Life of Pi Summary
Though it raises complex philosophical and religious questions, Life of Pi's plot is almost ridiculously easy to summarize: dude gets stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific ocean with a tiger, thinks about God. Done!
Okay, maybe that's a little too simplistic.
So we'll take you through the main events in a tad more detail—but remember much of the novel happens through digression and in Pi's meditations sprinkled throughout the novel.
The book doesn't begin with Pi, but with an "Author's Note." We learn how the "author" (who shares some of Yann Martel's biography) found Pi's story. We should note one point of complexity: the author admits any mistakes in the narrative are due to him and not Pi, since he's presumably put together Pi's story from interviews, notes, and Pi's diary. What we read, then, in Part 1 and Part 2 is Pi's voice as the author has written it.
And then, without further ado, we launch into Pi's story.
Part 1 details Pi's childhood in Pondicherry, India. His father owns a zoo and Pi spends a lot of his time thinking about animals: after all, they're always around. But zoology is only one of Pi's passions: he also loves religion. He's a Hindu from birth; then at fourteen he adds Catholicism to his repertoire; at fifteen he adds Islam. He's inquisitive, joyful, and an all-around wonder of a human being.
Things, however, aren't so joyful in India. The Prime Minister, one Mrs. Indira Gandhi, institutes martial law (this is in the mid-1970's – see "Setting" for more). Pi's parents decide to leave India. They sell most of the animals and pack up their belongings. They board, along with some of the animals they're selling to North American zoos, a Japanese cargo ship. They're headed for Canada.
All of Part 2 takes place at sea, but without many of the characters we met in Part 1. Tragedy strikes and the ship sinks halfway to the Midway Atoll. No one survives except Pi and a menagerie of animals: a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. All these creatures, including Pi, are packed into a twenty-six-foot-long lifeboat. Before long, as you'd expect, there's some bloodshed. The hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan. And then the tiger, whose name is Richard Parker (a.k.a. RP), kills the hyena.
Richard Parker and Pi, however, work out an uneasy living arrangement—Pi slowly trains RP until he's more or less master of the lifeboat. (Way to use those zookeeper skillz, Pi.) Pi is often despondent, though Pi and RP manage to survive. Pi catches fish and he has a few tools (like solar stills) from the lifeboat's locker. It's true that Pi's survival skills develop, but it's also true that he's just lost his entire family. Pi is alone except for a man-eating tiger. He endures through cleverness, prayer, and willpower.
At the end of Part 2, however, some strange things happen. Pi meets another castaway on this gigantic ocean who tries to eat him. Instead, RP eats the castaway. And then Pi lands on an island made entirely of algae. Pi and RP are malnourished at this point and it's not far-fetched to think Pi has gone mad. The chapter ends with Pi and RP landing in Mexico. RP bounds off into the jungle without so much as a goodbye.
Part 3 isn't long at all. Two civil servants for the Japanese Maritime Department in the Ministry of Transport interview Pi to try and shed some light on the sinking of the cargo ship. While they don't get any answers about the ship's sudden shipwreck, they do get Pi's story. When they question the more implausible portions of Pi's story, Pi delivers an impassioned defense of "the better story." To prove his point, he tells a version of his story without any of the animals mentioned above. It's an utterly ghastly story since human beings, instead of animals, literally tear each other to shreds.
Pi asks the investigators which story they prefer. They prefer the story with animals. There's some wrapping up, but the book basically ends there. The reader is left having to decide whether Pi has concocted a totally elaborate story with animals instead of human beings to explain the horrific events on the lifeboat.
- The "Author's Note" recounts how our author encountered Pi's story. It's short, but provides essential details and frames the way you read the rest of the novel.
- The author begins by explaining "[t]his book was born as I was hungry" (Author's Note.1.1). Not literally hungry, but eager to write something of importance to someone, himself included. His two earlier novels have failed.
- He informs us he started a novel set in Portugal in the year 1939 and flew to India to write it. He tells us that fiction is odd, in that way: a novel about Portugal might have very little to do with Portugal.
- His first trip to India is unsuccessful. He is not ready for the "functioning madness" of India (Author's Note.1.4).
- He returns to India, determined to write his novel.
- Things seem to be going well. Dialogue, characters, descriptions all promise a beautiful novel. However, his novel dies. It's "emotionally dead," missing "that spark that brings to life a real story" (Author's Note.1.7). Understandably, the author feels a little down.
- But, lo and behold! The author meets a man named Francis Adirubasamy in a coffee house on Nehru Street in Pondicherry (still in India, friends). Francis tells our author, "I have a story that will make you believe in God."
- The author takes down notes on the story. From the author's reactions, we know it's a humdinger, but we don't know the particulars of the story yet.
- Francis Adirubasamy tells the author he must contact the central character of this story, one Mr. Pi Patel. Ooh, things are heating up.
- The author decides Pi's story must be told in the first person: "in his [Pi's] voice and through his eyes." Now we're ready to launch into Pi's story.
Part 1, Chapter 1
- We meet Pi Patel in this chapter. From now to Part 3, you hear Pi's voice (except for a few interruptions by the author). While he tells us a lot about his interests, and his studies in Toronto, we don't get too much of his story, or much about his childhood – yet.
- Pi tells us he studied religion and zoology at the University of Toronto. Intriguing.
- There's a long discussion of the three-toed sloth, which Pi thinks of as a being worthy of both scientific and spiritual inquiry.
