Life of Pi
The Catcher in the Rye
-A Comparative Essay
All literature contains a purpose behind it—an underlying message that the author is trying to convey. As a result of this, most novels typically tend to focus on several specific areas, leaving other areas less explored. Setting, main character, and conflict are arguably the three most important elements of a novel. Novels such as Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger demonstrate the importance of these three elements, yet highlight these areas to different degrees. Much of this variation is due to the different genres and styles of both books. Classic coming of age novels like The Catcher in the Rye typically focus on the maturation of the protagonist, while a more contemporary novel like Life of Pi is more abstract in its style and values. These differences allow for comparisons to be made between the two novels based on these three aspects. While Life of Pi is stronger in its portrayal of the setting, The Catcher in the Rye illustrates the main character and conflict more thoroughly and effectively.
The setting of a novel refers to the environment in which the narrative takes place. Oftentimes, the setting is a key factor in determining the meaning of the story or the intentions of the author, since the context of a situation can determine the conflict or the plot. This is especially evident in Martel’s Life of Pi. In this novel, the setting is a very significant aspect of the book, because it is the reason and the source of all the suffering that the main character, Pi Patel, endures. For the most part of the book, Pi is retelling his story of surviving 227 days on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although by the end of the book, two parallel stories are told, it is important to realize that the setting remains constant in both stories. As the stories are retold in first person, the reader is taken into the eyes of Pi Patel, in which he continuously describes his surroundings and what he is going through. The day after Pi’s ship sinks and he is thrown onto the lifeboat, he portrays the environment he is in. “The weather was changing rapidly. The sea, so immense, so breathtakingly immense, was settling into a smooth and steady motion, with the waves at heel; the wind was softening to a tuneful breeze; fluffy, radiantly white clouds were beginning to light up in a vast fathomless dome of delicate pale blue. It was the dawn of a beautiful day in the Pacific Ocean” (Martel 108). Pi uses rich, descriptive language to attract and allow the reader to experience the same things that he is. In this way, the reader can better imagine the situation that Pi is placed in. In addition to describing his serene surroundings, Pi also describes his stormy and violent surroundings with the same type of descriptive language. During one of the biggest storms, Pi says, “What I had seen up till now were mere hillocks of water. These swells were truly mountains. The valleys we found ourselves in were so deep they were gloomy. Their sides were so steep the lifeboat started sliding down them, nearly surfing. The raft was getting exceptionally rough treatment, being pulled out of the water and dragged along bouncing every which way” (Martel 250). In this situation, it is clear that Pi’s description of his surroundings is to provide the reader with imagery and insight as to the horrors of what he is really facing. Pi also extensively describes the lifeboat that he is on; especially the positioning of Richard Parker, the tiger. Pi’s descriptions of his surroundings give the reader a clear depiction of his environment, which is important because the focus of the story is on the struggle between Pi and his environment. In The Catcher in the Rye, on the other hand, the setting of the narrative is not a very significant part of the story. The weather, however, can be interpreted as a theme throughout the story. The...
Cited: Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Toronto: Random House of Canada Ltd., 2001. Print.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little, Brown and Company, 1951. Print.
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