Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Personal Reflection

Generally speaking, I find book reports soul-destroying. Yet, I cannot debate their importance to a reader. This ISU has not only forced me to read a novel which I would otherwise be unlikely to read, but it has allowed me to make connections about the story that I would not normally recognize. Through reading critically and discovering other’s opinions on the book, I have helped solidify my own ideas about Life of Pi on my own. It has given me an excuse to research Yann Martel, the author, on my own, as well as learn about his importance as a Canadian writer. I also enjoyed learning about Polti's 36 dramatic situations in detail. I think it's pretty amazing how they can cover pretty much every story that can be written.

As an English student, I have learned a couple of lessons. When you have almost three months to do a project, do the individual due dates. Had I have done this, a lot of stress on my part would have been resolved. Furthermore, I also found that this project was a lot more fun once it was started, and ideas flowed much easier once I started writing. It's only bringing yourself to that first attempt that makes things difficult.

As for the book I read, Life of Pi, I absolutely loved the book. It combined theology with zoology and taught me a great deal about those topics, connecting them in a way that has altered mty perspectives on a great deal of things, such as zoos, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Interestingly enough, it made a very powerful justification for zoos to my vegetarian mind. Overall, this book was one of the best books I have ever read, and I enjoyed exploring it through this ISU.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Works Cited

Foster, Phoebe K. "Life of Pi: A Novel by Yann Martel." Ed. ] Phoebe K. Foster. N.p., 4 Sept. 2002. Web. 23 Nov. 2009. .

Holcombe, Garan. "Yann Martel." N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. .

"Seventh Situation, Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune." 21 feb 2009. MediaWiki, Web. 24 Nov 2009. .

(Note: could not indent second lines of selections due to difficulties of

Explication of Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune in Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Of George Polti’s thirty-six dramatic situations, the theme of falling prey to cruelty or misfortune is a situation in which a character (an unfortunate) is stricken by a master or misfortune, causing them to lose hope. "To infinite sorrow there is no limit," ("") in this situation, and certainly in Life of Pi. "Beneath that which seems the final depth of misfortune, there may open another yet more frightful. [The seventh dramatic situation is] a ferocious and deliberate dissection of the heart ("")". This having been explained, the seventh dramatic situation fits the character of Pi Patel perfectly in Life of Pi.
First of all, Polti’s seventh dramatic situation is characterized by having an unfortunate who is stricken by a master or misfortune, causing them to lose hope. It is characterized by having limitless sorrow. Indeed, Pi Patel, whose entire family is killed during the sinking of the cargo ship Tsimtsum is stricken by this type of sorrow. Even after his ordeal is done and he is being interviewed by Japanese investigators, Pi has only one response when they express their condolences. "Not as sorry as I am," he says over and over again. And although he is a victim of misfortune, he is in many ways a victim of his master, God, as well. After a moment of brief optimism, Pi says, "But God’s hat was always unravelling. Gods pants were falling apart. God’s cat [(Richard Parker] was a constant danger. God’s ark [(the lifeboat)] was a jail. God’s wide acres [(The ocean)] were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn’t seem to be listening. In this case, Pi’s master (God), is exhibiting cruelty towards him in the form of neglect, he interprets. This sense of abandonment only contributes to Pi’s suffering. Indeed, Pi does lose hope, and his sorrow is limitless, having lost everything but his life, which is still in danger from a 450-pound royal Bengal tiger. In the second story he tells, everyone in his lifeboat is killed off due to cannibalism and murder. In the end, he is left to fend for himself, alone in the middle of the Pacific. This fits Polti’s seventh dramatic situation perfectly.
The next descriptor of Polti’s seventh dramatic situation is characterized by being more and more hopeless as the story continues. Indeed, it does. After Pi realizes that his entire family is dead and his whole previous life is lost, he discovers that he is pitted in a lifeboat with a hyena and a 450-pound tiger. After the hyena is dead and he has learned to tame the tiger, he is still plagued by storms, imminent starvation, and even blindness for two days. While he is blind, he encounters another blind survivor in a lifeboat who attempts to kill him and is promptly eaten by the tiger, Richard Parker. When he discovers a mysterious oasis-like island with freshwater, copious amounts of algae, and meerkats, he finds that the island is actually carnivorous by night as the algae becomes like acid. It is only when Pi reaches land that his situation improves; nevertheless Richard Parker, his only ally throughout the entire ordeal, flees to the jungle without a hint of acknowledgement towards Pi. Indeed, through the entire duration of his ordeal, Pi’s situation becomes more and more unbearable to deal with.
Overall, Life of Pi fits Polti’s seventh dramatic situation, falling prey to cruelty or misfortune very well. Indeed, no other dramatic situation fits it in with the level of accuracy that this does. Pi, who is plagued by a crescendo of increasing sorrow and hardship after he becomes a lone shipwreck survivor is no doubt falling prey to misfortune. Furthermore, he also feels a sense of abandonment from his master, God, at times, and this abandonment amounts to the cruelty of neglect. Finally, his situation continues to get worse every time it seems like it is getting better. Hence, Life of Pi fits the seventh dramatic situation perfectly.

