Life of Pi Life of Pi discussion


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What's the idea behind the island?

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Little Ok, so Martel beats us over the head with the interpretation for much of his symbolism, but what's the deal with the island? It seems so tangentally tacked onto the main story, and I can't place its significance for the life of me. Why is it there? What does it mean?


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I guess I have to read the book again because I loved it unconditionally. The island didn't seem "tacked on" to me. I thought it had a valid place in the novel as a whole. Yes, it was disturbing, but most of the horrors Pi faced were horrible.


Sarah I found that I liked Life of Pi as a story and I feel like I understood some of the symbolism used, but I became angry at the end when we learn this adventure/horror might not be true. I felt like I had traveled the adventure with the characters along the way and then to be told it might just be in my head felt insulting. It felt like the author was saying see, gotcha! you got into my book and now I'm going to take it all away from you.


Leslie I totally agreed with your comment...It was such a let down for me!


Paola This is what I think. The island does jump into the story quite suddenly, but I think it is very symbolic. If much of the story symbolizes someone finding his/her way through the journey of life, then perhaps the island symbolizes the idea of settling for something seemingly good when there is something much better...but the price to get that better thing is high, full of hard work, and saturated with fear/doubt. On the surface (no pun intended) it may seem that the island is a good thing, full of food, water, and shelter. However we all know the disgusting truth. I think that our lives can easily slip into that pattern of settling for something seemingly good when it can turn out to be our downfall. We have countless examples of this in our society: affairs, drug addictions, etc. Am I reading into this too much? I think not, but what do you guys think?


Rachael I agree with Paola but I also think the island is there as a reprieve for the reader as well as Pi, sort of to show that it can't always be so awful. I know that by that point in the book I was grateful for a little break in the 'lost at sea' part of the story and so did Pi. Sometimes all you need is a little break to make the rest of the difficult boring (for pi) part bearable.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, that's very insightful. I think you've managed to put in words the basic gist of what I've been turning over in my head regarding the symbolism of the island.


Todd Paola is working HARD to find the symbolism behind the island and Rachel and Jessica guess at the author's intent. But a story works or it doesn't outside symbolism and intent, no? Do you folks think the island "works" for the story on a gut level?


Katie here's something I just thought of, so forgive if it takes a minute to form coherent sentences.

What IF... the story really is not true, it was in his head... if that is the case could the island represent Pi's "madness"? Something both beautiful and comforting and a place to stay and "live" but at the same time, something that would ultimately devour you?

I hate to throw out any support for the idea that Pi's first story was not the real one. But this could make the island fit into the scheme.


message 10: by Todd (new) - rated it 4 stars

Todd finally someone shooting from the hip!


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Maybe the symbolism behind the island and the man-eating plants represents our own personal journeys in life--we all have our own journeys and perhaps sometimes our direction/destination is unknown because of the circumstances we are in. Occasionally, there is an "oasis" that seems to save us from the haziness in our lives. In the end, we realize we were not supposed to be there but it did get us a little closer to our ultimate destination (whatever that may be...).


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

oh hi paola...i posted something similar before i even read your post. i completely agree with you. great analogy.


Shula I agree with Paola as well. The island is something thats seems good but is literally cut off from the rest of the world and can't be (and truly isn't) a foundation that we can stand on or rely upon.

The rest of the story is of how our smart little brains find meaning in the most horrid situations. Its a story about human nature and our tendancies to look for patterns and fables to allow our experiences to make sense.


Libbie Yes, I saw the island as a reprieve, albiet a strange one, but nonetheless, a reprieve for Pi and the Tiger.


Libbie shula, I think your explanation of the island makes perfect sense. I also agree with your summary of the rest of the story, so on that note...

please forgive me if I sound tremendously dense, but, a friend mentioned to me that she thought that all of the other animals in the boat with Pi (initially) were REALLY people. Pi witnessed these "people" injured/in crisis/turning canibalistic,etc. Did I miss an obvious metaphor? I assumed that they were indeed animals from the zoo and Pi speculated objectively on their actions because of his zoo life knowledge/experience...


message 16: by Anne (new)

Anne Dethlefsen I have to re-read this, something I was determined to do anyway. Maybe the there are several answers though - the whole story is obviously interpreted in many different ways by different readers. Perhaps that is what the author intended? I loved it as I read it and wanted it all to be true, no matter how fantastical, but was then left baffled or at least puzzled at the end.


