Sloppy Humans and Uptight Animals:
the Four Parts of Life of Pi

Life of Pi is the incredible story of Pi Patel, the Indian boy who finds himself stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a three-year-old adult Bengal tiger (124). Instead of going straight to the story, Yann Martel writes the book in four parts to support the theme. The novel starts with the Author’s Note, explaining how the Martel-like writer learns about Pi. In the second part, Pi talks about his father’s zoo and his religious pursuit. The third section is where Pi shares his unbelievable experiences after the sinking of the Tsimtsum. The book is concluded with the conversation between Pi and the two Japanese officials, to whom a second story is introduced. The officials agree that the first story is a fabrication of what really happened. Martel fictionalizes Pi’s story by representing human beings with animals, mocking people’s tendency to see themselves as superior to other creatures; in an imaginative way he demonstrates how under harsh circumstances civilized people and wild animals can have no difference.

Martel justifies the fictionalization of Pi’s story with the italicized passages in the novel, assuring the readers that Pi survives his torment. The writer foreshadows the trickery when he tells us that Indians “like words like ‘bamboozle’” (vi). He goes on describing his attempt to seek truth through fabrication, saying, “That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?” (vi). This statement shows that there is a tinge of validity in most fantasies. Incredulity also provides a distancing effect on the readers, preventing them from becoming too emotionally involved in the novel and giving them the mental space to analyze Pi’s philosophies. “This story has a happy ending” (117): the readers are saved from having to worry about Pi’s life and therefore can delve into the messages Martel wishes to convey.

Before bedazzling readers with the main story, Pi introduces his way of thinking by talking about his upbringing as the son of a zookeeper. Pi’s father greatly influences how Pi feels about the relationship between animals and people. The zookeeper expresses what he thinks about zoo visitors by hiding a mirror under the painted words: “DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO?” (39). This joke shows how we distance ourselves from other creatures; when people pull at the curtain that covers the mirror, they expect to see some scary exotic critter, and not the two-legged hairless primates staring back at them. Pi’s father also shows him an animal more dangerous than humans: Animalus anthropomorphicus, “the animal as seen through human eyes” (39). Anthropomorphism, the granting of human qualities to non-human entities, results from “the obsession with putting ourselves at the centre of everything” (Stewart Cole 23); it also demonstrates people’s habit of seeing themselves as different from everything else.

In addition to the zoo, religion is a big element in Pi’s life; he uses the sameness of religions as a metaphor for the similarity between humans and animals. “. . . Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims” (62); Pi proposes that the essence of all religions is the same, and it is merely the forms that differ. Similarly, the heart of all creatures is the same, and it is only their appearances that differ. With this idea in mind, the quarrel between the three religious figures in Chapter 23 resembles the way humans argue about their superiority to other animals; it is ridiculous and pointless.

In the second part of the novel Martel shows the likeness of humans and animals, yet in the third section he demonstrates how even a religious vegetarian can become animal-like when pressured. After the Tsimtsum sinks, Pi talks about how he spent 227 days on a lifeboat with Richard Parker, the famous tiger. However, numerous details hint that Richard Parker is a symbol for Pi’s animal instincts. First of all, the gigantic Bengal tiger is discovered only after the hyena kills Orange Juice (171). During the interview we learn that the hyena is the French cook, and Orange Juice is Pi’s mother (392). When the cook kills his mother, Pi’s aggressive nature is discovered. Second, when Richard Parker is about to prey on the hyena, Pi says: “The hyena’s end had come, and mine” (189); when he kills the cook, Pi’s civilized self is destroyed. Third, when Pi reaches Mexico and returns to civilization, Richard Parker disappears (360); Pi’s animal-like self vanishes after he is saved because it is not needed anymore.

Another critical point of the third part of the novel is how the French cook is represented two times: first as the bloodthirsty hyena and then as the blind castaway. It can be argued that the French cook resembles Pi’s brutal, immoral self. Many times between the two stories are the identities of Pi and the cook scrambled (Florence Stratton 7). When the blind Pi meets the blind castaway, he initially mistakes the latter man’s voice to be Richard Parker’s (310). This detail symbolizes the fact that Pi cannot tell the difference between his immorality and animal instincts. It is also worthy to note that at first Pi embraces the blind man, calling him “my sweet brother” (320). However, when the man attempts to kill Pi for food, he steps into Richard Parker’s territory and is therefore killed by the tiger. In a symbolic way, Pi describes how he starts to accept his brutal side for survival, yet quickly finds out that it is destroying his religious self, and therefore he gets rid of it.