- We start to hear a little about Pi's suffering and how he lives with a kind of memento mori (a reminder of death). "What suffering?" you may ask. "Will he tell us later?" Yes. Pi also mentions God and types of thinkers he dislikes: for example, the agnostic.
- Then he mentions Richard Parker. Pi says, "Richard Parker has stayed with me." From the flap of the book, you probably know Richard Parker is the tiger. And not just any tiger, but Pi's companion in a lifeboat for 227 days. Pi has "nightmares tinged with love." We're not sure if that's healthy.
- More hints about the story. When Pi was recovering in Mexico, other patients hobbled into to Pi's room to hear his story. Pi talks about regaining his strength in the hospital.
- At an Indian restaurant in Canada, the waiter teases Pi when he uses his hands to eat (as is the custom in India) and says, "Fresh off the boat, are you?" Of course, this means more than the waiter intended.
Part 1, Chapter 2
- Very short chapter in the voice of the author. He describes Pi: about forty, reserved and cautious, yet still excitable.
Part 1, Chapter 3
- Back in Pi's voice. In a roundabout way, and with digressions, and with enough interesting details to occupy even the most jaded listener, Pi tells us how he was named.
- He says, "I was named after a swimming pool." Fair enough.
- Mr. Francis Adirubasamy returns. He's Pi's uncle and, we might add, a champion swimmer. Pi calls Francis A. "Mamaji," which is an affectionate term for uncle in Tamil (the language Indians speak in Tamil Nadu, Pi's state in eastern India).
- We meet Ravi, Pi's brother. Ravi makes fun of Mamaji. Oh, Ravi.
- Mamaji once tried to teach Pi's parents how to swim but they never waded past their knees. But Pi proves a faithful student to Mamaji and learns to swim in the pool and ocean.
- Pi tells us that, besides actual swimming, people also talked about swimming in his family. Especially Mamaji and Pi's father.
- Mamaji tells story after story about historic pools. Some are magnificent. The best pool in Paris, according to Mamaji, is the Piscine Molitor.
- Thus we have Pi's full name: Piscine Molitor Patel, after a swimming pool in France.
Part 1, Chapter 4
- These early chapters often outline important elements of Pi's education: Chapter 4 is the zoo and freedom chapter.
- Pi tells us Pondicherry entered the Union of India in 1954. Not long after that – with civic achievement following civic achievement – Pondicherry gets a zoo. And Pi's family moves from Madras, India to Pondicherry after Pi's father buys the zoo.
- Pi loves growing up in the zoo. Who wouldn't? Well, maybe members of PETA.
- Then Pi launches into a discussion of religion, freedom, and zoos: the gist being animals are really free in zoos and religion actually frees the believer. See "Themes: Religion" for more on Pi's rant. We're not sure anyone has ever talked about zoos, freedom and faith all in the same breath.
Part 1, Chapter 5
- We've arrived at The Chapter On Pi's Nickname. That's right: the story about his name isn't over.
- So, Pi tells us he had a few problems as a child because his classmates took advantage of similarities between Piscine and pissing. Kids will be kids. Only the teachers make fun of poor Pi too.
- Pi decides to take matters into his own hands. On the first day of secondary school (equivalent to high school in the United States) Pi, instead of simply saying his name during roll call, writes his full name and new nickname – "Pi" – on the board. For illustrative purposes, he also writes: "π = 3.14." The nickname sticks.
Part 1, Chapter 6
- The author interjects. Why? Probably to remind us he's still there. And he says Pi's cupboards are packed with food.
Part 1, Chapter 7
- We're back to Pi's voice. Pi begins to tell us, in this chapter about his biology teacher Mr. Kumar.
- Pi tells us a few important facts about Mr. Kumar: he's a Communist, an atheist, loves visiting the zoo, and sort of looks like a large triangle balancing on a smaller one.
- Mr. Kumar visits the zoo and, although Pi is too shy to talk to him, Mr. Kumar starts a conversation.
- Mr. Kumar laments the state of Indian politics. Pi mysteriously answers, "Religion will save us." This starts Mr. Kumar off on a disquisition. The topic: religion and science. Basically, he says that religion never saved anyone and that we can only trust science if we want to make the world a better place. (For more check out Themes: Religion and Science.) Mr. Kumar also says we can trust communism. Pi disagrees (silently) with all of this, but loves this guy. Pi lets us know that atheists like Mr. Kumar are not the problem. Rather, agnostics annoy him more than anything else. Are these the people the book hopes to convince? Tell it like it is, Mr. Martel.
Part 1, Chapter 8
- Pi relates to us a lesson his father once taught him. The lesson his father wants to communicate is pretty simply: Animals, especially tigers, are not your friends. Humans are more dangerous than animals because for one, they're cruel, neurotic creatures, but also because human beings project "cuddly" or "cute" traits onto really vicious beasts. Like tigers.
- Pi launches into the story of his father's lesson. One Sunday morning, Pi's father calls Pi and Ravi over to him. He wants to teach them a lesson that could one day save their lives. This is probably baffling for an eight-year-old child.
- Pi's father takes him and Ravi to see Mahisha, their 550-pound Bengal tiger.
- Pi's father has the boys identify the animal. Yes, it's a tiger. Yes, tigers are dangerous. Then he has Babu, the big cats keeper, toss a goat into the tiger's cage to prove the point.
- You can guess what happens. A little bleating, a little blood. Game over.
- Pi's father goes through a list of other dangerous animals in the zoo.
- The chapter ends with the boys holding guinea pigs, because these are an example of safe animals. Ah, family life at the zoo.
