Life of Pi Summary and Analysis

Part 2, Chapters 86-91

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Summary

One day Pi sees an oil tanker coming toward him and Parker. All too quickly it is bearing down on them, and our hero only just misses getting crushed. Unfortunately, the tanker passes without ever seeing Pi, and his ordeal continues. Another day, Pi comes upon a large amount of floating garbage. He pulls an empty wine bottle from the refuse and places a message inside.

When he needs escape, Pi covers his face with a wet cloth, which asphyxiates him just enough to put him into a dream-like state.

Slowly, Pi and Richard Parker waste away as do all their supplies. They are losing weight and becoming more and more dehydrated. Excerpts from Pi’s diary show more and more loss of hope, until he writes “I die” and his pen runs out of ink.

After one three-day span of not having anything to eat, Pi notices that Richard Parker has gone blind. Then his own eyes start to itch, and soon he cannot see anything. He becomes sure that both he and Richard Parker will die.

As he lays down and prepares for death, he hears a voice. He is sure it must be a hallucination, but he enters into conversation with it all the same. He and the voice discuss what they would eat if they could have anything, and Pi realizes that he is talking to Richard Parker.

He drifts out of consciousness, then hears a voice again, and returns to conversation. He realizes now that the voice is that of another man, a Frenchman, also blind, also in a lifeboat rowing beside him, also starving. Pi and the Frenchman manage to draw up next to each other, and the stranger climbs into Pi’s boat. He immediately dives on Pi and tries to kill him, with the intention of eating him, but the Frenchman is attacked and killed by Richard Parker.

Pi explores the dead man’s boat, and finds some food and water. As he manages to rehydrate, his vision slowly comes back. He finds the remains of the man still in the boat, and uses some of his flesh for fish bait. He goes so far as to eat some of it, but stops the minute he catches a fish again.

Analysis

This section represents a decisive turning point in Pi's narrative and arc. Here Pi truly loses his innocence, survival exacts the dearest cost, and his suffering becomes tangible. Ironically, this section also continues sparks of real hope. After all, Pi encounters not one but two boats - a miraculous stroke of good fortune that comes to naught.

The dashing of these hopes comes almost as soon as Pi can appreciate them. First, the oil tanker that could save him almost kills him, then continues on into the distance without ever seeing him. Second, and most horribly, Pi’s first interaction with another human since the Tsimtsum sank brings not the companionship he is so excited for, but instead attempted murder and brutal death—and with it, profound guilt.

Pi makes it clear that whether the first story is taken symbolically or literally, the Frenchman’s death is in either way caused by Pi’s own fight for survival. Thus he must forever accept that his survival came at the cost of another’s life. Whether Richard Parker, or the survival instinct that Richard Parker symbolizes, is the actual killer seems irrelevant to Pi, since the result is the same.

The despair and suffering that follow the Frenchman’s death are highlighted by the excitement that precedes it, though that excitement is tinged with surrealism. Since Part 2 and Pi’s loss of all human companionship, the novel has had little dialogue, understandably. So with the arrival of the Frenchman, who Pi and the reader both first assume to be some kind of hallucination, the novel’s form suddenly changes course in dramatic fashion. This sudden proliferation of dialogue, combined with Pi’s extremely weak state and blindness, and confused belief that he is speaking to Richard Parker, make this scene the least believable of Pi’s tale. The scene’s ending, however, makes it clear that this is also the scene that Pi would be least likely to make up—its horror would serve him no purpose. Here, then, we see one of the few instances in which Pi does not try to tell the better story: he cannot incorporate God into this awful memory.