Imagine a small towel, soaking wet, heavy and limp. The white cloth glistens, a dazzling illusion of smooth texture. In the two upper corners, one pinches the towel between thumb and index finger watching small drops like small chameleons plummet to the floor while liquid strings dangle from the bottom corners.
Then one decides to alter the towel’s state by carefully rolling it up along the top hem in order to twist it once it has reached its rod-like shape. The water pours down as if from an open valve. The water has not changed, though the towel has. The life-sustaining nectar has maintained its essence but has been freed from the confines of the less desirable story. Now, from the better story, one can drink the water and feel alive.
Yann Martel has woven together a story of legendary proportions, philosophical entreaties and religious heroism. Life of Pi holds a life’s worth of contemplation packaged in a perfectly simple articulation. Ah, the wonder of fiction – to convey such essential propositions with unmatched efficiency and purity.
I will leave the reader to determine whatever overarching lesson they wish to find in this work. I only want to explore the ways in which Martel chooses to propose how we find it.
First of all, the story comes to us from the mind of a listener, not from the one who experienced the adventure. Of course, we read the story in the first-person narrative form, but the listener dictates the story. Considering the religious diatribes and experiences of Pi, I can only wonder how Martel’s decision on how to construct his narrative roots itself in the presentation of the Gospel stories, or other types of religion scripture. If Life of Pi resembles scripture, then perhaps it proposes how we might understand religious texts.
Then comes the adventure, which, not unlike Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea, pits a young boy against the unyielding and merciless power of nature. However, Pi’s suffering does not only sprout from the presence and nourishment of nature’s forces but from the absence of everything he once loved and everything which once comforted his body and mind. Pi’s experience mimics that of the archetypal heroism found in the trials of many religious figures.
Only, he has a 450-pound Bengal Tiger.
Named Richard Parker.
During Pi’s suffering he finds a kind of meaning in his life. The constant threat of Death adds vivid sensations of sorrow and thrill, hope and fear. If his life never ended, like the mathematical premise of Pi’s namesake, what sensations would be left to experience? Let the tiger maul me, so what? Let the sea swallow me, and? Let my body degenerate, I shrug my scorched flaking shoulders. If one individual life holds meaning through suffering and death, what of Love and Life – not immortal beings but immortal essence? Is Piscene Molitor Patel dictating the Life of Never-Ending Love? The Life of God?
The Japanese representatives from the maritime company that chartered the Tsimtsim wanted a factual account of Pi’s experience. Yet when Pi’s experience meant so much more than factual occurrences, how should he articulate it? How can he ring the water from the drenched towel? Pi talks of his carnivorous companion, with the human name, when it could have been a symbol for himself – a dichotomous representation of his soul. If he doesn’t tell his story with a tiger, how will others understand the essence of that split feeling, that personal experience? Whether Pi bases his story in fact is irrelevant if we want to know the All of his experience. The essential truth, the imperative communication, takes precedence over factual circumstance and scientific plausibility. By sacrificing the essential experience to sensible reality we lose ourselves, our Souls, and forget that Truth never wanted to fit into the only box we choose to trust. Tell me your imagined reality and I will hear God’s Truth. I will drink the freed water rung from the fibrous towel. I will live through the better story.