Part 1, Chapter 9
- Pi talks (yes, some more) about getting animals used to presence of humans, manipulating the fight or flight instinct, and creating stress-free environments for animals so they're happy, don't kill you, etc.
- Pi's father is very good at all of this.
Part 1, Chapter 10
- Pi talks about how animals, though, will inexplicably try to escape sometimes. He says "animals don't escape to somewhere but from something." Keep this in mind for all the characters in the book, especially Pi.
Part 1, Chapter 11
- Pi gives us an example of just such an escape: a female black leopard from the Zurich Zoo in 1933.
- Animals, even exotic animals, are hiding everywhere in our cities, Pi says. There might even be some in the middle of the Mexican jungle.
Part 1, Chapter 12
- The author interjects. Pi gets agitated sometimes in the telling of his story. And the author, for some reason, told Pi he likes spicy food when, really, it makes his "digestive tract twist and groan in agony like a boa constrictor that has swallowed a lawn mower" (1.12.2). Sounds painful.
Part 1, Chapter 13
- Pi tells us the essentials of lion taming: when a lion mauls his trainer, it's not because the lion is bloodthirsty, but because the trainer violated its space.
- Pi says that basically the trainer has to show the animal who's boss. Which doesn't mean punching a lion in the face. It's about social rank and manipulation. "It's a question of brain over brawn," Pi says (1.13.4).
Part 1, Chapter 14
- Pi tells us another lion trainer fact: the animals lowest on the social totem-pole are usually the most amenable to training.
Part 1, Chapter 15
- The author interjects. He describes Pi's house, which has more holy statuettes than the Vatican. Well, not really. But he has tons of statues, paintings, and photographs.
- The author describes a Ganesha, a Virgin Mary, a photograph of the Kaaba, a Shiva...the list goes on. Oh, and there's also a crucifix. (See Themes: Suffering.)
Part 1, Chapter 16
- Pi tells us his Auntie Rohini took him to a temple when he was an infant. And that's why he loves all religions.
- He loves Hinduism for its rituals and fragrances and vibrancy.
- He also really believes in the principle of Brahman saguna and atman, where the divine manifest in the world connects with the divine in human beings. (See Themes: Religion for more.)
- Pi gives a wave of the finger to fundamentalists and literalists. He tells a nice story about Lord Krishna and a nice story about a woman in Toronto to illustrate his point. Suffice it to say, Pi likes it when people love God and each other.
Part 1, Chapter 17
- In this chapter, Pi becomes a Christian. Keep track, now. Pi is already Hindu. Now he adds Christianity at fourteen.
- Pi and his family take a vacation in the hill station (a city at a higher elevation) of Munnar.
- Pi wanders up to a Catholic church. He enters the church and meets one Father Martin. They have tea and biscuits.
- Over the course of a few sessions, Father Martin tells Pi about Jesus Christ: Christ died for humankind's sins and not only that, it wasn't a pretty death.
- Pi voices a few concerns: Why would a god suffer? Why would a god taint himself with death? Why doesn't Jesus do much other than tell stories and perform some rather small miracles? Why is Christ so human?
- Father Martin answers pretty much all of these questions with one word: Love.
- Pi becomes a Christian.
Part 1, Chapter 18
- In this chapter, Pi discovers Islam.
- Pi wanders into the Muslim quarter in Pondicherry. He's now fifteen years old.
- He enters a shop with candies, Thums Up, and some sort of unleavened bread. A man startles him by asking if he'd like to try some of the bread. He would. It's doughy but filling.
- The baker shows him how to make the bread. And he also prays in front of Pi since, while Pi is in the shop, the muezzin sounds the call of prayer. To Pi, it's a physical, striking way of praying.
- Pi is impressed.
Part 1, Chapter 19
- Pi joins the baker in the mosque. There's also a lovely little exchange about Islam and the Beloved.
Part 1, Chapter 20
- Pi tells us the name of the baker: Satish Kumar. And yes, this is the second Mr. Kumar of the novel.
- The two new buddies pray together at the bakery. One time after leaving, Pi has an ecstatic experience: all of a sudden the world is pulsing with energy and peace.
- Pi also relates another religious experience, this one years later in Canada. It's winter. He sees the Virgin Mary in the woods. (On its own, this is exceptional but keep Pi's vision in mind for Part 2, Chapter 42.)
Part 1, Chapter 21
- The author interjects. He's sitting in a café after meeting with Pi. He has some realizations about Pi's religious devotion, his faith in "the better story," and some stuff about God's silence.
- This may sound like gibberish now but it won't be later. So keep it in mind.
Part 1, Chapter 22
- Pi imagines an atheist's death versus that of an agnostic. For Pi, doubt cripples the agnostic even in death.
Part 1, Chapter 23
- Well, it had to happen. Pi's imam, priest, and pandit notice he's going to mosque, church, and temple.
- All this comes to a head when Pi and his family are out enjoying each other's company and these three religious leaders happen upon them. They're shocked that Pi knows each of them.
- There are some insults. Some disagreement. But everyone comes basically to the same conclusion: Pi has to choose one religion. Of course, Pi doesn't think so: "Bapu Gandhi said, 'All religions are true" (1.23.54).
- Pi's father defuses the situation and the family has a good laugh. Oh, Pi. They eat ice cream sandwiches.
Part 1, Chapter 24
- Ravi makes fun of Pi for practicing so many religions. That's about it.
Part 1, Chapter 25
- Pi laments the small-mindedness of some zealots. He more or less says: God doesn't need anyone to defend Him, right? Shouldn't we help the poor?
