The book “Life of Pi” is supposedly meant to be a story about a boy, who was stranded at sea after a shipwreck, and how he dealt with starvation, crushed hopes, and a Bengal tiger. However, if the story is taken at face value in this way, the entire point of the book would be lost in the illusionary story that Pi is trying to pass off as the truth. Simply believing in everything that Pi says detracts from what Richard Parker is truly meant to be in the book, and what he actually signifies to Pi.
I argue that the tiger is not an actual being, and is actually meant to symbolizes Pi’s most primitive animal instincts. Firstly, it must be addressed that Richard Parker is clearly meant to be seen as the embodiment of instinctual savagery. He is made to have the connotation of being a vicious, ruthless predator and is meant to be regarded as such. Seeing Richard Parker in this light helps to understand his significance as being a part of Pi Patel, and just what that means. Acknowledging the two as one in the same allows us to gain a perspective on Pi that he would never allow us to see himself.
To do this, it first must be plainly demonstrated that Richard Parker is indeed meant to be looked at in this way. Luckily, this isn’t hard, because Martel himself wants us to have this impression of the tiger. This can be seen throughout the book, but in no other place is it as poignantly exemplified as it is on page 34, where Pi talks of seeing a tiger in the zoo, saying “As soon as we stepped in, he loped up to the bars of his cage and set off a full-throated snarl… The sound was so fierce it seemed to shake the whole cat house.
My knees started quaking…‘Tigers are very dangerous,’ Father shouted. ‘I want you to understand that you are never — under any circumstances — to touch a tiger, pet a tiger, to put your hands through the bars of a cage, even get close to a cage. Is that clear? ’” This shows that from the very beginning of the book, you are meant to view all mentioned tigers, such as Richard Parker, as wild and fearsome. Not 40 pages in and the author is already trying to make clear his intentions of making Pi’s future companion seem terrifying and stomach-churning.
This is again shown on page 38, where Pi’s father says “‘Every animal is ferocious and dangerous. It may not kill you, but it will certainly injure you. It will scratch you and bite you, and you can look forward to a swollen, pus-filled infection, a high fever and a ten-day stay in the hospital. ’” This shows that the author is trying to convey the idea that all tigers, including Richard Parker, are meant to be seen as savage, and this helps to later make the fact that Richard Parker is Pi’s savage side more clear.
Through this few page setup, we are already made to see anything that seems remotely tiger-like as bad and hurtful, which is exactly the point. This description is deliberate, so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Richard Parker is a symbol of uncivilization and ruthlessness. Throughout the book, as said previously, it is clearly shown that Richard Parker is meant to be seen as vicious and wild. Besides inherent connotation, this inherency is also demonstrated through the tiger’s actions.
This is also evident in the language chosen when addressing those said actions, for they are meant to convey a sense of fear and barbarity. This can be proven in places such as page 156, where Pi says “Many animals intensely dislike being disturbed while they are eating. Richard Parker snarled. His claws tensed. The tip of his tail twitched electrically. ” Martel, as well as Pi, are clearly trying to make it clear to the reader the danger and savagery of such an animal by drumming up the emotions of fear and apprehension.
Using words such as “snarled” and “claws” elicits a sense of vulnerability and danger, which are feelings that are commonly associated with savagery. Another way this is proven is through the tiger’s actual attacks. They can be seen as deranged and impulsive, especially when referred to in ways such as on page 220, where “Richard Parker turned and started clawing the shark’s head with his free front paw and biting it with his jaws, while his rear legs began tearing at its stomach and back…
Richard Parker’s snarl was simply terrifying. ” This is an incredibly graphic description, showing just how bloodthirsty and ferocious Richard Parker is. These actions are obvious demonstrations of a wild, carnivorous animal, and are meant to be seen as such. At the point of this quote in the book, both Pi and Richard Parker are on the verge of starvation, and are at the point where they would do anything to get food.
If looked at through a more human lense, the tiger’s ferocious attacks can be seen as desperate, since he so wants and needs food that he will do everything in his power to make sure that it is dead and his for the taking. This desperation is very apparent in Pi himself, since he too commits what, in his mind, are savage acts, such as on page 231, where Pi describes one of his own attacks, saying “I broke its neck by leveraging its head backwards, one hand pushing up the beak, the other holding the neck.
The feathers were so well attached that when I started pulling them out, skin came off-I was not plucking the bird; I was tearing it apart. It was light enough as it was, a volume with no weight. I took the knife and skinned it instead… I ate the bird’s heart, liver and lungs. I swallowed its eyes and tongue with a gulp of water. I crashed its head and picked out its small brain. I ate the webbings of its feet. ” In this excerpt, it is clear that there are many similarities between Pi’s vicious actions and Richard Parker’s.
Both humans and animals can become much more barbarous in times of great need, and that is exactly what is being shown. The semblance can be seen very clearly between the two characters, Richard Parker obviously being violent and Pi himself admitting on page 197 “I descended to a level of savagery I never imagined possible”. This sameness between the two is purposeful, since these vicious actions of Pi and the tiger Richard Parker are meant to be take as one in the same. In conclusion, seeing Richard Parker as an extension of Pi helps us to further understand Pi.
The story he is telling is one only he can control, and Pi himself isn’t willing to truly tell us, the listeners, the lengths to which he went while stuck in a lifeboat. He is unable to come to terms with the brutal killing of his mother or his actions in his exacting of revenge, nor is he able to acknowledge his beliefs that he broke. By acknowledging that Richard Parker’s savageness is in fact Pi’s very own, we are able to get a window into Pi’s mind and situation that we never would have otherwise, because Richard Parker is a projection of all the things Pi does that he himself deems savage.
This is shown most evidently in both Richard Parker’s introduction and departure. The first time he is seen in the book is right after the time where Orange Juice, or his mother, was killed. This is because it is during that time that Pi himself really starts turning into an animal. Both he and Richard Parker kill the perpetrator, but in the animal story, Pi distances himself from the killing by saying it wasn’t him, it was Richard Parker. This shows Pi projecting his barbaric actions onto the tiger.
By making this separation, Pi is addressing the issue of what is and isn’t savage within himself. It is necessary to see Richard Parker in this way because it truly allows us to start comprehending how horrific a situation Pi was in. The tiger is a manifestation of Pi’s wants and needs, as well as his guilt. He is symbolic of the traits that Pi has acquired through his journey, either good or bad, that have allowed him to continue to survive. Seeing Pi in this way makes his suffering more real, since we can truly see what he descended into.
This is because through this acknowledgement of richard parker being a part of Pi, we are then able to recognize that every savage thing that he did was actually Pi’s doing, and shows how unwilling Pi was to admit that he did it himself, and just how scarring of an ordeal this all was to him. Pi loves his savgery because it is what’s keeping him alive, but fears it because of what it has made him become, and how awful the actions look when seeing another person do them.
He tames it by trying to keep it under control as much as possible, and only needing to be savage when he needs to. This is shown through his only being savage when he is searching for food, and his continued act of praying. Throughout the book, we see Pi as a sort of “golden boy”; he is repsectful to his parents, a devout religious follower, and incredibly smart. Seeing him in this new light allows us to acknowledge the fact that he is just like the rest of us, and that the exact same thing could have happened to anyone had they been stranded in a boat alone.