Shula Libbie: I don't think you missed something obvious. In a book like this, I think we will all see something a little different in it. My interpretation makes sense with my point of view. Your friend's must make sense with hers. I never thought about that way. Our interpretations probably say more about us than they do about the book.


Deanna Pickering Paola: I love your interpretation of the island! Thank you!

Shula and Libbie: In our book club's discussion of this book (which was a few years ago, so please let me know if I get anything wrong), it seems to me the general conclusion was that the first story was probably an allegorical rendering by Pi, colored by his varied religious training, to help him deal with the harsh realities of the situation that actually occurred. (I.e., the animals were really various people, etc.) But we never got to a point where we were all certain or in agreement that it didn't happen the way Pi told it, and what I like most about it is that it makes you think (and think and think) about it.


message 19: by Shula (last edited Jan 06, 2008 11:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shula Deanna (oops! mistyped before): Actaully, now that I think of it, I think you are right--he did allude to horrid acts that he replaced in his mind. I think I must have blocked it out. I am going to have to re-read that book.

I have been looking for some followups that have a similar style. If anyone has any suggestions, please share...


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I was having a this convo with my english teacher. The Island does have sybolism in it but it makes the story which is supposed to be at least vaguely believable: not believable at all.


message 21: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh neel totally agree with you paola. as for those of you who felt jilted by the "twist", I felt it was absolutely relevant and necessary to the book. Pi's fantastic interpretation of the events of his journey were the same as the fantasies of spirituality and religion for all of us in our lives. Necessary illusions and self deceits adapted to make life not only tolerable, but beautiful and meaningful as well.


message 22: by Cvh (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cvh I have to agree with both Todd and Paola. I think Paola's symbolism sounds about right, but in terms of story, the whole meerkats running around a carnivorous island thing was too bizarre to flow with the rest of the story. Personally I really think the book would have been better if the island section had been edited out.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

the book's being made into a film, wonder what they'll make of it.


message 24: by Jac (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jac I was totally confused by the island etc.. that I didn't enjoy it at all. Up to today I am still baffled by it. At 1st I thought it was just me. but I am glad that others find it perplexing as well.


Jeannette I really liked this book. I felt like I learned something, it surprised me, it made me think, and it made me cry. I do think that the island was kinda weird. It didn't really seem to flow, but it won't change my opinion of liking the book overall. *shrugs shoulders*


Julie Wow, I disagree with just about all of you. I've read this book twice. My husband read it before me and didn't like it because of the same reason a few of you mentioned. He felt betrayed at the end when he found out the story he'd been emotionally invested in was all a lie.

I disagree. I think it is the true story. The whole point is to believe it, even if it's unbelievable. Your ability to believe in it tells a lot about your ability to believe in God. Why would you believe the second story? It's so horrible--it's such a pessimistic view of human nature. Believe in the better story. The first story.

Which brings me to the island. I think the reason the island is there is that it's the one element in the journey that couldn't be explained in terms of the second story. For example, he compares each of the animals to people on the boat, but he can't explain the island. Yet, there are meerkat bones in the boat. The island proves that the first story is true.


Katie Julie - I LOVE your point of view on the island, thanks for sharing that.




message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

I think everyone arguing about the island is missing the point completely. The book is called an allegorical novel. Look it up!


message 29: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 08, 2008 02:15PM) (new)

Julie, Meredith, Paola, Josh, I enjoyed and profited from your comments about the island.

It's interesting, too, that he doesn't make the island *the* ruling image of life, only one one them.

The book is allegorical, yet there are the meerkat bones. The narrator is someone who knows the value of Faith yet who observes many different rituals. Those of us who choose to believe the first story are responding in spirit to an essential Truth about Life.




message 30: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Cassidy I just finished this book yesterday and am still mourning the loss of Richard Parker this morning.

Examining the island in fresher light, it seems to me that Pi has gone completely mad at this point, a process that begins in chapter 90. In chapter 89 he writes in his diary that he is dying and has no strength left at all and in the following chapter he starts hearing voices and then hallucinates the other castaway and the island.