- He goes on: the real battle against evil is within us. (A teacher somewhere is writing the words dramatic irony on the board.)
- Pi realizes he's got to lay low if he's going to practice so many faiths. He doesn't stop: he's just more discreet.
Part 1, Chapter 26
- Pi goes to his father's office to ask for a prayer rug and permission to be baptized.
- Pi's father is having none of it. His mother tries to redirect him to literature.
- Pi tries to quote Gandhi again but his mother cuts him off. The boy loves Gandhi.
Part 1, Chapter 27
- Pi overhears all this. His mother and father are having a little tiff over who gave Pi permission to buy a prayer rug, etc.
- Pi's father underscores his belief in progress and the New India. (See "Setting" for more.)
- Pi's mother defends him. As they enumerate Pi's religious devotions, they loosen up. They even have a good laugh about the boy in the end.
Part 1, Chapter 28
- Pi has obviously gotten a prayer rug because he tells us about it forever. He also gets baptized. He's the winner.
Part 1, Chapter 29
- The family decides to move. Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, basically takes over Pi's home state of Tamil Nadu. (See Literary Devices: Setting for more.)
- At dinner, Pi's parents announce their destination to Pi and Ravi: Canada. It's like your family telling you that you're moving to Siberia.
Part 1, Chapter 30
- The author interjects. He meets Pi's wife, Meena.
- In this chapter, and in the other chapters where the author takes over, we learn more and more about Pi's home life. Not to the point that we know where he keeps his gardening shears, but we learn a little.
Part 1, Chapter 31
- Mr. Kumar the Muslim meets Mr. Kumar the biologist at the zoo. Oh snap.
- It turns out fine. Quite well, actually. Both charm Pi with their curiosity and wonder. (You can imagine Pi turning to someone and saying: "And that's why atheists and religious folk are better than agnostics." We wish he'd give agnostics a break.)
Part 1, Chapter 32
- Pi tells about some animal's curious living arrangements: it's called zoomorphism.
- Well, since you asked, it's when one animal takes another to be its own kind. Like humans keeping dogs. Or, earlier, Pi talked about rhinos and goats living together. Pi gives us some more examples.
- Keep this chapter in mind for the oddest of all odd living arrangements: Richard Parker and Pi.
Part 1, Chapter 33
- The author interjects. He tells us about a visit to Pi's house. Pi shows the author memorabilia, but only has four photos of childhood: a photo of Mamaji, of Richard Parker, of the Aurobindo Ashram swimming pool, and a photo of Pi's secondary school.
- Pi can barely remember what his mother looked like.
Part 1, Chapter 34
- Pi informs us they have sold most of the zoo animals to other zoos.
- A colossal amount of paperwork exchanges hands.
- Some Americans show up in Pondicherry to inspect the animals. We mention this because the Americans have "bone-crushing handshakes." Martel doesn't know, as a Canadian, that the firm handshake is a national pastime.
Part 1, Chapter 35
- The family leaves from Madras (now called Chennai) on June 21st, 1977.
- Pi's mother considers buying Indian cigarettes even though she doesn't smoke. She's already homesick.
Part 1, Chapter 36
- The author interjects. We meet more of Pi's family in Canada: his son Nikhil, his dog Tata, his daughter Usha, and his cat Moccasin. It's a warm domestic scene.
- The author assures us that this story has a happy ending.
Part 2, Chapter 37
- Chapter 37 opens with the sentence, "The ship sank" (2.37.1).
- Pi doesn't tell us how or why yet – but he's in a lifeboat, in the wind and the rain, encouraging Richard Parker the tiger, who is in the water, to swim up to him.
- Pi throws Richard Parker a lifebuoy and just then realizes he probably shouldn't invite strange tigers into his lifeboat.
- Alas, Richard Parker jumps into the lifeboat, and Pi jumps overboard.
Part 2, Chapter 38
- Pi moves back in time a little bit – he explains the events leading up to Chapter 37's dramatic opening.
- Pi tells us the ship sails with no problems for days. (Though Ravi saw men working on the engines and said something was wrong with them.)
- Pi hears an explosion during the night. He shakes Ravi to get him up, but Ravi turns looks at Pi sleepily and turns over.
- Pi also decides not to wake his parents.
- Once on the deck, the wind and rain don't seem that bad. But one side of the ship is listing badly, the ship is groaning, and no one's out on the deck. All of a sudden, an Indian wild ox – from the hold below – bolts past. Something is terribly wrong.
- Pi finally sees some sailors up on the bridge. They make a quick decision, give Pi a lifejacket, and throw him overboard.
Part 2, Chapter 39
- Pi lands on the tarpaulin covering of a lifeboat. He's unhurt but has lost the lifejacket (still has the whistle, though).
- A zebra runs across the deck and jumps overboard into the lifeboat as well, missing the tarpaulin, and breaking a bench, but otherwise succeeds in lowering the lifeboat into the water.
Part 2, Chapter 40
- We're back to the end of Chapter 37: Richard Parker has pulled himself up into the lifeboat and Pi is in the water.
- Pi watches shark fins slice through the water. This, he thinks, is not good.
- He wedges his oar in between the tarpaulin and the bow of the boat and pulls himself up. He's now on an oar above shark-infested waters. And Richard Parker is still in the boat.
Part 2, Chapter 41
- Pi is making out okay: Richard Parker hasn't attacked him, the sharks haven't lunged at him yet, and the lifeboat hasn't sunk.
- But Pi decides he can't hold onto the oar forever. He inches his way closer to the bow, puts his feet on the gunnel (the rim), and onto the tarpaulin.
