Life of Pi - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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Pi On Top of the Pyramid

The meaning of life is a topic questioned by many. One might think of our job on earth as a journey to reach our individual full potential. Abraham Maslow was one of those people. Knowing that motivation is driven by the existence of unsatisfied needs he created a concept called the Hierarchy of Needs. This concept was expressed as one of the many themes throughout the novel, Life of Pi, Yann Martel asks the reader to reflect on life itself; we are forced to become aware of what we are truly capable of as human beings. We must understand ourselves and the various types of motivation that induce specific behaviors. We must understand our desires, which will lead us on the course to self actualization. Pi Patel the protagonist touches upon each stage of Hierarchy of Needs using psychoanalytical thought process, ultimately leading to a successful survival.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist whom first introduced his concept of the Hierarchy of Needs in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943 followed by his book “Motivation and personality”. It is understood that all humans have certain needs, Maslow’s concept suggest that when these needs are not being met it will motivate us and put us into action towards fulfilling those needs. His concept is most notably represented in a stage pyramid. Each of these levels displays different needs in which to be satisfied in order to be self-actualized, the highest most sought after level of satisfaction. Maslow noted that roughly only one in one hundred people accomplish self actualization due to the many obstacles in life. The lower levels needs represent those that are more basic and easily able to satisfy, given the circumstances, while the higher more complex level needs are more challenging to satisfy. In order to satisfy these top needs one must accomplish the satisfaction of the lower level needs in order to move up the pyramid.

In order to become self-actualized many obstacles had to be overcome. When Pi was stranded at sea, and food and safety were incredibly scarce, he was undoubtedly living in the lowest level of the hierarchy of needs; Pi sunk to extraordinary depths simply to survive. He even went as far to dismiss his religious principles as part of his decision making process. Pi was no longer a calm, innocent, vegetarian Hindu boy; he was a wild animal, who feasted on turtles and fish, beating their bodies to death with hatchets and drinking their warm blood. Pi progressively became more violent throughout the novel, as his id took over. "Tears flowing down my cheeks, I egged myself on until I heard a cracking sound and I no longer felt any life fighting in my hands … I was now a killer … I was sixteen years old, a harmless boy, bookish and religious, and now I had blood in my hands." (p 150) This example challenges the most basic level of needs, being physiological. This level consists of the dependence on the fundamentals of life such as water, food, sleep, homeostasis and excretion. Being deprived Pi demonstrated what it was like to be at the bottom level of the hierarchy of needs as beauty and understanding mattered no longer to him. It was strictly the will to survive by obtaining food and water “Lord, to think I'm a strict vegetarian … I descended to a level of savagery I never imagined possible.” (p 161) It is evident why one needs to satisfy lower levels needs in order to progress and survive. Without the completion of this fundamental need it is impossible to think of anything else let alone satisfy other lusts that he may have.

The next level of needs consists of the safety needs, thus the need for shelter, to feel not in physical danger, safe surroundings, stability and freedom of fear. In the novel, Pi was presented with a situation that did not provide any sense of security or safety; Pi was a helpless castaway surrounded by harsh environment and a less than favorable living...
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