Some things to consider: Why didn't the algae kill Pi when it entered his body if it was acidic in darkness? The island provided a place for both Pi and Richard Parker to gain their strength before hitting land and in Pi’s story he was able to climb trees and Richard Parker was strong again, yet when they landed the tiger fell several times on his way into the jungle from weakness and it clearly states in chapter 1 that Pi could barely take any steps on his own at the time he hit land. And let’s all face it, Richard Parker suddenly jumping through hoops is simply ridiculous.

Some other things to think about, the oil tanker went by just before this happened. The garbage was floating in the sea, indicating he was getting closer. He left the island and hit land the very next day, again if he had rejuvenated there, why was he so weak within 24 hours?

I think a very short time actually passed but he was weaving hallucinations and near death the last day or two at which point his mind fabricates the island as yet another extreme example of the human will for survival. He finds everything he needs on the island, and yet nothing. His mind realizes at some point it’s not real, it’s too good to be true, and it really has no substance. In the end, even in his hallucination, he recognizes that death is imminent. So his mind pushes Pi off again in search of solid land.

In this way the investigators have a reason not to believe Pi’s ordeal, even though it maybe did happen up to that point, they can point at the island, a sure sign of madness, making them able to dismiss all that happened prior too. It's a horrifying moment at the end of the book when you realize that the barbaric nature of man is more believable than Pi's story of survival on the Pacific in a lifeboat with a bengal tiger. The mind screeches NO! NO! NO! and is why there is such strong reaction from readers.

I think the most poignant part of the book is Richard Parker’s departure but that is a different discussion. I really miss that tiger.


message 31: by Terry (new)

Terry Lucas Kim, that was a really insightful message. I agree with everything you said. No one wants to believe in "the barbaric nature of man", but I do believe that is the true story in the novel.


message 32: by Sarah (last edited Feb 26, 2008 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sarah I just finished the book myself and have enjoyed reading others comments about it.

I had to respond to Kim's recent comments. She said the island thing was hard to believe because he got to land so quickly after leaving the island but they were already really weak. But the book doesn't say how long it took for them to get to land from the island. There were meerkat bones and he said he used the heads for bait. He left the island with a bunch of skinned meerkats. He had to be at sea again for a while to only have bones and had used all the heads already for bait.

In any case I am in the camp that the story with the animals is the real story.


Kristen I loved your interpretation. I think that spiritually, the island was a point of renewal, granted him right when he needed it, truly a gift of mercy from God. In time, he learned that he couldn't stay forever, because it would indeed prove his downfall. I think that each of us reach that point repeatedly in our lives. We come to an intersection, and we must make the choice to stay within our comfort zone, or to move on to the next level. I am a devout Mormon and we literally believe that to stop progressing, attaining, trying, achieving, can and will prove key to our spiritual deaths. I absolutely do not think you have read too much into your interpretation.


message 34: by Ralph (last edited Mar 06, 2008 12:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ralph Weren't there rodent bones in the boat, that would support that the island story is true?
I do see how the two competing stories, animal and human, reflect the competing philosophies of faith and atheism. Because the tiger story is more wonderful, it's an idea of the beauty of faith. At the same time though, Pi appreciates atheism, but he scorns agnosticism. So here, being doubtful about which story is true is not a good resolution for the reader. The reader needs to believe one or the other.


message 35: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara In a religious context this island is similar to the garden of Eden. Pi sees himself content here and yet he does not understand where he is. Once he partakes of the fruit, his eyes are open and he is enlightened with knowledge which helps him to understand what the island really is. I think that this island has major religious symbolism...


message 36: by Don (new) - rated it 4 stars

Don To me the island was a 'hint' that the second story represented the truth, in that the island was something someone in a delirious or semi-conscious state would dream up. He had withdrawn into his mind to survive--his body having shut down and his conscious mind unable to process what it had witnessed.


message 37: by Melissa (last edited Mar 17, 2008 07:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melissa I totally agree with the previous comments that reading that last few pages was maddening. I was angry as well, but I still really liked the book. It's a strange combo. The island thing was really confusing, but for me, I was so wrapped up in the ending that I placed the island in the back of my thoughts and let the authors intenstions of confusion and symbolism take foreground. PS: After much thought and haunting from this book, I stick with my gut--first story is true.


message 38: by Anja (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anja I, personally, can't say whether the original story was true or not but either way I found that the story would have been considerably less interesting and thought provoking if the island hadn't been included. I mean, just imagine what the book would be like without it. In my opinion, it would have been much more boring and it wouldn't give you as much doubt as to whether the story was true which I thought was the whole thrilling point of the book. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought the island was meant to invoke fantastical thoughts and give an air of excitement and sci-fi to the story.


