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The Life of Pi, What does the ending mean. A Yann Martel novel.

Updated on August 10, 2014

About the Ending

What Did You Think?

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"The Power of Surrender"

Tiger Acrylic July 2013
Tiger Acrylic July 2013 | Source

Reading between the lines.

How a tiger saves the Life of Pi.
How a tiger saves the Life of Pi. | Source

Which is the "Better Story"?

I believe that Richard Parker represents the presence of God in the lifeboat with Pi, a higher power who is not in the version without the animals. Perhaps this is because there is no human able or worthy enough to take the place or fill the space of the all mighty Richard Parker. (Not even the elegant and innocent Taiwanese sailor can compare to the awe of this tiger).

If the alternate version of Pi's story at sea (without the animals) was the real story,
it would not flow at all with the fundamental theme and messages of faith throughout the skeleton of this novel.

In the animal version, there are countless events (meat and potatoes if you will) of deep spiritual meaning in the form of prayer, hope, strength, endurance, surrender and blind faith that were not once mentioned in the people version on the lifeboat.

In this article, I will give clear examples to back up my claim that Richard Parker was
the manifestation and representation of Pi's faith in a higher power, or God.

Animals vs. Humans

Orange Juice the Orangutan (aka mother).
Orange Juice the Orangutan (aka mother). | Source
The Yipping Hyena (aka the cook).
The Yipping Hyena (aka the cook). | Source
The elegant Zebra (aka the Taiwanese Sailor).
The elegant Zebra (aka the Taiwanese Sailor). | Source
The Tiger Richard Parker (aka the omnipresent presence).
The Tiger Richard Parker (aka the omnipresent presence). | Source

The Significant 5th Presence.

My very first indication that Richard Parker was a representation of God in the animal version of the novel were the discrepancies that I found in the number of animals vs people initially on the lifeboats after the Tsimsum sank.

5 Survivors in the Animal Lifeboat.

  1. Pi
  2. Orange Juice the orangutan
  3. the no name hyena
  4. the zebra
  5. the tiger

4 Survivors in the Human Lifeboat.

  1. Pi
  2. his mother
  3. the cook
  4. the Taiwanese sailor
  5. nothing. (hmmm...)

A Human Death-Boat

There was no form of God on the lifeboat in the human version because there was no presence of God at all in that story. The single mention of any type of faith at the end of the human lifeboat story, after everyone else had died and he was alone with himself, "Solitude began. I turned to God. I survived" (Martel 311; Ch. 99). That was all the faith the human version had, and there was no further detail in that version of the story as to how exactly turning to God had saved Pi.

The cook represented evil and was in fact referred to as a "monster" (Martel 307; Ch. 99) on more than one occasion without any counterbalance of purpose or justification for the cook's darkness. This version was stacked with one horrific event after the next with hardly any reprieve in between. "It was the cooks idea. He was a brute. He dominated us. He whispered that the blackness would spread and that he would survive only if his [the sailor's] leg were amputated" (Martel 304; Ch. 99).

Higher Power equals Richard Parker

Richard Parker. Tiger. Zoo Life.
Richard Parker. Tiger. Zoo Life. | Source

Richard Parker equals Higher Power

Aplethora23. Novel Analysis. Reading between the lines.Tiger. Life of Pi. Richard Parker. Higher Power. Faith. Survival.
Aplethora23. Novel Analysis. Reading between the lines.Tiger. Life of Pi. Richard Parker. Higher Power. Faith. Survival. | Source

Killings and Cannibals

The fifth individual who survived in the animal version contained the presence of a higher power in the form of a tiger.I did not read any mention at all of faith or God or hope in the lifeboat version of the story which lacked the fifth presence (survivor).

There was mention of the greedy, murderous cook (present in both stories) a murderous cannibal in the human version and a carnivorous spotted hyena in the animal version.

There was Pi's mother who's presence was accounted for in both versions, in the form of an orangutan in the animal version. She was beheaded at the hands of the cook in one story and likewise beheaded by the hyena in the animal version. Before she died a beheading death by the cook, mother looked at Pi and hopelessly said, "We're all alone, Piscene, all alone" (Martel 307; Ch. 99).

There was the butchering death of the elegant looking Taiwanese sailor who took place of the elegant looking zebra in the animal story and suffered a great deal of pain in both versions at the hands of the same character.

Pi was himself in both stories and was a witness to all acts of violence, cannibalism, butchery, beheadings and hopelessness in both versions of the lifeboat. Pi gave into human temptation by revengeful justification to kill the cook for murdering his mother, proceeding to eat his carcass, all of which resulted in the elimination of faith, leaving his religious boundaries abandoned. "He was such an evil man. Worse still, he met evil in me - selfish-ness, anger, ruthlessness. I must live with that" (Martel 311; Ch. 99).

