Lessons from Life of Pi

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A practical application of the lessons in Life of Pi by Yann Martel

At least twice in Life of Pi, Pi Patel faces difficult circumstances and is able to emerge unscathed by dint of a type of storytelling.

In the first instance, Piscine Molitor Patel is being teased at school because his first name sounds like the word “pissing”. He takes matters into his own hands and, at his new school, introduces himself assertively and memorably at the beginning of each new class as “Pi”. He effectively restructures the reality of his situation by telling the ‘story’ of his name a different way, and “in this Greek letter … [he] found refuge,” he says.

This proves to be good practise for a later challenge. A few years later, due to extraordinary circumstances, Pi is shipwrecked and stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He tells two versions of a story: one in which his mother is beheaded in front of his eyes by a third person stranded on the lifeboat, and one in which he is left with a Bengal tiger as a travelling companion. The two stories are related, and each, in its own way, is deeply challenging. The author, Yann Martel, leaves it open as to whether or not one of these versions is the ‘factual’ version. For the purposes of this essay, let us assume that the human version represents events as they actually took place, and the tiger version is a version that Pi makes up to deal with the terrible reality in the human version. Assuming then that Pi finds himself in the unbearable situation of watching his mother die, killing her murderer and then eating the flesh of one or both of these victims, the reader might sympathise with the fact that Pi then (during the remainder of his 227 days aboard the lifeboat) fabricates a story which helps him to deal with the situation. He is not escaping the reality, but finding a “better story”, a version which sheds the “light of words” on his fear, as he proposes in chapter 56, so that he can confront his...
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