me think of the garden of Eden and the tree of knowledge. There was no death in Eden, until they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then they discover, from the fruit of the tree, that there is death.

There is also a tree, an important, magical tree, that Bhudda sits under. Can't remember the details. Trees seems to lead to enlightenment. I haven't read the Doris Lessing book. Could someone who has explain the relationship?

Richard I think you can take the carnivorous island two ways.

1. It is an hallucination. Pi has been at sea for a very long time, he's malnourished, dehydrated, and has been under great stress. He has a tiger ready to eat him if he doesn't stay vigilant. As such, the island represents how religious doctrine incorporates "miracles," by giving credence to hallucinations that are either induced by deprivation or hallucinogenic substance. Hence, you must "believe."

2. The island is real. While the science is sketchy, it is plausible. But even if it were real, because the science is plausible, the necessity of a "higher power" to create the island is nonexistent. So if it was real, the author, in my view, failed in his attempt to convince the reader that there is a god.

Personally, I vote for option one: the island is an hallucination. While option two is plausible, Occam's razor would suggest the hallucination as the simplest explanation.

message 18: by Donald (new)

Donald Shafer There are scientists who measure the existence of ghosts, plausible spirits that haunt people. So it always has plausibility that the Island was both real and a dream. It would be impossible to know without hearing of a real experience, with witnesses in tow.

message 19: by Peter (new)

Peter Cassidy I believe that the island holds the real meaning behind this powerful story of a young man who has succumbed to cannibalism for the sake of survival. The cook is referred to as a resourceful man, along with other character traits that depict him as an evil man, because of what he does with the meat made available through the sailor's death. Does this man rape Pi's mother before the eventual murder of the woman who was not involved in the eating of the dried human meat? Perhaps, but regardless, Pi's guilt, that is represented through the island's toxicity at night, is the reason for the existence of the two stories. One is the reality and one is a defense mechanism in order to get through the ordeal and survive. Pi does not feel guilty about killing the cook just as a tiger would not feel guilt about killing a murderous hyena, but he does feel guilty for remaining detached from the situation and not standing up for his mother in time. On the island, the tooth in the fruit is the merging of the story of reality and the story that has allowed for Pi to live up to his name and survive. He does not eat this fruit and it is his first step to removing himself from mere survival-mode to getting back to his spiritual self. Leaving the island is a risk to his physical survival, but it is necessary to his spiritual survival and he is also allowed to forgive himself.

message 20: by Patrice (last edited Dec 29, 2012 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Patrice That's good Peter. It just occurs to me that at night we dream and our true issues come out. During the day things seem different. Maybe nighttime on the island is the truth? Pi was a cannibal? It reminds me of "Where the Wild things are". Max travels to a place where he becomes king of all wild things, but really the wild things are his own urges, he must conquer those before he can come back and live with people.

Sundar Raj Patrice wrote: "I thought the carnivorous island was the earth, which in the end, devours us all. After all, when we are consumed by the earth it's often just the teeth that are left.

It also made me think of th..."

you're right, that's interesting and true.i think carnivorous island is what makes the point that god exists. earth makes life possible and in the end it takes what it gives. like you said, maybe earth is carnivorous planet which enables life and devours what's in it. i think is 'life' is pretty subjective term, if we think deeper we can conclude that the universe itself is huge organism. nothing comes into and nothing goes out of it.

Travis If you look at the whole book as an allegory, with the struggle between Pi and Richard Parker ultimately symbolizing Pi's interior struggle with his animal nature or his "survival instinct", I believe that the island represents the point at which Pi, in his great journey has finally come into contact with his spirit, his unconscious. The island represents his unconscious/subconscious decision to either to simply die or wake up and make the final push towards life and freedom. Think of the island as a dream or reality if you wish but it serves only one purpose and that is to motivate Pi to finally live to see the end of his voyage. He could have stayed on that island forever. So the island is death. He decides to leave death behind him, not let it tempt him into accepting it as his last fate and thus survives. That is the best I can see.

Brittany By teh sounds of it many people believe it was fiction. The version I bought had a foreword by the author. Regardless which version, true or not, Pi believed that he was on a boat with a tiger. So if ti was a physical battle or a mental battle, it was still a tremendous struggle to deal with.

As for the island, the algae turned acidic at nightfall and turned into a sort of "quicksand" if you will. It burnt the flesh while sucking in the remains. Which is why when the fish all floated to the top of the pond, the were no remains in the morning. And when Pi tested the algae, he had a sucking sensation on his feet.

The idea of this island is realistically impossible but scientifically plausible. It mentioned earlier in the book about passing garbage in the ocean. The chemicals of that garbage could mutate with the normal algae until it turned acidic. Nature would have taken over creating an eco-system for the island, but the acidity killing everything but the meerkats because they managed to climb the trees which are the least acidic.

