I’ve read the book and watched it’s Oscar-winning adaptation too, and it’s one of my favorites, So the story revolves around a boy hustling to survive a shipwreck and the animals that represent his emotional states at a particular place and a particular time, so the book has many layers that one can explore much about our relationship with animals and nature. It even elaborates the importance of religion and how we can use it for the betterment of our survival as a species.
The ending is so ambiguous – there are two perceptions of the story and it depends entirely on you of what you want to believe. On the surface, the book seems like it’s not for atheists – that it’s a highly religious but it explores ‘What place does the belief in God have in the modern world?’ and this question means a lot to me since I’m agnostic.
Now, let’s just recap the tale: there the animals are the embodiment of humans – the Orangutan represents Pi’s Mother, the Hyena is the Cook, the Zebra is the injured Chinese Sailor and Richard Parker, the Tiger is Pi himself not only that, the animals also personifies different emotional states that arouse during Pi’s odyssey – for instance the Hyena represents selfishness, cruelty, violence; the Zebra for fear and pain; the Orangutan for nurturing love; Richard Parker for the insidious evil in the hearts of men and the Meerkats in the island stand for an eternal-awe towards nature and serenity.
Here, Richard Parker is the inner hatred that Pi developed towards the cook when he kills his mother and that rage killed the cook. Now the thing with hatred is that it keeps you going, however, the odds, it gives one purpose to survive but it stays with one’s inner self even after redemption as one is addicted to it and is in its constant need that one feels secured with hatred. For e.g. Most of the Prisoners of War from WWII who’ve survived suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when they return back to their normal lives and have continuous seizures of the episodes of violence that they were subjected to willingly or unwillingly. Thus Pi in his boat attempts to control his rage (i.e. Richard Parker) as a ringmaster controls a lion and he succeeds to tame his anger (here ‘tame’ has a much more meaning as in the book ‘Little Prince’) and henceforth develops a friendly relationship with his own vice.
The Island in the first perception seems like a magical, heavenly place that is floating in the sea – is infact a metaphor for his own boat that Pi is used to hunting fishes and is away from land that he develops a philia towards the condition in which he is and is a stage in which he decides to remain there forever – for as we get the description of the Island, Pi comes to know that it is flourishing and nourishing in the day whilst carnivorous and haunting at night (notice how the swamps and puddles of the island turns poison at night so as to deposit dead big fishes that turns out breakfast for Meerkats) so that Pi realizes that all the comfort in it was temporary here – there are consequences for life at night although its quite tender and comforting in the day. As a result, he moves on.
In the end, Pi lets go of Richard Parker (i.e. his Hatred) on the land but though he feels deep sorrow for it – as that vice helped him to survive and it’s extremely difficult to lose one’s self – one’s characteristics within. But living with that savage instinct is harmful to oneself as well as for the habitat around, so it is for the best to let go of such vices.
Alas, as the author meets Pi we see that he doesn’t seem like a person who had seen his mother getting killed or the one that is subjected to cannibalism or with the killing – that he’d distorted his reality and now he believes that things happened differently with animals and is also making others believe the same – only because he had a faith in God and henceforth this book has to say that the belief in God can prevent one of being consumed by the evil.
Now, the first version of the story almost feels like a biblical tale of survival especially the part of the island but now we know it represents something altogether different like the testament itself and other religious texts – like a believe it or not.
The name ‘Pi’ itself represents an irrational quantity and like that the question of faith itself will keep on pondering endlessly.