Monday, November 23, 2009


In truth, I have never really been a great fan of English class, or English literature for that matter. I am not naive enough to believe it has no value, yet, I am usually dissatisfied with the feeling that I am pushed to enjoy the written word, apart from just appreciating it independently. Yet, in this increasingly rational society, I am starting to realize the importance of literature such as Life of Pi. This is completely juxtaposing to the books I typically like to read: books that give me pure, unadulterated knowledge that describe something that I wish to learn about for the purpose of research or simple curiosity. What I found, interestingly enough, is that non-fiction and fiction both give this goal of pure knowledge, using different devices, and with very different results. Indeed, few other books have showed me the connection between the two like Life of Pi has, and, indeed, it has made me feel as enlightened as young Pi himself, who is almost my age during the tragic events of the story.

But what is the main difference, other than the obvious, between fiction and non-fiction, if they both achieve the same purpose? Truth be told, fiction such as this is the only form of literature that appeals to both the creative and logical fields of our mind--the imaginative and the scholarly. The pivotal importance of literature such as this is in the form of the result--the imprint it leaves on your mind. Whereas a knowledge book will allow you to look at an object and understand how it works, a fiction book will allow you to look at that thing and consider all of the possibilities and potential that that thing has beyond conventional understanding; it is simply more deep, more spiritual fulfilling, and as a result, more meaningful. What book achieves this in a greater way than Life of Pi? Keeping the truth of my limited knowledge of English literature aside, I will honestly say that no other book I have read has done this for me.

The book, to begin with, deals with the most primal and most complicated aspects of the human condition; the will to survive and the will to have faith, and intertwines them in a dazzling fashion. While doing this, it incorporates the psychology of animals in relation to us as well as in relation to themselves. Furthermore, it does it in a groundbreaking, post-modern style that combines humour juxtaposed with pure savagery derived from the will to survive. Pi, originally a vegetarian Hindu boy, keeps his native faith while adopting the Islamic and Christian faiths at the same time, and is then swept into the ocean with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What could make for a better story? And what fact book what teach me about zoology, religion, and survival skills better than an engaging story that grips my attention? Surely the importance of this book has made it extremely important, even deserving of the term "classic", I might add. The book itself is wonderful, original, entertaining, and even educational, and this makes it that much more of a masterpiece in Canadian Literature. This book goes where few books have gone before, bravely embarking on a metaphysical trek that explores the deepest of life's mysteries while remaining an exciting Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not style saga of a shipwreck victim's bizarre exigencies” (Foster, 2002).

In my effort to endorse this literary masterpiece, however, I must recognize that I am not the first to endorse it. Life of Pi has been the recipient of several awards, including the Man Booker Prize for Literature, the Hugh McLennan Prize for Fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Eurasia region, for Best Book (Holcombe, 2004). And, although Yann Martel is primarily known for that single work, his other books, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories (1993),and Self (1996), though not commercially successful (they both sold little over 1000 copies), were the subject of critical acclaim as well. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios won the Canadian Journey Prize, and Self won the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award (Holcombe, 2004). Rarely does a Canadian author receive such attention on the world stage, and this makes the book all the more important.