I don't have any qualifications or know how, just a lot of time spent thinking about the island.

message 24: by Peter (new)

Peter Cassidy It is a complex allegorical story that has many levels of meaning. The father, who was actually a meat eater unlike the rest of the family, is the one who suggests that Pi pick a path and once Pi does this in leaving the island behind (the boat is the island I think) he is able to start his spiritual recovery (on the lifejacket / wooden raft).

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Travis the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker was a love, hate relationship.

Marie well if you believe the animal story the island is canivorous. If you touch its soil at night or swim in its ponds you will be burned by some sort of gastric acid.The teeth are from some other poor castaway who ended up there.

If you believe the more realistic story, the island is Pi's mental heaven away from reality after he had a breakdown following killing the French cook. the gastric acid is in fact Pi's mental state deteriorating until he would have eventually become a vegetable if the French cook's teeth he had found had not snapped him back to reality

message 27: by Phil (new)

Phil Brazier The Island is imaginary, and a way of coping for Pi. In the movie the island is shaped as a woman laying on her back. The island represents pi's dead mother, and he ate from the island (Pi having to resort to cannabalism to survive). The meercats represent moving maggots on the dead body. Finding a human tooth reawakens Pi, and the tiger (Pi himself) get back to the boat.

message 28: by Rebecca (last edited Jan 30, 2013 02:31AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Rebecca I took it as a sort of comfortable way out for Pi, but it wasn´t fulfilling and it wasn´t what he was meant to do. It´s like when your dream has always been to be a dancer but you find a comfortable job as a bookkeeper and you give up on dancing, never go to dance classes and never try to reach your dream (never mind that the dream might have been impossible).

The island would have offered him sustenance. It would have allowed him to live to be an old man and he would have eventually died there. The island itself would have eaten up his whole life, just as a cappy job does.

The tooth was just a wake up call. It could have been anything, it´s like seeings someone similar to you in the same situation making the same mistake and realizing you have to make a change.

Maybe I´m projecting..

message 29: by Anna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anna Rebecca wrote: "I took it as a sort of comfortable way out for Pi, but it wasn´t fulfilling and it wasn´t what he was meant to do. It´s like when your dream has always been to be a dancer but you find a comfortabl..."

OMG! I have always wondered what it meant. Considering the whole thing is about religion and finding 'your reality' I think you are right.

message 30: by Peter (new)

Peter Cassidy Phil's idea that the meerkats represent maggots is something that I had not considered. Excellent! I think when reality is distorted, the sequence of events don't necessarily have to be in the order that they are presented in the story. I think that the main lifeboat where the cannibalism took place is the island (shaped like a woman in the illusion and a representation of his mother) and the separate floatation area attached off the boat to escape the reality of what he has done is his escape from the island. He has less chance of survival and brings enough meerkats (maggots do offer protein) to make a go of it. We should remember the significance of his father's advice that he should make a choice with regards to the path that he will take. Pi does finally choose to separate himself from what would allow for physical survival but not his spiritual survival.

message 31: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Funderburk I think the island symbolizes Pi's first attempt at being back on land with all the horrifying things that have actually transpired on the boat... Cannibalism and his mothers murder. He realizes that to return to the real world with this having happened would be like that of the world and memories of theses events actually consuming him and devouring him as a person. This is when he knows that his mind must believe the more pleasant and palatable reality involving the incredible story about the animals in order to truly be able to return to life on real land.

message 32: by Ann (new)

Ann Sam wrote: "I think the island symbolizes Pi's first attempt at being back on land with all the horrifying things that have actually transpired on the boat... Cannibalism and his mothers murder. He realizes th..."

I do not think the island must be symbolic or imagined. My interest and curiousity motivated me to loik for a plausible explanation.
Look up data on carnivorous plants. They use acid to digest their prey.
Take their prey in by day and digest at night which creates more acid. In the reading I learned that a hot moist climate ( day) and humid warm
nights would cause acids to rise at nigh at about 3000 feet.
So an acidic pool deep beneath the floating island could rise at night.
What kinds of islands are floating around in the ocean.
Islands of garbage and decayed foods in our current times. Highly possible for a mass of garbage inhabited by meerkata to break off from a mainland and drift through the oceans. Storms would send it into the ocean currents storms would eventually break it up and destroy it. Highly possible that the source of the acid is debris humans made which is the heavier anchor of the island as it drifts on warm currents and odd trees and plants would thrive ( extremephiles) in the toxic soup which would use the biological available toxic acid to breakdown a food source. A lot of trash island float in the ocean. Living things adapt to cinsume and grow . So a trash island of disposed anilmal parts batteries toxic materials and some seeds blowing in on the tropic winds could become its own diverse mutated toxic and carnivorous world- much like any other isolated 'land mass'. Australia or the Galapogos Islands.
Extremephiles find a way. The pieces of radioactive debris from the Japan Earthquake Tsunami of 2 years ago show up on the Oregon Coast covered with all kinds of unusual life forms that thrive on their floating home.

