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Life of Pi Literary Critique

In: English and Literature

Submitted By cole14
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There are literally millions of books that have been printed in the modern era. From a period only a few hundred years ago, where literacy was pretty much non-existent to this point in time now, where it seems every time you turn around someone wants to, or is, writing a book. In fact, even in this day and age of the internet, and multimedia, more and more people are making it a trend to write books. It is on countless bucket lists, and almost everyone knows an author. There is however, a very large difference between a writer, a true author of a literary work, and someone who ‘wrote a book.’ Anyone can write a book. A writer is a person who creates an interwoven web of imagination, creativity and skill with language. They create a work that flows together and paints a picture in your head. These days, so people writing books, true writers are hard to find, and subsequently, excellent literary works, are even harder to find. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel is an excellent literary work, written by an excellent writer. It is one of the most original works you are likely to find, with a storyline that keeps you guessing. It has many subthemes and addresses many topics in an academic and moral way that is unexpected, refreshing, and insightful. Martel uses setting, character development, and narrative point of view to lead his readers across the pacific in a compelling and attention-catching way which makes his novel a true masterpiece.

When looking at Martel’s genius in terms of setting, it is important to look at it throughout the whole book, not just certain parts. The story starts in India, Pondicherry to be exact. Martel uses excellent descriptive language to describe to his readers, the zoo in which the main character, Piscine Molitor Patel grew up. Martel states, “You must imagine a hot and humid place, bathed in sunshine and bright colours. The riot of flowers is incessant. There are trees, shrubs, and climbing plants in profusion-peepuls, gulmohurs, flames of the forest, red silk cottons, jacarandas, mangoes, jackfuits and many others..” (Martel, 13). It is easy, through Martel’s descriptions, to picture the place in your mind’s eye. This is one of the tell tales of a good writer. From India, the story progresses to the Pacific ocean and the Japanese ship the Tsimtsum. Again, Martel masterfully uses language to portray the scenery “The sun shone, rain fell, winds blew, currents flowed, the sea built up hills, and the sea dug up valleys-the Tsimtsum did not care. It moved with the slow massive confidence of a continent.” (Martel, 110). From this place of security aboard the sea, the protagonist moves again, to a small life boat in the same ocean, except now, the main character was exposed to all the elements. “Oh, you should have seen that landscape! What I had seen up till now were only hillocks of water. These swells were truly mountains. The valleys we found ourselves in were so deep and they were gloomy. Their sides were so steep the lifeboat started sliding down them, nearly surfing.” (Martel, 250). When the protagonist moves on again, this time to an island, there is yet more descriptive detail that gives us an idea of what the island would look like. “The smell of vegetation was extraordinarily strong. As for the greenness, it was so fresh and soothing that strength and comfort seemed to be physically pouring into my system through my eyes.” (Martel, 287). Again, when Pi arrives in Mexico we as the reader can understand what the perception of said place was. “This beach, so soft, firm and vast, was like the cheek of God, and somewhere two eyes were glittering with pleasure and a mouth was smiling at having me there.” (Martel, 316). Throughout the entirety of the story, Martel uses his excellent knowledge of the English language, partnered with an incredible sense of how to tell a story, to portray a world that seems accessible. It feels as though the readers have lived it as well. The reader feels the same as Pi when they find the Island, or just as thankful when they reach Mexico. Martel truly masters the scenery of this book. To go along with his excellent description of scenery, Martel adds an exceptional moral and intellectual environment to the equation. Through his references to religion and zoology, the author creates an environment where the reader not only feels like they are learning new and interesting information, but also feels like they are attending a worship service that is not defined as being of a certain religion, and one also feels like they are being encouraged and helped rather than preached to. All in all, Martel uses his gift of writing, to present a very appealing setting to the whole story, which helps it succeed as a piece of literary work.