- Pi surveys the scene: the zebra is lying in the back of the boat with a broken leg. Why hasn't Richard Parker eaten it?
- Pi has his answer: There's a hyena by the zebra. Pi concludes Richard Parker must have fallen overboard since a hyena and a tiger can't be friends in this small a space.
Part 2, Chapter 42
- Another animals shows floats up to the lifeboat: Orange Juice the orangutan, who's on a raft of bananas, and who looks like (to Pi) the Virgin Mary bathed in a halo of light.
- Pi fails to grab any of the bananas.
Part 2, Chapter 43
- Pi imagines indicator boards blinking and urgent phone calls: "The Tsimtsum has sunk!" We know later he has no such luck.
- It's mid-morning after the night ship sank. Orange Juice is basically in a state of shock. She's not moving.
- The hyena, though, jumps over the zebra and ventures underneath the tarpaulin. It doesn't stay there long: it scampers back out and begins to run in circles around the zebra, all the while yapping.
- Pi tells us a few facts he learned from his father about the hyena: vicious, deadly hunters (not cowards and carrion-eaters) who eat almost anything: their own kind, urine tainted water, excrement, etc.
- The hyena vomits. It stays behind the zebra.
Part 2, Chapter 44
- The hyena and zebra snap at some flies that ended up on the lifeboat.
- Evening approaches. Pi gets real scared. There's barking and squealing.
- The night passes.
Part 2, Chapter 45
- Daybreak. Pi notices the zebra's broken leg is missing. The hyena has bitten it off.
- Pi also notices that Orange Juice is seasick. He feels a little green, too. A rush of sympathy for Orange Juice.
- Pi can't understand why the hyena hasn't attacked Orange Juice.
- A hawksbill turtle bumps against the boat.
Part 2, Chapter 46
- Pi tells us this night counts as one of his worst.
- The hyena finally tears into the zebra: blood, flesh, the whole gory mess. But the hyena only eats parts of the zebra and the zebra is still alive.
- Orange Juice and the hyena have a mini-showdown: Orange Juice roars and the hyena backs off.
- The animals can't understand the knocking against the boat. It's the sharks, who have been attracted by the zebra's blood.
- Pi confronts the fact that his parents and Ravi have most likely died.
Part 2, Chapter 47
- Daybreak. The zebra dies by noon.
- The hyena and Orange Juice go at it again: Orange Juice thumps the hyena on the head and wins Round 1.
- Pi knows, however, that a female fruit-eating orangutan doesn't stand a chance against a carnivorous male hyena.
- Round 2: The hyena gets a hold of Orange Juice's throat and kills Orange Juice. This is upsetting.
- Pi decides it's him or the hyena. He advances to the edge of the tarpaulin. Oh snap. Richard Parker is down there, under the tarpaulin. No wonder the hyena has stayed toward the stern of the boat.
- Night falls.
Part 2, Chapter 48
- In this chapter, Pi tells us how Richard Parker was named.
- A panther had been killing people in Bangladesh. A professional hunter set up a trap.
- Instead of the panther, a tiger shows up. He tranquilizes the tiger. In a clerical error, the hunter's name, Richard Parker, gets attached to the tiger.
- Thus we have Richard Parker the tiger.
Part 2, Chapter 49
- Morning breaks. Pi lies on the tarpaulin, weak with hunger and thirst. This is day four.
- Pi can't believe he failed to notice Richard Parker. But RP does explain the animals' strange behavior.
- Pi decides he has no chance against RP and might as well find some food and water on the lifeboat. Don't these things come equipped with supplies? Pi decides to take stock.
Part 2, Chapter 50
- Pi takes a good look at the lifeboat and gives us the facts: twenty-six feet long, eight feet wide, and three-and-a-half feet deep.
- There are benches at regular intervals; the tarpaulin is unrolled past the middle bench.
- In looking back, Pi realizes the details often saved him.
Part 2, Chapter 51
- Pi keeps looking around the lifeboat. Shouldn't there be a locker with emergency rations?
- He finds it underneath the tarpaulin, in the bow of the boat. He has to unroll the tarpaulin and peek into RP's den, but he's so thirsty he doesn't care.
- There's a locker. It's got water. Pi parties like it's 1999.
- There's food, too.
Part 2, Chapter 52
- Pi's lists the tools and supplies on the boat.
- Pi falls asleep.
Part 2, Chapter 53
- Pi sleeps most of the morning and wakes up to this fact: "RP will kill me if I stay on the lifeboat." He decides to build a raft.
- While building the raft, RP stirs. RP stares down Pi and the hyena. RP kills the hyena with ease. It's actually scary how easily RP kills the hyena.
- Pi thinks he's next.
- Out of nowhere, a rat runs across the tarpaulin and Pi thinks RP is going to jump up after the rat and maul poor Pi too.
- Pi thinks quickly: he grabs the rat and tosses it to RP who inhales the little beast.
- RP focuses on eating the hyena.
- Pi focuses on finishing his raft. He ties it with some handy rope to the lifeboat.
- It starts raining so Pi gets a rain-catcher from the locker and almost incites RP to attack.
- The chapter ends with Pi out on his raft. Night falls.
Part 2, Chapter 54
- Pi spends the night on the raft. It sucks. But he does get to drink some tasty rainwater.
- During the night, Pi thinks about RP. What should he do? Kill him? How? With poison?
- Pi decides he will simply outlast RP.
Part 2, Chapter 55
- Morning breaks. Eventually, the rain stops.