message 33: by John (last edited Apr 22, 2013 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

John Blakemore I think the island represents the love for the girl he has left behind that he still holds on to. He has had everything forcibly removed from him, his family and his home. This time at the Island he must choose to leave and let her go. He knew he would never see his love again, even though he never said goodbye (just like Richard Parker never said goodbye, and all Pi wanted to hear was Richard Parker say "I will always be with you, even though I cant be with you...I love you")
At the island he can eat and drink all day, have his fill of her, perhaps a metaphor for sex. However, he needs more than sex, he needs love. That's why at night the island and his thought become toxic and eat at him like a parasite. Richard Parker knows he has to leave at night and waits in the boat while Pi sleeps in the trees.
He finds the tooth in the lotus flower, while he is emotionally lost in the forest. a reference to a conversation he has with her, "why would a lotus flower be lost in the forest?" after asking her why she did a certain movement in a dance. The tooth inside the lotus flower is perhaps showing that this type of longing, will eat away at a man, until nothing is left.
So he chooses to say farewell to his love and move on in life.

message 34: by Ann (new)

Ann John ,
your insights are interesting, thoughtful, sensible and I think they also emerge from your own ability to understand the dynamics of romance- turbulence longing gtief over loss of the loved one and how much one would be willing to sacrifice if they stay attached to 'the lived one' or the comfort zone.

I myself have always been a romantic and romantic theory in art and literature is a favorite of mine.
So I do appreciate your interpretation and , in the journey of Pi's life as a hero in transformational symbolic settings- the book/ movie is so rich in symbolism of a spritual journey that your interpretation is highly plausible.
And, I think, that in the fundamental science of life (which is also romantically symbolic) I think that the some of the facts of Pi's journey can also have a
scientific or natural origin of phenomena.
Even the relationship with a Tiger- interspecies bond when there is a mutual sense of a family connection.

message 35: by Christian (new)

Christian Dinescu This is what I Think (sorry for my English)

The island is his mother. It's green because she was a vegan. The little animals where worms. So in the end he ate from his mother. The pound represents he s mother mouth where he found the tooth. Then He's looking in the pound like the story that he's mother told him at the beginning of the movie, with the god that had the universe in his mouth. This is like a revelation for him. In the end he decides to leave behind he's mother corps but not before he's keeping some meat. That's why he is taking the tiger too. He still need him to survive. The night/day represents that he ate in the day time then the night came and realized what he did.
I had this conclusion after reading different posts from user about this.

Ethan John wrote: "I think the island represents the love for the girl he has left behind that he still holds on to. He has had everything forcibly removed from him, his family and his home. This time at the Island h..."

The girl doesn't even exist in the original book.

Jenna The Garden of Eden from the Bible. Think about how there is the theme of faith and God. The island brought itself to him when he was in the most need and suffering. Nobody else had seen the island or heard of it and it floated. There was good food (fruit) and bad food (fruit). In the movie, when it panned out, it was in the shape of a woman, possibly his love, possibly his mother but I believe it was meant to be Eve. The island represented the Garden of Eden.

Heather Power I think the island represent his faith in general. In his youth, he seeks what he hopes to be the the one true faith. He experiences this cataclysmic event that draws out his "evil" nature and he feels lost by this knowing. He is adrift and returns to faith (the island) to discover that Faith can sustain you but can also consume you if you become vested (stay to long) in one theology (which is the better story?). He is rescued only after he reaches this knowing and goes on to become a student of theology (seeker of the better story). The overall message may be that faith can sustain and consume.

message 39: by Juan (last edited Sep 17, 2013 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Juan Carlos El realismo mágico trata sobre como en la realidad de la vida cotidiana se funden tanto aspectos de un mundo real rico en vivencias, sentimientos, conflictos, con un mundo fantástico en el que suceden acontecimientos increíbles, pero q en el fondo tratan de explicar que la vida es así, un mundo en el que la realidad no sería nada si no estuviera repleta Magia.
Para mi, la parte más oscura del libro es ésta en la que se narran los hechos que acontecen en la isla. He tratado de darle distintas vueltas desde distintos puntos de vista. Y su pongo que habrá tantas versiones como fantasías y circunstancias haya en los distintos lectores.
En un análisis objetivo, si ello es posible, la Isla se alcanza a mitad de la travesía, es un lugar de remanso y paz, las necesidades están a su alcance, no hay que preocuparse, es la estabilidad ideada, y en ella no se precisa de la fuerza que representa el tigre, ese contenedor de adrenalina que le hizo sacar lo mejor de él cuando lo necesitó. Pero esa estación es remanso o abandono? Otros dejaron allí su vida, consumidos po la paz. Eso no es lo que Pi anda buscando. Aunque el viaje se antoja complicado, la visión de lo que hay en la isla le convence menos, y de nuevo emprende el agotador camino de la vida.
Al menos, así lo vi yo....

message 40: by April (new)

April Didn't anyone notice that the island outline turned into a man laying down? Man eats the earth that in turn eats the man.