Although Pi had relapsed from his vegetarian lifestyle in both stories, I found that in the animal version he did this in order to survive. Whereas in the human version, Pi killed the cook out of revenge and anger, eating his body after already having had a meal of turtle meat (survival from starvation and dehydration) prior to his acts of killing and cannibalism.

A plethora of sin was had on the human lifeboat without the presence of the fifth.

The Tiger "is" the Lifeboat.

Richard Parker. Life of Pi. novel analysis. compare contrast. the better story. Tiger on a lifeboat.
Richard Parker. Life of Pi. novel analysis. compare contrast. the better story. Tiger on a lifeboat. | Source

How a champion is made.

The spiritual act of surrender is ironically how Pi was able to survive such close proximity with a tiger on board with him. This chapter gives a clear explanation of winning by surrender with an example of a tennis challenge. The champion is overly confident at the beginning of the game. The over confidence helps the champion rack up his points. By the time the game hits the final set, the challenger relaxes in the presence of defeat as he realizes that he has nothing left to lose. The expectation and anxiety of winning is stripped away, leaving the challenger with his own genuine, raw talents and ability to play. This spiritual act of surrender is what enables the challenger to become a champion.

And so it goes with Pi versus the tiger. Pi knew he was no match for a 450 pound tiger. Pi surrendered but he did not give up.


Richard Parker Saves Pi's life.

Another profound indication that leads me to believe that Richard Parker was in fact God, lies in the part of the story when Pi first realizes there is a tiger on board with him and has no choice but to surrender his will in order to survive.

Richard Parker's mere presence upon the lifeboat with Pi was the rock bottom that Pi had to hit in order to find acceptance and relax enough to allow the voice of intuition guide him in his survival. "You might think I lost hope at that point. I did. And as a result, I perked up and felt much better" (Martel 134; Ch. 49).

It was only after Pi's spiritual act of 'letting go' was he able to locate fresh drinking water on board to quench his hellish thirst, to which he exclaimed, "Truly, by comparison, a tiger was nothing" (Martel 135; Ch. 49). Pi was faced with the horrors of the hyena killing the two less harmful animals that were on board right in front of him, and he stated that he may have been able to handle the hyena in comparison to the tiger, but neither the tiger's presence or the presence of the murderous hyena could come close in comparison to the "unbearable pressure at the back of the throat" (Martel 135; Ch. 49) of being as thirsty as he was. Water sustains life and without it, every living being dies of dehydration. It is a sure death. Comparatively speaking, Pi has obviously found more hope in survival with the mighty tiger than he does in surviving with lack of fresh water.

Although the gruesome death and greedy destruction caused by the hyena for the first few days was intense and terrifying for Pi, he tells us that it was incomparable to the mighty defeat that he felt when he realized that Richard Parker was there, and had been the whole time. "To cope with a hyena seemed remotely possible, but I was so obviously outmatched by Richard Parker that it wasn't even worth worrying about. With a tiger on board, my life was over" ( Martel 135; Ch. 49).

Layers of Meaning

In conclusion, the only way to survive the lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean with a 400 pound Bengal tiger was through profound acts of God. The tiger 'was' the profound act of God, whether the tiger was real or a figment of Pi's imagination, the tiger saved Pi's life. I believe that Pi knew this, which would explain why when referring to the animal version being the better story, he says, "And so it goes with God" (Martel 317; Ch. 99).

From the beginning of this story, Martel emphasized Pi's importance and desire to discover himself through various religious beliefs. Pi's faith was tested repeatedly and in return, each test was gradually giving Pi exactly what he was seeking. Each time that Pi was tested, his obstacles became greater, from the sinking cargo ship, to the crushing blow of an unceremonious goodbye from RP.

The initial fear that Pi experienced from the hyena was merely a preparation for the ultimate test of faith, presented in the form of a 450 pound beast. In order to reach his ultimate goal of obtaining the depth of spirituality that he so desired, Pi had to abandon all of his human intellect. Pi had to surrender to a higher level of consciousness so that he could co exist with Richard Parker long enough to obtain his own enlightenment.

Not only did Richard Parker save Pi's life, he essentially fulfilled Pi's greatest spiritual desire. Perhaps this is why Richard Parker did not feel the need to say goodbye in the flesh, because he would forever be at the center of his spirit.

Tiger Zoo Life.
Tiger Zoo Life. | Source

Have you seen Life of Pi in 3-D?

How many stars do you give this novel?

4.5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Life of Pi novel by Yann Martel

Life of Pi novel.


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