- Pi reconsiders his plan. He figures RP will get hungry and come eat him if he tries to outlast the tiger. Pi decides his old plan was terrible and that he needs a new one.
Part 2, Chapter 56
- Pi thinks about the nature of fear. More or less, fear is the real enemy. (See Themes: Fear for more.)
Part 2, Chapter 57
- In a really, really good turn of events for Pi, RP makes a sound from his nostrils, sort of like a snort. Pi, with his encyclopedic knowledge of animals, knows the sound: prusten.
- For tigers, prusten is an expression of "friendliness and harmless intentions" (2.57.5).
- Eureka moment for Pi: he can (and must) tame RP.
Part 2, Chapter 58
- Pi takes a look at the British Royal Navy survival manual. Some helpful, some hilarious.
- Pi begins to devise a training program for RP.
- Pi thinks about improving his raft.
- And, most importantly, Pi realizes he can't dream about ships rescuing him. He's got to bring about his own survival.
- Pi looks out at the ocean, which, if you haven't seen it lately, seems infinite. Pi bursts into tears.
Part 2, Chapter 59
- Pi gets down to business. Pi pulls his raft up to the lifeboat.
- Pi inspects RP's den: it smells like urine and there's rainwater sloshing around. Pi decides he'll drink some of that rainwater and then piss on his territory above the tarpaulin. Just to make things clear.
- Pi improves his raft. He has a little snack.
- Pi also notices all the fish swimming alongside the lifeboat. He feels a little bit of calm, a little hope.
Part 2, Chapter 60
- Pi wakes up during the night and sees the canopy of stars: the world around him is limitless and he feels small and insignificant in the middle of all this.
Part 2, Chapter 61
- Pi wakes up feeling good. He decides to fish with some of the lifeboat supplies.
- He doesn't have much luck at first: the fish keep making off with his "bait" which, actually, is only bits of a shoe.
- Suddenly, a school of flying fish pass over the boat. It's manna from heaven! Pi gets hit in the face, fish are flopping around, and RP is a master yogi at one with himself as he bats these things into his mouth.
- Pi kills one of the flying fish and feels guilty. (He's been a vegetarian his whole life.) He decides to use the flying fish as bait. It works!
- With his snazzy new bait, Pi catches a dorado, which is much larger than a flying fish. He kills it. We think this is one of the most beautiful passages in the book.
- Pi throws the dorado to RP and blows the whistle to remind him who provides him with such tasty meals.
- Pi falls asleep.
Part 2, Chapter 62
- Pi doesn't sleep well and in the morning notices RP is restless.
- Pi realizes that soon RP will get really thirsty.
- He checks the sky for rain, checks the locker for drinking water, but knows these two can't provide enough for him and RP.
- He decides he'll haul in the solar stills (flotation devices which convert salt water to freshwater) he put out two days ago. They're full of salt-free water.
- He fills a bucket for RP. He feeds RP. It's been a week since the Tsimtsum sank.
Part 2, Chapter 63
- Pi begins by recalling the stories of other castaways.
- Pi gives us an average day in his life. He's very industrious. And he prays a lot. This part of Pi, introduced in Part 1, hasn't gone away.
- Pi says he did not count the days or weeks and this helped him survive.
Part 2, Chapter 64
- Pi describes the boils he gets from the salt water. It's a little gross, but we get a glimpse of how much Pi suffers.
Part 2, Chapter 65
- Pi tries to figure out the principles of navigation from the British Royal Navy instruction manual. It's hopeless.
- Pi makes the connection to spirituality: he lacks direction there, too.
- Pi decides to drift.
Part 2, Chapter 66
- Pi becomes an expert fisherman. He uses a net to lure the fish close to the raft and then impales them with a gaff.
- Pi kills and scales so many fish for him and RP that he starts to glitter. He thinks of the tilak, the Hindu mark of the divine.
- Pi is now catching hawksbill turtles, too.
- Pi reminisces about his days before the sea when he was a vegetarian. He realizes he's descended to savagery.
Part 2, Chapter 67
- Pi notices the underside of the raft: it's full of algae and barnacles, etc. More food.
Part 2, Chapter 68
- Pi talks about his sleep pattern. He rarely sleeps more than an hour at one time.
- RP, however, is "a champion napper" (2.68.2). Pi describes RP more. We get the feeling Pi likes RP.
Part 2, Chapter 69
- Pi sets off flares in the hopes of attracting attention. Nothing happens.
Part 2, Chapter 70
- Pi describes the process of butchering turtles. It's hard work, and ritualistic, especially when he drinks their blood.
- Pi starts thinking about RP. He decides it's time to mark his territory.
Part 2, Chapter 71
- This chapter is a list of Pi's tips for training tigers at sea. (Thanks, Pi; we'll all have to do this sooner or later.)
- Of course Pi uses the whistle, but he also uses a sea anchor to rock the boat. RP isn't so keen on heavy waves and gets seasick easily.
- Did you think those long discussions in Part 1 about lion taming were unrelated digressions? Wrong.
Part 2, Chapter 72
- Pi makes a shield from a hawksbill shell. He begins Stage 2 of the RP Training Program: stamping on the edge of the tarpaulin until RP smacks the turtle shell out of his hands.
- Pi learns to read RP's signals.
- Pi can now back down from RP and, if RP gets too close, Pi rocks the boat and blows on his whistle.
- This is effective. The training program is working.
Part 2, Chapter 73
- Pi wishes he had a good book. A sacred book, preferably.
Part 2, Chapter 74
- Pi practices religious rituals as best he can given the circumstances.