Anthony Watkins what cracks me up is so many comments here talk of the island as being fiction. must i point out the BOOK is fiction?

I read the story as true, then enjoyed the story he told at the end that made a lie of "the story with the animals". I prefer the one with the island and the animals. I found the island to be wholly believable in a magical sort of way. I havent read what the author has said about his meanings and his imagery, if he has said anything, but i find the island being Islam a bit far fetched. i am curious what color it would have needed to be to be Christian? maybe the ponds would have filled red with blood? Like so many good tales, readers often want to tear a book apart and rebuild it in the image of their minds. I prefer to savor a good tale and let the "hidden meanings" stay hidden, but. in this case, i actually find the speculation amusing!

message 42: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Since I just finished reading the book this morning, I have not had a chance to truly process it. My first thought when reading this question though was that perhaps the island burns the living at night, and causes pain because at night the unconscious- either in tired waking thoughts, or through dreams- can make one aware of otherwise buried recollections and painful awareness of reality. Earth is often associated with the waking rational mind, and water with the emotions. Both Pi and Richard Parker had been retreating to boat at night... except for the one night... maybe he was more "awake." I don't know... still just letting this roll around in my head for now.

Vishin Das The Island denotes Earth itself.. You take birth , live and die here..
You eat here and be eaten here..

In order to reach the ultimate destination you need to escape from the
life/death cycle here...

Karthik Raman Sophia wrote: "I loved every part of this book, but there was one thing I got really confused about.
When Pi was on the Island with the leemurs, what happened at night? I know that the island sort of burns yo..."

Hi Sophie, I am writing this from my memory as i read the book some time ago.. its been mentioned in the book that.. in the first day (or initial days) he will spend his night in the boat, indeed afraid of the tiger in the land and he will observe that at night the tiger is also not staying in the islands forest..then only he will see the big fishes floating in the fresh water pond which puzzles him.. later he will see the carnivorous plant with tooth left and he will also observe that the meerkat's in the island are not staying in the land during the night and moves towards the trees in the corner of the island(not sure abt the corner)..then he decides to follow the predecessor of the island as he thinks it knows the way to survive there.. thats how he gets to the tree.. :)

message 45: by Emma (last edited Jun 19, 2015 10:55PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma I haven't read this book in a while so my memory is a little rough, but I always interpreted it as a sort of metaphor for religion, like so many other things in the book. Like many of you have said, the story is very believable up until the island. Then, it's confusing and you don't really understand it, like many things in different religions. Both the island and religion can be hurtful and deteriorating towards a person. Once he leaves there isn't a clear answer and it's just left up to your own interpretation.

I personally always saw it as a sort of message about how people can rely on religion yet it can be harmful in a way as well... thus the healing process (he finds the island right at his and Richard Parker's worst time) but then he starts to become too comfortable and rely on it to survive and it is kind of similar to how people lean on God/whatever their religion is for absolutely anything and everything, and that's what the meerkats represent.

Sammy Young I think the Island was a representation of Pi's overwhelming urge to give up and I think he did for a while and allowed his mind to wander to a "paradise" meanwhile his physical state continues to lie in the boat, dehydrating and starving in the ocean. I think this explains why Richard Parker (who we are to believe is the physical representation of Pi's will to live) runs off the Island at night and try's to convince Pi to leave. And the Island is described as carnivorous because if Pi allowed himself to hide in his subconscious and reject reality he would die and it's the realisation of this that gives him the motivation for the final push of his journey.

message 47: by Ian (new)

Ian Howard The island was Vishnu, sleeping on the infinite sea of potential. :-)

message 48: by Isaac (new)

Isaac Izard I think the island was more or a state of mind. It represents his eating of the human body. When he found the "island" he was weak, but upon leaving he was better. While he remained on the "island" things were ok, but Richard Parker wanted to leave because he knew he couldn't stay in that state of mind forever. He would have to stop eating the dead body eventually or risk losing himself and his sanity. So, he stayed as long as it took for him to get his strength back and then he had to leave.

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