After mystifying his readers with the bizarre survival story, Martel uses the interview of the Japanese officials to present the second story and to explain the first. It is only after comparing the two stories can readers comprehend the meanings and symbolism in the first story (Stratton 10). The cases of killing on the lifeboat may seem natural in the first story because they are merely animals preying on each other, yet in the second story we learn that they are really people brutally murdering each other; the horrible things that happen on the lifeboat seem animal-like, yet they are all done by humans. Even worse, the animals kill for food and survival, yet the Taiwanese sailor is murdered by the greed of the French cook, Pi’s mother dies of the cook’s resentment, and the cook is killed by Pi’s grief. By analyzing the two stories together, the baseness of human beings can clearly be identified.

Therefore, the four parts of Life of Pi are all essential to the development of Martel’s message, that there is no point in articulating the superiority of humans to other creatures, because anyone can become animal-like when it is necessary. Martel uses an organized procedure to prove this idea. First, in the Author’s Note, he gives reasons why fictionalizing the story is appropriate. Second, he takes a small careful step and uses metaphors to support and explain the idea. Third, he takes a huge, adventurous leap and presents a magical story that is unbelievable yet intriguing. Lastly, he tells us the realistic story and compares it to the first to analyze the symbolism. By twisting reality with imagination, Martel not only creates an astonishing piece of work, he also gives readers an opportunity to compare humans and animals. Animals, with their selfishness and love for life, are sloppy humans, and humans, with their defensiveness of territories, are uptight animals.

 

Works Cited

Cole, Stewart. “Believing in Tigers: Anthropomorphism and Incredulity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.” Studies in Canadian Literature 29.2 (2004):22-36.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: a Novel. Orlando: Harcourt, 2001.

Stratton, Florence. “Hollow at the Core: Deconstructing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.” Studies in Canadian Literature 29.2 (2004): 1-14.

 

邋塌的人類和保守的動物:
《少年Pi的奇幻漂流》四個部分

  《少年Pi的奇幻漂流》是帕帖爾「Pi」的神奇故事。他是一個和一隻三歲的成熟孟加拉虎困在救生船上漂流在太平洋上的印度男孩。楊‧馬泰爾不是直接切入故事,反而是把書分成四段來加強主題。小說一開始是作者小記。這個部分解釋故事裡像馬泰爾的作家是如何知道Pi的。第二個部分裡,Pi告訴我們他爸爸的動物園的事和自己對宗教信仰的追求旅程。第三個部分就是Pi和我們敘述他在「奇桑」沉沒後難以相信的冒險故事的部分。書的結局是Pi和兩個日本官方的談話。Pi在這裡告訴他們有第二個故事。官方同意說第一個故事是真正發生的事件的編造版。馬泰爾將Pi的故事假化,用動物來取代人以取笑人類將自己看做比動物地位高的習慣;他用創意的方式表現出在困境中,有文化的人類和野生動物其實沒有兩樣。

  馬泰爾用斜體的段落證明Pi的故事是編造的,也讓讀者知道Pi最後是熬過苦難。作者為這個騙局鋪陳,告訴我們說印度人「喜歡像『唬弄』這種詞。」他又開始敘述他設法用編造的事物來尋求真理,說:「這就是假的故事的意義,不是嗎,選擇性地改造事實?扭曲事實來展現真相的要點?」這個說法述說大部分的幻想後面都有一些確實性存在。難以相信的故事也對讀者有遠離效果,讓他們不會太投入故事情節當中,而能夠有一點餘地可以洞悉Pi的哲學。「這個故事有好結局」:讀者不用擔心Pi是否能夠存活,而更能夠去思考馬泰爾想要傳達的理念。

  在用主要的故事迷幻讀者之前,Pi介紹自己的思考模式,敘述以動物園園長的兒子的身分長大的過程。Pi的爸爸大大地影響他對人與動物間的關係的看法。動物園園長為了表達自己對動物園訪客的想法,將一個鏡子放在塗寫的字後方:「你知道動物園裡最危險的動物是什麼嗎?」這個玩笑證明我們會將自己和別的動物做區別;當人們把鏡子前的簾幕拉開前,他們期待看到可怕的異國怪物,而不是眼睛回看他們的無毛兩腳猩猩。Pi的爸爸也給他看了比人類更恐怖的動物:Animalus anthropomorphicus,「人類眼中看見的動物」。擬人化是將人類的特質給予非人類的事物上,而是「人類喜歡把自己當作一切的中心」的結果;這也證實人類習慣把自己看做和其他事物不同。