- Pi admits he has to fight despair: both of his situation and of God.
Part 2, Chapter 75
- Pi sings "Happy Birthday" to his mother.
Part 2, Chapter 76
- Pi begins to clean out the feces in RP's lair.
- RP tried to hide his bowel movements, and Pi understands this as "a sign of deference."
- Pi picks up RP's feces and smells them and blows his whistle – all of which show RP that Pi is in charge of the lifeboat.
Part 2, Chapter 77
- Pi begins to fantasize about food as his rations diminish.
- Pi discovers other edible parts of fish and turtles: eyes and fluid from the vertebrae, and every ounce of hawksbill turtles.
- Pi admits once he even tried to eat RP's poop. (Yech!)
Part 2, Chapter 78
- In this chapter, Pi launches into an analysis of the castaway's loneliness.
- This leads to a discussion of boredom and terror: the two opposites Pi often feels simultaneously.
Part 2, Chapter 79
- Pi describes the sharks that swim around the lifeboat, especially at dawn and dusk.
- Pi recounts how he once caught a small mako: impulsively he reaches into the water to pull it out, and as it leaps into the air, Pi throws the shark towards RP's den.
- A shark vs. tiger fight ensues. RP wins.
Part 2, Chapter 80
- Pi catches a big, fat tasty dorado in the midst of a flying fish storm. It crashes onto the gunnel.
- RP hears the crash, wants the fish, and an epic stare-down follows: Pi vs. RP.
- Pi stares down RP and discovers his mental toughness neutralizes RP's brute strength.
- Pi's mastery of RP grows: he now often lies down on the tarpaulin with his head above RP's lair.
Part 2, Chapter 81
- Pi pauses to explain his mastery of RP: 1) RP's weak sea legs; 2) Pi's role as provider of food and water.
- In fact, RP would not be able to survive without Pi. RP recognizes Pi's importance to him.
Part 2, Chapter 82
- Pi discusses his methods for catching and storing rainwater.
- Pi admits, though, that he and RP barely get by.
- Pi realizes he has begun eating like an animal. Or, more specifically, like RP.
Part 2, Chapter 83
- A storm gathers. It turns into a nasty one and tosses the lifeboat with its enormous swells.
- Pi has to fasten the tarpaulin over RP's den and over the bow of the boat in his territory. Pi joins RP under the tarpaulin, though up front in the bow. Granted, he's still closed in a very small space with a tiger.
- The waves send the lifeboat up a huge incline and Pi's thrown back to RP's territory.
- Miraculously, RP survives and Pi survives without getting mauled.
- Although Pi loses his raft, he manages to hold onto, during the storm, the last of the orange whistles.
Part 2, Chapter 84
- Pi wakes up to a loud blast. He looks over the edge of the boat and sees a large eye. It's a whale.
- Pi then discusses whales and the hunting of whales, dolphins, albatrosses, shearwaters, and the masked booby.
- None of these birds, he says, ever announced land, though this chapter functions more or less as a fiesta of literary references: Moby-Dick, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and the story of Noah.
Part 2, Chapter 85
- Lighting strikes near the boat. Right next to it, really. Pi calls it as an "outbreak of divinity." It really sounds like one with the way Yann Martel describes it.
Part 2, Chapter 86
- An oil tanker passes by – so close, in fact, it almost runs over Pi and RP.
- Pi tries blowing his whistle, sending up a flare, but the oil tanker doesn't notice them.
- To keep RP's spirits up (and presumably his own) Pi tells RP that he loves him and promises they'll make it to land.
Part 2, Chapter 87
- Pi describes his "dream rag." (See Themes: Mortality for more.)
Part 2, Chapter 88
- The lifeboat comes upon a deposit of sea trash.
- Pi puts a message in a bottle.
Part 2, Chapter 89
- Malnourishment starts to set in. The sun and salt eat away at everything, Pi and RP included.
- Pi's diary entries get more and more desperate and hopeless.
Part 2, Chapter 90
- RP goes blind. Both he and Pi are very weak now.
- Pi goes blind soon after RP does.
- Pi resolves to die.
- Suddenly, Pi hears a voice. At first he thinks it's RP. This assumption continues for a number of pages. Then he realizes the voice has a French accent. It's not RP, it's actually another blind castaway on the Pacific.
- Their conversation is utterly bizarre. Pi has probably gone mad.
- The French castaway tries to eat Pi. The castaway puts his foot into RP's territory and RP, as we know, doesn't take any prisoners.
Part 2, Chapter 91
- Pi climbs aboard the castaway's boat. There's some food, some water.
- Slowly, Pi's vision returns.
- Pi sees that RP has picked clean the body of the castaway. He never even sees the castaway's face.
- Driven to extremes by hunger, Pi accidentally eats some of the castaway's flesh.
Part 2, Chapter 92
- Things are getting weird.
- Pi discovers a botanical oddity: an island made entirely of algae.
- The vegetation is edible. And nourishing. Pi weeps in the shade of a tree.
- Both Pi and RP continue to sleep on the lifeboat (of course, in their respective territories). Each grows healthier and healthier.
- One evening, RP is bounding toward the lifeboat. And, straight for Pi. Pi blows on his whistle three times and RP stops in his tracks, agitated. RP doesn't attack Pi. Instead he jumps into the water and then climbs aboard the lifeboat.
- Pi explores the island. Oddly enough, it's populated by meerkats. And there are freshwater ponds everywhere.
- Pi discovers that saltwater fish get sucked into the freshwater ponds. The meerkats feast on the dead fish.
