Life of Pi Summary and Analysis

Part 1, Chapters 29-36, and Part 2, Chapters 37-41

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Summary

In February 1976, the Tamil Nadu government is brought down by Mrs. Gandhi’s government, an event that deeply worries Pi’s father. Eventually, the stress of trying to keep his zoo profitable during a time of bad governance leads him to decide to move his family to Canada.

The author finds out for the first time that Pi is married, and meets his wife, Meena. He will also meet Pi’s son, daughter, dog and cat, none of whom he at first knew existed.

Back to Pi's story: Mr. Kumar the baker asks Pi to visit the zoo, and Pi shows him around. While there, they run into Mr. Kumar the teacher. Together they each feed a carrot to a zebra. Pi describes instances of animals becoming companions across species.

The author describes Pi showing him photographs and memorabilia. There are very few pictures from Pi’s life in India, and those he has were sent over by Mr. Adirubasamy, after the sinking of a ship called the Tsimtsum.

The Patels sell the zoo and all its animals, but it takes a year to complete the process of moving the animals. On June 21st, 1977, the Patels board the Tsimtsum and leave India.

Part 2 of Life of Pi begins with the sinking of the Tsimtsum. Prior to this catastrophe, Pi has enjoyed the trip immensely, tracking the boat's daily progress with gleeful precision. Then, four days out into the Pacific, some noise, possibly an explosion, wakes Pi in the middle of the night. Pi goes out to explore what the noise was. Out on the main deck Pi finds there is a severe storm, but, as that is nothing unusual for the journey, he is only excited. It doesn't take long, however, for him to notice that the ship is listing severely. He goes back inside and tries to get back to his family, but he finds flooding in his way. It becomes clear the ship is sinking, and what's more, the animals have somehow gotten loose. Pi finds some crew members, who put a life jacket on him and throw him overboard.

Pi lands in a partially lowered lifeboat. A zebra jumps in after him, which causes the boat to drop into the water.

Pi sees Richard Parker, the tiger, and helps him. At the last minute he realizes it is very stupid to share a lifeboat with a tiger, but it's too late: Richard Parker has already gotten on. Pi jumps off and grabs the lifebuoy. Just then, he sees a shark coming. He uses an oar to create a projection, and hangs between the water and the boat, the tiger and the sharks.

Pi watches the Tsimtsum sink, but sees no other signs of life. Eventually he must get further back into the lifeboat, where he finds the zebra is still alive but suffering from a broken leg. Pi wonders why Richard Parker has not killed it. Then he sees a hyena on the boat too, which he believes means that Richard Parker must have fallen off.

Analysis

This section contains the turning point of the novel, when Pi’s life goes from fairly normal to tragic. At the end of Part 1, Pi’s family has just begun what appears to be an exciting journey to a new country. Instead, Pi soon becomes an orphan, with everyone and everything he has ever known sunk into the ocean.

The end of Part 1 contains more clues for what will happen in Part 2. Pi helps his Muslim mentor and his favorite teacher - both named Mr. Kumar - feed a zebra together, who they view as a beautiful and noble creature. Here, in the zoo, that may be true, but in the next section, after the sinking, the zebra will suffer agonizing pain - and in the ugliest manner. The scene with the zebra in the zoo can thus be interpreted as symbolizing the last moment of Pi’s innocence, before he too is made ugly by suffering.

Toward the end of Part 1, the author offers clues hinting that the crossing of the Pacific will serve as a profound loss of innocence and fundamental change for Pi. The author is shown pictures from Pi's life, but only ones after the crossing are clear; there are very few from before, and they tend not to show much.

The final line of Part 1 is also significant: “This story has a happy ending.” It is a powerful sentence, because the reader has not yet learned of any of Pi’s suffering; the need for such an ending is not as yet clear. Ironically, this declaration of hope and optimism spells doom, foreshadowing the devastating trials and tribulations Pi must soon encounter.

The beginning of Part 2 jumps around chronologically, but only within a small period of time. It in fact opens with Pi encouraging Richard Parker to enter the lifeboat. That, and not the ship’s sinking, is in effect posited as the representative turning point. If we read Richard Parker as a symbol for Pi’s survival instinct, it is interesting that Pi invites him to the lifeboat—it is an active choice, to survive, to become part beast. That he quickly regrets this decision, and realizes that it may imperil his spirit, is also significant.