For being an original outlook on the themes of religion, animal behaviour and survival, and being from a previously underrated Canadian author, Life of Pi is an extremely important book that deserves to be recognized and acknowledged in the way it is today.

Welcome Post

Hello, and welcome to my blog on Yann Martel's famous book, Life of Pi. This book, which has become widely renowned across the globe, is a post-modernist outlook on the themes of religion, animal and human behaviour, and survival through the eyes of a 16-year-old religious Indian boy. Piscine Molitor Patel, who prefers to be referred to as Pi to avoid the nickname "pissing", is the main character of the story, and, interestingly enough, he chooses to practice Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam--all at the same time. Originally from Pondicherry, India, the son of a zookeeper, Pi, on a ship, the Tsimtsum, is embarking for a new life in Canada when it mysteriously sinks. No one knows why, but what is known is that Pi becomes the only survivor of the disaster, trapped on a lifeboat with a vicious hyena, a wounded zebra, an orang-utan, and (worst of all) a 450-pound Royal Bengal Tiger. As the story unfolds and the animals finish each other off in a Darwinian power struggle, and only Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, are left aboard the 26-foot lifeboat. Pi, who has always lived a vegetarian lifestyle up until this point, begins to parallel the behaviours of Richard Parker, learning to kill and eat almost anything he can to survive.

The purpose of this blog is to explore the seemingly limitless amount of interpretations that can be found within this mystifying story. I will do this in the form of journal articles, essays, and analyses of its various elements, relaying them to you, the reader. With the purpose of completing this for an Independent Study Project in English 4U, taught by Mr. Hindley, I will help you embark on a journey exploring the importance of this powerful masterpiece of Canadian literature.

Links List


-- Wiki article


--How Yann Martel wrote life of Pi


--Book Review


--Book Review


--Negative Book Review


--Book Review


--Biography of Yann Martel


--Interview with Yann Martel


--Audio interview with Yann Martel


--Video interview with Yann Martel

Journal #4

After completing the book and looking many parts over, I’ve made some interesting observations about the animals who are originally stranded on the lifeboat with Pi. These observations began when I was reading part III of the book, in which Pi has landed his lifeboat in Mexico and is being saved. Pi is speaking with Japanese investigators to help solve the mystery of why the Tsimtsum, the ship him and his family were in, sank. After telling them his story, which spans all of Part II, his interviewers do not believe his story. They refuse to believe that he has survived with a royal bengal tiger in his lifeboat, which has conveniently escaped in the Mexican jungle, never to be seen again. They also refuse to believe his other claims, such as his accounts of a carnivorous island and his encounter with a blind Frenchman while he, too, was blind. Finally, after a great deal of arguing, Pi decides to tell them another story. He tells them a very similar story with strong parallels to his original, only that there are no animals on his boat–only humans. The story is also much more gruesome and violent. The characters in the story include Pi himself, representing Richard Parker, his mother, representing an Orang-utan; a French cook, representing a hyena; and a wounded Taiwanese sailor, representing the zebra whose leg had been ripped off. They are all trapped in the lifeboat together. The French cook, the hyena, starts by severing off the wounded sailor’s (Hyena) leg, and using his flesh for bait and eating part of it. He later eats the man when he dies. His mother, the orang-utan, is appalled by this act of cannibalism, and he kills her in an argument. Pi, horrified after watching his mother die, kills the cook, and makes his way to shore alone after 277 days. After offering this alternative plot line, Pi never admits which one is truly correct.
I looked through the book. I discovered that Pi told the original, more fantastical story to shelve the horribly disturbing accounts of what he saw in the second story from his memory. Pi, originally horrified by the tiger, becomes more and more like him as the ordeal continues. As he moves from a religious, vegetarian lifestyle, he learns to adapt to killing fish and turtles for food. His first kill, a flying fish, makes him weep. He describes the situation. "I was now a killer," he says. "I was sixteen years old, a harmless boy, booking and religious, and now I have blood on my hands." He claims he never forgets to include the fish in his prayers, but later on he finds killing easier. Later, after bludgeoning a dorado to death, he says, "It is simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even to killing." As these things begin to happen, Richard Parker is slowly tamed by P. By the middle of the book, Pi is taking joy from sucking the blood from a turtles tender stomach under its shell. As this is happening, Richard Parker becomes more tame as Pi becomes more like him. As he tames him, Pi marks his territory with urine to make sure the different parts of the lifeboat are separate; as a naked hunter he becomes completely animal with a human cunning. Interestingly enough, Richard Parker also leaves conveniently as soon as Pi reaches human civilization. In this way, the connection and possible unity between the two characters becomes apparent.
In addition, the orangutan, which paralleled Pi’s mother in the second story, was very much like a mother in the original telling. In page 123, Yann Martel starts the chapter with a description that perfectly described the loving aspects of a mother. "She came floating... in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary." He later speaks of the orangutan directly as a mother. He later says, "I cried, ‘Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arm of comfort,... are you to witness this tragedy too? It’s not right that gentleness meet horror.’ " This similarity is impossible to ignore, and might explain the reasoning behind the second story. Even more frightening in comparison is the description that Pi gives before she is killed by the hyena. "To the end she reminded me of us: her eyes expressed fear in such a humanlike way, as did her strained whimpers." There is almost no doubt that Pi is alluding to this in his second story, which is even more difficult to bear for a person who has lost his entire family.
Thus, there is a high probability that Pi’s second story is in fact the true one, while the first is trying to mask the gruesome truth of what really happened on the lifeboat. This similarity is an important thing about the book that can be found over and over as one skims through the pages again and again.