- RP needlessly mauls lots of meerkats.
- Pi cleans the lifeboat. In the following days, both Pi and RP are noticeably healthier.
- Pi describes the island's relationship to the sea as "Gandhian: it resisted by not resisting" (2.92.71). Perhaps a hint at the island's symbolic function?
- One day, Pi accidentally runs into RP. RP rears up on his hind legs. Pi stands his ground. RP ambles off and then Pi gets out his major weapon: the orange whistle. He actually chases after RP, blowing the whistle. RP bolts.
- Pi decides to reinstate RP's training program. He even gets RP jumping through hoops. Literal hoops.
- Pi decides to sleep in a tree to put more space between him and RP at night. The island's meerkat population scampers up all the trees, including the tree where Pi has made his bed. In the morning, the meerkats leave. This happens every night and every morning.
- One night, Pi sees dead fish and a shark float up to the surface of a freshwater pond. None of the meerkats leave the tree to eat these delectable morsels. In the morning, almost all the fish are gone. Pi can't figure out this mystery.
- Pi wanders deep into the forest (actually, to a tree at the "dead centre"). He notices the tree seems to have fruit. Pi climbs the tree and discovers the fruit is not fruit at all; they're leaves wrapped around human teeth.
- Pi figures out that the island is carnivorous. (At night, the algae turns highly acidic and eats the fish in the ponds; now Pi understands why RP returns to the boat every night.)
- Pi leaves the island. He takes RP with him.
Part 2, Chapter 93
- Pi says the rest of his story "is nothing but grief, ache and endurance" (2.93.1). Pi turns to God.
Part 2, Chapter 94
- Pi reaches land. (The jungles of Mexico.)
- RP walks in front of Pi and into the jungle without turning to growl or purr or say goodbye in any way. This distresses Pi and, probably, any reader with a heart.
- Thus follows Pi disquisition on farewells. It's moving. And, even though there's no hope of a return gesture, Pi delivers his own farewell to RP.
- Women in a nearby village wash Pi, and a police car takes him to a hospital. The ordeal is over.
Part 3, Chapter 95
- The author interjects. He has interviewed a Mr. Okamoto and a Mr. Chiba, both of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport.
- While on an unrelated business trip, these two hear that a survivor of the Tsimtsum is in a hospital in Tomatlán. Their department instructs these two hapless fellows to interview the survivor and see if he can provide any illuminating details on the sinking of the ship.
- They drive down to Tomatlán but get lost on the way, their car breaks down, they misread the map, etc.
- The author informs us that what follows are excerpts from a taped conversation with Piscine Molitor Patel.
Part 3, Chapter 96
- Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba introduce themselves to Pi.
Part 3, Chapter 97
- This chapter consists of two words: "The story" (3.97.1). Presumably Pi tells the investigators what we just read (Part 2 of the novel).
Part 3, Chapter 98
- Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba tell Pi it's an "interesting" story. In Japanese, Mr. Okamoto tells Mr. Chiba that Pi must think they're fools.
Part 3, Chapter 99
- This chapter is entirely dialogue. It also contains Pi's second version of events at sea, and thus significantly complicates everything you've read up until this point. Here we go.
- Mr. Okamoto tells Pi that they don't believe his story.
- He tells Pi that for starters bananas don't float. (Remember Orange Juice and the island of bananas?) Pi gets Mr. Okamoto to put a banana in the sink and test his objection. The banana floats.
- Mr. Okamoto says there are plenty of other problems with Pi's story like fish-eating algae and tree-dwelling rodents. Mr. Chiba is of no help. Mr. Okamoto also points out that no one has found a tiger yet in the nearby jungle. And that he's not so sure, anyways, about the RP part of Pi's story either.
- Pi responds with a couple stories and an assertion that every city is probably full of wild animals people don't notice. He also maintains that just because his story is "hard to believe" that doesn't make it invalid or untrue. Again, Mr. Chiba is of no help.
- Mr. Okamoto points out two unlikely elements in Pi's story: the Frenchman and the meerkats. Pi defends the existence of each of these elements but not their likelihood.
- Mr. Okamoto is losing his patience and asks for "the straight facts" (3.99.211). Pi counters that language always an invents and that basically there is no such thing as "the straight facts."
- Pi and Mr. Okamoto agree that Mr. Okamoto wants a story without the animals.
- Pi says okay and tells a version of his story without animals. It's horrific and brutal. Pi condenses the story we've already heard and substitutes his mother for Orange Juice, a cook for the hyena, a Taiwanese sailor for the zebra, and himself for RP. (See "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more.)
- Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba talk in Japanese. They figure out the substitution scheme listed above.
- Mr. Okamoto asks Pi tons of questions about the actual sinking of the Tsimtsum. Pi really doesn't have any answers and Mr. Okamoto's line of questioning seems specialized and narrow. And also ignores the pathos of Pi's ordeal.
- Pi corners Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba in the conversation. Neither version really tells them anything about the sinking of the ship. And so neither story makes much of a factual difference to their investigation. So which story do they prefer? They prefer the story with animals. Pi responds: "And so it goes with God" (3.99.433).
- The investigators and Pi say goodbye to each other.
Part 3, Chapter 100
- The author interjects. He summarizes Mr. Okamoto's official report, which offers a few theories on the sinking of the Tsimtsum but says they're all more or less unverifiable. The cause goes unexplained.
- In an aside, Mr. Okamoto commends Pi for his courage and endurance.
- Mr. Okamoto also reports that no other story in the history of shipwrecks compares to Pi's.