Character development in this story is a huge part of why the story is so interesting and original. As the reader, we follow young Pi through his journey of life, from a young child in a zoo in India, to a middle-aged family man in Canada and everything in between. Again, we must follow Pi through his entire journey to truly realize how he develops and becomes a man. From the beginning, in India, we find Pi, a young man who is bullied, and has always lived in the shadow of his brother. “But following in someone’s shadow wasn’t my escape, though I would have taken any name over “Pissing”, even “Ravi’s brother.”” (Martel, 24). “Ravi was already there, and like all younger brothers, I would suffer from following in the footsteps of a popular older sibling.” (Martel, 23). He progresses as a young man into a devout worshiper of three different religions. ““There is no mistake,” said the priest. “I know this boy. He is Piscine Molitor Patel and he’s a Christian.” “I know him too, and I tell you he’s a Muslim,” asserted the imam. “Nonsense!” cried the pandit. “Piscine was born a Hindu, lives a Hindu, and will die a Hindu!” (Martel, 73). Young Pi continues to worship all three religions through the time that we follow him in the Pacific. In the Pacific, the young Pi changes again, this time out of necessity. Necessity to live will drive people to do many things that they thought they wouldn’t be possible of. Pi, a vegetarian, learns how to eat meat while in the Pacific by means of necessity to live. He begins to change soon after the sinking of the ship, when he tries to kill a flying fish that has come aboard the lifeboat. “I took hold of the hatchet. I raised it in the air. Several times I started bringing the hatchet down, but I couldn’t complete the action. Such sentimentalism may seem ridiculous considering what I had witnessed in the last days, but those were the deeds of others, of predatory animals…A lifetime of peaceful vegetarianism stood between me and the willful beheading of a fish…I put the hatchet down. I would break its neck, sight unseen, I decided…Tears flowing down my cheeks, I egged myself on until I heard a cracking sound and I no longer felt any life fighting in my hands…I was now a killer. I was now as guilty as Cain…All sentient life is sacred. I never forget to include this fish in my prayers.” (Martel, 202). From this point on, we follow Pi through his journey across the pacific, as fish killing becomes much easier for him. After much turmoil, he is finally rescued and starts to regain his normal life. He transitions to a father; a family man. “He’s married…“I would like you to meet my wife.”” (Martel, 88). Because we get the opportunity to follow a truly unique protagonist through his entire life, his trials and tribulations, we truly get to watch him develop as a man, and as a human being. Martel’s skill at seamlessly sowing time together to make it seem natural is present here as we are treated to over 40 years in only 354 pages. Martel’s character development is very evident throughout this story, and a main reason why this book is so successful.

The last thing that Martel does to create a story that a reader can really get into is he used first person narrative. Martel decided that he would tell the story from Pi’s point of view which I think is a decision that defined the story. Without allowing the reader to truly get into the mind of Pi, how would anyone understand what is going on inside Pi’s mind? It is very obvious that is the point of view used from the first sentence. “My suffering left me sad and gloomy.” (Martel, 3). I think that is so important that he used this type of narrative because without it, it would be very awkward for Martel to communicate Pi’s thoughts and feelings so accurately. It would also be difficult to write well because it really is Pi’s story. It really doesn’t have secondary characters that the reader gets to know well, it only has Pi, and a few others that are only slightly necessary to the story. Therefore, were the author to choose any other point of view, perhaps third person, it would seem to the reader as though the story was being observed from above, not right down on the lift raft with Pi. The reader would not get into the mind of Pi as well as they have been able to due to the way the author did choose to write the book, and it is a good thing Mr. Martel chose to write his book in first person.

Literary works are a tough thing to analyse because they have so many little things about them that make them great. Subtle motifs, themes or symbols that can go unnoticed, but without them, the work wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. Setting, a very important characteristic of any book, is masterfully done in this novel, and because of the fact that Martel did such a good job with his scenery and environment, it allowed the reader to paint a vivid picture in their mind’s eye. They could live every moment right there next to Pi. Of course, there would be no point in living every moment next to Pi, if Pi wasn’t a very interesting individual, and the reader didn’t feel connected to him. This is not the case however, because Martel created Piscine Molitor Patel, an intelligent, entertaining and well-valued young man, who the audience eagerly followed through his trials and tribulations. The narrative point of view chosen by the author, allowed the reader to delve into this world of Pi and his surroundings and feel connected to the character and his ordeals. This would not have been possible if Martel had used a narrative point of view other than first person. The coupling of all these important literary techniques, setting, character development and narrative point of view, resulted in Martel creating a fantasy world that readers eagerly dive into. Life of Pi is a true masterpiece.…...

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