Journal #3:

Despite the horrific circumstances that are experienced by Pi Patel, the main character, in Life of Pi, the author manages to tastefully incorporate a charming element of dark humour into the novel. This aids in both lightening to the mood and entertaining the reader by avoiding a simple "doom and gloom" mentality towards the situation. A sickly hilarious example of this occurs on pages 254 to 255, where Pi’s lifeboat (which has been shipwrecked on for many months) encounters a whale in the water. The author sets us up the anecdote, in what seems in hindsight to be somewhat of a prank, by describing a whale looking for a mate which brushes up against the boat. After seeing the first one, several more appear, "a short-lived archipelago of volcanic islands." The weary Pi continues on, describing how he was convinced they understood his condition. He imagines what they are saying as they witness the boat and relays his interpretations to us. "‘Oh! It’s the castaway with the pussy cat [(Bengal tiger)] Bamphoo was telling me about. Poor boy. Hope he has enough plankton... I wonder if there isn’t a ship around I could alert... I’ll try to help. My name’s Pimphoo.’" Pi’s character names the whales Bamphoo, Mumphoo, Tomphoo, Stimphoo, and Pimphoo–adorable names for loveable creatures. Unfortunately, however, the author ends the anecdote with an unhappy ending that I couldn’t help laughing at. "And so, through the grapevine, every whale of the Pacific knew of me," he says, "and I would have been saved long ago if Pimphoo hadn’t sought help from a Japanese ship whose dastardly crew harpooned her, the same fate as befell Lamphoo at the hands of a Norwegian ship." He ends the anecdote with, "The hunting of whales is a heinous crime." By adding a bit of dark humour to the story, the reader becomes more enticed

Monday, November 16, 2009

Journal #2

The Life of Pi never ceases to entice me as a reader. And finally, I think I've discovered the reason why. Yann Martel, I've realized, has a fascinatingly honest way of making descriptions, in a style that one cannot help but adore. He utilizes graphic imagery to make his description, yet keeps it tasteful by adding a powerful continuity and making even stronger connections to the rest of the book. For example, in page 128, Martel describes through the eyes of Pi Patel, the main character, the disgusting nature of a hyena in a format that is very akin to an essay. Pi Patel, the son of a (now late) zookeeper, describes in detail the low yet cunning dangers of a hyena, a fearsome creature that "attacks in packs whatever animal can be run down, its flanks open while still in full motion". His thesis is clear in the beginning of the paragraph. He starts the paragraph by saying, "I had not forgotten father's words. they are not cowardly carrion eaters...," later elaborating and completing the thesis by saying, "It is when the moon rises that the hyena's day starts, and it proves to be a devastating hunter." After establishing the thesis, Martel gives a grotesque description of the awesomely cruel and revolting nature of a hyena. He uses all the classic methods of an argument, by establishing ethos, pathos, and logos. The ethos, or credibility of the character is already established, as 16-year-old Pi has lived for years witnessing these animals. He also establishes this in the first line of the paragraph of the essay (which, interestingly enough, is following another separate paragraph in which he describes the revolting physical appearance of the animal alone), saying, "I had not forgotten father's words." The reader, who knows by now the wisdom of the character's father, immediately recognizes the significance of the words, and ethos is successfully established with one simple phrase.