  動物園以外,宗教也是Pi生命中的重要部分;他用不同宗教的一制性來隱喻人類和動物的相同性。「…印度教徒有無比的愛心,也就是沒有頭髮的基督徒,就像回教徒能夠在所有事物裡看見神,也就是留鬍子的印度教徒,而基督徒對於上帝非常虔誠,也就是戴帽子的回教徒。」Pi宣稱所有宗教的概念都是相同的,只是形式不同。相同地,萬物的內心都是相同的,只是外表不同。這樣看來,第二十三章裡的宗教衝突象徵著人類把自己看得比其他動物高尚的現象;那是愚蠢而沒意義的。

  小說的第二部分裡,馬泰爾表現人類和動物有多麼相似,但是第三部分他呈現就連一個虔誠的素食主義者都會在壓力下變得像野獸。奇桑沉沒之後,Pi訴說他227天在救生船裡和有名的老虎李查‧帕克的相處。然而,有很多提示告訴我們李查‧帕克是Pi獸性的代表。第一,巨大的孟加拉虎在「柳橙汁」被鬣狗殺死後才出現。在面談裡,我們可以知道鬣狗是法國廚師,而柳橙汁是Pi的媽媽。當廚師殺死Pi的媽媽時,他凶猛的一面被發覺了。第二,李查‧帕克要吃鬣狗屍體的時候,Pi說:「鬣狗的結局來臨了,我的也是」;當他把廚師殺死後,Pi文化的一面被毀了。第三,當Pi抵達墨西哥,回到文明社會,李查‧帕克就消失了;Pi獸性的一面在獲救的時候不見,因為他不需要了。

  小說第三部分還有一個重點就是法國廚師有兩個代表:第一個是殘忍的鬣狗,第二個是漂流的瞎子。可以說,法國廚師本身也代表Pi凶殘、不道德的一面。兩個故事版本間有好幾次Pi和法國廚師的身分混在一起。瞎掉的Pi遇見流浪的瞎子時,他一開始把瞎子的聲音聽成李查‧帕克的。這個細節象徵著Pi已經無法分辨自己的不道德和獸性了。值得注意的是一開始Pi非常歡迎瞎子,稱他為「我親愛的兄弟」。然而,當瞎子設法殺害Pi來搶奪他的食物時,他踩進李查‧帕克的地盤而被老虎殺了。Pi運用象徵的方式訴說他如何為了存活而開始接受自己殘忍的一面,但是很快地又發現凶殘把虔誠的心毀掉了,所以他將之拋棄。

  用瘋狂的存活故事把讀者迷得團團轉後,馬泰爾用和日本官方的面談介紹第二個故事並且解釋第一個故事。只有比較兩個故事,讀者才有可能體會第一個故事裡的象徵和譬喻。船上的殺戮在第一個故事裡聽起來很正常,因為就是動物互相殘殺,但是在第二個故事裡我們發現那其實是人類殘忍地攻擊彼此。救生船上可怕的事情很獸性,但是都是人類做出的事。更可怕的是,動物是為了食物和生存而殺害別人,但是那位台灣船員是被法國廚師的貪心所殺的,而廚師是被Pi的悲傷陷害。比較兩個故事後,人類的低俗很明顯地被表現出來。

  因此,《少年Pi的奇幻漂流》中的四個部分對於建立馬泰爾想傳達的想法很必要:我們不應該一直強調人類多麼優於其他動物,因為在必要的時候,誰都會變得像野獸。馬泰爾用了一個有條理的方式來證明這一點。第一,在作者小記裡,他解釋為什麼將故事假造化。第二,他又進一步小心地用隱喻來加強這些原因。第三,他完全釋放,敘述一個不可思議但是吸引人的奇幻故事。最後,他告訴我們真實的故事並且和第一個故事比較,分析裡面的象徵。馬泰爾將事實和想像扭曲在一起,寫出一個驚人的作品,也讓讀者能夠思考動物和人類的相同性。自私又愛生命的動物是邋塌的人類,而很保護地盤的人類則是保守的動物。

-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo

 

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