Karol I just finished this book and have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

Paola, I agree with you about the island.

Maegen and Josh, I would tend to agree with you as well (except for one thing). I tended to think that Pi blocked out the horrible memories of what really happened and drew analogies to animals. The mind can play tricks, and we can remember things very different than how they really happened or block them out altogether. It is a coping mechanism . . . and the more I thought about the book the more I thought it’s what Pi used to deal with his post trauma stress. But then there is that one thing: the meerkat bones that were found in his boat. Where on earth would they have come from if not the island?

Which leads me to ponder the listener/writer’s comment near the beginning of the book that “Richard Parker still preys on his mind” after all these years. Would that not suggest that the Richard Parker story is the true one?

As an aside, this has been such a puzzle for me that it has been hard to let go of the story. I kept talking to my husband about it until he said in an irritated tone of voice, “it’s fiction, not biography!” Perhaps this, along with the fact that I actually stuck with such a gruesome book, is further evidence of Martel’s genius.



itpdx I agree with Kim. I started questioning Pi's grip on sanity after he wrote "I die" at the end of chapter 89. Two blind men in life boats run into each other in the middle of the Pacific after months? Pi thinks Richard Parker is answering him? And then the algae island! You can believe the animal story with hallucinations or Pi's "other" story.


Little So then maybe the island exists as proof that your interpretation of the story is the correct one. If you believe the first story, the meercat bones "prove" to you that all of the fantastical seemingly impossible things that have happened so far are true. If you believe the second story, the totally craziness of a carnivorous island "proves" Pi’s madness and tells us that none of what he dreamed up to tell the authorities could have actually happened. Because, we all have to honestly admit, neither story is actually true. Or rather, both stories are equally true. Life of Pi is not a detective novel for you to sort out which version of the facts is most accurate, because there are no facts, so it would make sense that the entirety of the story is constructed to work in each contradictory version of “reality.”


message 42: by [deleted user] (last edited May 01, 2008 09:29PM) (new)

I don't feel like digging into my brain right now, but off the top of my head it is the first time Pi and Richard Parker are able to go their separate ways. Parker claims the boat while Pi sleeps directly in paradise/hell. (Am I right? It's been a while). If Pi is the tiger, either figuratively or really, then perhaps it shows that the tiger in him must press on a bit longer, and innocent Pi, feeding once more as a vegetarian, must yield again.


message 43: by Brian (last edited May 31, 2008 08:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian I think the island represents the time in his journey where he is tempted to give up on survival. He sees peace, comfort, sustenance, in death. The island represents this escape from his difficult life. However, in the end he realizes life is more appealing to him. I am still wondering what his perspective on life after death is with such a broad array of religious beliefs. I'm still not totally sure about it but its a thought.
Excellent book based on the concept that reality is truly based on perception.


Travis I wonder if the island is in the tradition of the Hero's Quest where the hero must decend into the depths of hell and death. I don't know if Pi was mad, or if he was dying (or even died) and that the island represented heaven and/or hell, but then he turned away from it and "came back". I like the island because it is so maddening, I think it is supposed to leave you confused because it sticks out so strangely from the rest of the story. Some how in the depths of this nourishing heaven/threatening hell Pi passes his final test and is reunited with the animal side of himself stronger and nourished. After passing this test he finally reaches land.


Brenda Did anyone think Richard Parker was God? Even Pi can not know for certain if God exists. Then when he comes to the island and is about to die he chooses the "leap of faith" and he survives and Richard Parker (after saving Pi's life) walks away. Richard Parker (God) led him to the beach where he is rescued. It seems that life is a story, you can choose your story and the story with religion (the animals) is the better story - that's why Pi has faith.


Christie Bogle It is interesting. When I got to the second story, I found myself being upset and disappointed that I was NOT getting what the beginning promised: a story that would make you believe in God. How the hell would that second story refresh my beliefs? It simply reveals what type of believer/athiest/agnostic that you already are. I discoverd that I am an agnostic, according to Pi. I doubt everything. I was upset that no one went back to the boat to investigate the stupid meerkats! Why, with the evidence at hand, wouldn't they? Well, because they were insurance agents and they had no interest in the story except on a personal level, unless it had revealed details of the crash...which it didn't.