Following this appeal, the author uses pathos to receive an emotional response from the reader, lightly flavoured with a bit of logos to enhance the reality of the deadly hyena's threat. Very early on, he describes their cunning in a way that relates to the reader. He says, "And they are clever; anything that can be distracted from its mother is good. The ten-minute-old gnu is a favourite dish, but hyenas also eat young lions and young rhinoceros." What better way to appeal to one's emotions than to bring innocent babies into the mix? Right before saying that, he says, "They go for zebras, gnus and water buffaloes, and not only the old or the infirm in a herd--full grown members too." This emphasizes the point established in the thesis, which refutes the idea that they are cowardly carrion eaters. Next, he purposely disgusts us by describing their gluttonous ways. Here he is using pathos. "In fifteen minutes flat, all that will be left of the zebra is the skull." Later he sickens us further with the concept of cannibalism among a pack. "Accidental cannibalism is a common occurrence during the excitement of a feeding," he writes, continuing with, "in reaching for a bite of zebra, a hyena will take in the ear or nostril of another clan member... it admits no disgust at this mistake...[as] its delights are too many to admit disgust at anything". Yet another attempt to disturb us--what kind of sick creature, we ask, would eat one of their own kind? Martel's relentless essay continues into more detail later in the story, describing how the animals drink from the water they urinate in, eat the rest of the bodies of those they accidentally eat parts of after a day, and even attack motor vehicles. He concludes by returning to the context within the story, ending the essay with, "That was the animal I had racing around in circles before me. An animal to pain the eye and chill the heart." By using a powerful narrative essay format within a story and using logos, ethos, and pathos, Yann Martel successfully demonizes the hyena in a way that churns the stomach of even the most passionate animal lover. It is descriptions like this that are really making me love this book.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Life of Pi Journal Entry #1

So far, the Life of Pi by Yann Martel has been a fantastic read, possibly one of the best in my life. The author's artful comparisons between humans, animals, and religion have fascinated me throughout the story. Based on the true events of Piscine Molitor Patel, the story claims that "it is a story that will make you believe in God" in the preface, and although that may not be the case, it has certainly made me rethink life in general. Take, for example, the first couple of pages, where the narrator is describing how he is taking a double-major in zoology and religious studies. He speaks about the three-toed sloth which he studied in Brazil, which, when motivated, "crawls to the next tree at the rate of 250 metres an hour,... which is 440 times slower that a motivated cheetah." He continues to describe the animal's seemingly pathetic senses of smell, taste, sight, and sound, changing his direction with the question of how it can possibly survive in the wild. The answer, the Pi continues, is it's slothfulness and slow way of living. It's hairs shelter an algae that allows them to blend in completely with their surroundings, out of the reach of predators. "The three-toed sloth lives a peaceful, vegetarian life in complete harmony with its environment," the author explains, later comparing the sloths to yogis deep in meditation, or wise beings who were beyond the reaches of his "scientific probing". The paradoxical way that Pi describes this animal, so boring and lifeless, as being wisened and resonant with spirituality is just another way that the author makes this book an amazing read. This sloth connection resonates again in the book on page 89 when Pi's muslim mentor, a modest and plain-looking baker named Mr. Kumar comes to visit Pi's family zoo as a child. The baker, who Pi reveres very much, agrees to meet at the main gate, but the main character cannot find him amidst the sea of people, because he moves so slowly and plainly. It is only when Mr. Kumar addresses Pi that he finds him. Like the sloth, Mr. Kumar blends in harmony with his surroundings, a deeply religious Muslim who has no need to attract attention in his pious life. Other moments in the book also repeat themselves in this powerful way throughout the story, leaving the reader able to read and re-read the book over and over and still discover more within its pages. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is turning out to be an amazing read.