Then, I'm left with the fact that I was reading an allegory and neither story was "true" to begin with. I know that. So deciding between the two is utterly unnecessary and a mean trick of a talented word-smith. He sets up the criteria by getting us emotionally invested in someone else's criteria of belief and then presents us with a test of faith. Well, I found myself being offended that I fell into the undesireable category, so I reject being categorized at all... and yet I still find myself wishing I'd stopped reading at chapter 98 so that I could love the first story without inhibition.

However, considering the theme of the book again, I have to honestly say that I can align myself with Pi's experience in a new way. I love the first story. I gain value from it and draw meaning from it when I can. However, I have significant FAITH in science and logic. That IS a religious position all its own. If Pi could be Muslim, Catholic and Hindu-- so very incomplatible-- I can also love his first story and draw what strength I can from it as well as believe in the second story, drawing what value there is from it as well. I don't have to choose between the two. I love Pi (as he loved God and all his stories) and both of his stories are valid to his experience.

In response to Brenda, I don't believe Richard Parker was God. I believe he was his carnivorous self. He compartmentalized his mind into the beast and killer that he was by nature (being a natural beast like we all are (naturally omnivorous) from the social creature that he is where he believes himself a vegetarian.

When he killed, he projected and distanced his mind from this foreign behavior. When he admitted to himself that he was eating just a small bit, it was only that much that he could handle attributing to that small part of his internal self, the one he identifies with. It's a multiple personality disorder of some sort brought on by the tragedy. My conclusion is grounded in the passages where Pi finally accepts Richard Parker (his carnivorous self) as existing and LOVES him for having helped him to survive...but this element of his nature HAD to disappear upon his re-entry into civilazation because the vegetarian was his stronger nature and the "self" he knew.

Now, how does this relate to the island? The island is both irrelevant and the only link to the "reality" of his first story. It would be the physical evidence of his mind being sound. The tiger also would be evidence if ever found... but no one is going to go out looking to confirm these details. Even with the evidence (meerkat skeletons) right under their noses, no one will look hard enough because, if they need proof at all, they are too afraid to find out the truth. If they don't need proof to believe, then they don't need to look. However, it is those of us willing to accept the potential of both stories -as inconsistent as they are- that have no barriers to belief.

(how's that for twisting faith? LOL)


message 47: by Julie (last edited Jun 23, 2008 04:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julie OK, if you believe the first story as did my 16 year old son, there's a real possibilty that the island is a hallucination caused by duress and physical trauma? If it was real, could the man eating trees be a realization even while delusional that staying on the island would mean dying on the island? Who knows, maybe he ate something that was the equivalent of jimpson weed.
The island did seem like an incongruity, but look at how many people are discussing it. Maybe that was the author's intention. It is amazing to me that so many people are ready to accept the story of the animals even while it is so fantastic. They just can't accept the fact that people in survival mode will degenerate to a bestial state. I like to think that the animal story was a gift from God to keep his mind from breaking.


message 48: by Dina (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dina I heard Yann Martel talk about this book at a lecture for One Book AZ a few years ago. Someone asked him about the island...and he said that he put the island in the book because he wanted something in the book that required a leap of faith. In fact, he said the book is primarily about faith. His lecture was fascinating.


Sinjinn i just found this site and reviewed this book , and then found the comments and see that everyone agrees.

to me , the middle third was the best because of the adventure , but even that third kind of ends up nowhere. i hated the island all the way untill he finds the tooth in the plant. thats where i was really confused, but it was all explained in the end.

i really didnt like that the three parts of the story were seperated out like they were. the real adventure was the only thing i liked about the book and i didnt like the interview at the end. i would much rather have had all that revealed in some other way. the men with tapes thing just seemed so tacked on , more so than the island.

the island , by the way , was ridiculous.

i still like the middle part though.


Julie Dina,

I'm envious of your experience of hearing the Yann Martel lecture. Did you see him in person? or was this a televised lecture? Sometimes I think that novelists have only 1 great novel in them. I hope this isn't the case for Mr. Martel.


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