Asthe English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon once said, “knowledgeitself is power” (Prakash 2015).
In Yann Martel’s award winning novel Lifeof Pi, the importance of knowledge appears to be a recurring notion, as theprotagonist Pi Patel uses his knowledge to face many conflicts. Many sectionsof the story are devoted to demonstrating the knowledge Pi possesses, andthroughout the novel, Pi uses this knowledge in conflicts of man versus nature,man versus man and man versus self. Life of Pi is a story about a sixteen yearold boy from South India who is on aboard a cargo ship with the animals of hisfather’s zoo.
Due to an undetermined event, the ship begins to malfunction andsinks. Pi is the only survivor, managing to escape onto a lifeboat. However, heis stranded at sea with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and adult Bengal Tigerwho also reside on the boat as well. Over the course of being stranded, and heis forced to deal with many conflicts, and only through his knowledge, was heable to survive.Thefirst form of conflict Pi faces is man versus nature conflict. As he isstranded with wild animals on a lifeboat, he is forced to use his wit and priorknowledge to ensure his survival. In the beginning of chapter four in YannMartel’s Life of Pi, the protagonist Pi gives a vivid description of thezoo in his hometown.
Pi states, “You must imagine a hot and humid place, bathedis sunshine and bright colors. The riot of flowers is incessant. There aretrees, shrubs and climbing plants in profusion” (Martel 13). The tone set bythis quotation is a very joyous one, as the author’s use of vocabulary clearlyestablishes Pi’s positive opinion of this setting.
There are universallypositive archetypes surrounding imagery such as “bright colors” and “bathed insunshine”. Furthermore, the zoo is described as having plants growing”profusely” suggesting a place of growth and fertility often symbolized by the colourgreen. He describes the climate as hot and humid, both of which give theimpression of tropical paradise. He also describes “a riot of flowers” whichsuggesting the plethora of beautiful flowers has a dominant presence. This”riot of flowers” forces the reader to imagine a menagerie of colors, such aswhites, blues reds and more; all of which having positive archetypes attachedto them of security, hope and innocence. This passage is riddled with literaryclues that ensure the reader understand that Pi sees this setting in a favorablelight. This suggests this place has some significance to his childhood,possibly even shaping his character. After describing the zoo where he spenthis childhood with such enthusiasm, it suggests it had a great impact on hispersonality.
Through this enthusiasm, and having spent his childhood at the zooit is likely that much of the knowledge he gains into adulthood stems from hisexperiences in the zoo. Through the knowledge he would have gained from thezoo, and the impact the natural beauty of the zoo’s flora had on him, it islikely his understanding of nature would later help him combat nature in theform of Richard Parker the tiger later in the novel.Inaddition, the importance of Pi’s knowledge to his survival is shown at thebeginning of chapter nine, as his knowledge is shown to be useful in man vsnature conflicts. Pi describes the importance of “flight distance” inregards to taming animals and understanding their behavior. Pi states, “Gettinganimals used to the presence of humans is at the heart of the art and scienceof zoo keeping. The key aim is to diminish an animal’s flight distance, whichis the maximum distance at which an animal wants to keep a perceived enemy”(Martel, 43). Throughout the novel, passages like these have presentedthemselves numerous times. Significant sections of the novel has been dedicatedto demonstrating Pi’s knowledge of zoos and animal behavior.
It is clear thatthese passages are significant, as they foreshadow future conflicts in thenovel. By emphasizing Pi’s understanding of animals, it suggests to me he mayneed to use it later in the story. Pi does indeed use the “flight distance”principal in dealing with Richard Parker the tiger as he is on the lifeboat. Furthermore, this passage is significant as it reveals Pi’s enthusiasm asa character, and it sets a positive tone. Through the author’s effective use ofdescriptive vocabulary, Pi’s love for zoology is apparent. To use “at the heartof” shows Pi’s adore for zoo keeping, as in his mind he personifies it,comparing it to a living organism with a beating heart. Pi describes it as ascience, emphasizing his passion as it suggests he views zoo keeping as adetailed practice and as a systematic study. Additionally, he describes it asan art, clearly implying his appreciation of it because he sees it as somethingthat is done with imagination and skill; something to admire.
As Yann Marteldevotes much of the novel to showing Pi as a knowledgeable and passionatecharacter in regards to zoo keeping early in the book, it gives credibility tohis ability to survive and deal with man vs nature conflicts later in the plot.Apertinent passage in regards to Pi’s knowledge being used to face man versusnature conflicts can be found as the protagonist Pi discusses the hardships ofthe life of other animals. He states, ” Animals in the wild lead lives ofcompulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in anenvironment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low andwhere territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. Whatis the meaning of freedom in this context? Animals in the wild are, inpractice, free neither in space nor in time, nor their personal relations”(Martel 16).
This passage demonstrates Pi’s knowledge of animals and shedslight on his personal views Pi’s ideology towards freedom, is that he wantsfreedom for all. Through his knowledge of zoology and his experience in zoos,he has come to believe that other animals desire a sense of freedom as well.This is significant, as this may have played a role in Pi’s survival.
Pi wentto great lengths to treat the tiger Richard Parker with whom he was stranded,with care. Pi built an entire other raft knowing the tiger would feel the needto defend his own territory. Furthermore, Pi also treated Richard fairly byfeeding him fish that he had caught and sharing rainwater he had collected. Pilikely did these things in part because of his understanding of animal behavior,and that by satisfying the animal his odds of survival would greatly increase.This arguably could have created some sort of loose bond between Pi and Richardfurther increasing Pi’s odds of survival. The fact that Pi took these measuresto satisfy the tiger, show’s Pi has an extensive understanding of the behaviorof animals. Through his knowledge, he knew what was best physically for thetiger as he fed Richard, and Pi knew enough about Richards’s psychology to givehim his proper territory on the boat.
This is significant as it supports thenotion that Pi’s knowledge was crucial in his ability to face conflicts.Without his understanding of zoology, Pi may not have survived as long as hehad in his man versus nature conflict with Richard Parker throughout the novel.Moreover,Pi’s knowledge proves to be useful when dealing with man vs nature conflicts,as Pi discusses the psychological aspects of circus trainers. He states, “Theanimal in front of you must know where it stands, whether above or below you.Social rank is central to how it leads its life.
Rank determines whom it canassociate with and how; where and when it can eat; rest; where it can drink;and so on. Until it knows its rank for certain, the animal lives a life ofunbearable anarchy. It remains jumpy, dangerous. Luckily for the circustrainer, decisions about social rank among higher animals are not always basedon brute force” (Martel 13). Throughout this passage, Pi analyses thetechniques of a circus trainer and the psychology of animal behavior in termsof social rank. This passage is significant because it reinforces a possibletheme in the novel; the importance of knowledge. As the passage demonstratesthe deep understanding Pi has of animal psychology, he has many tools at hisdisposal that could aid him in survival.
It is likely Pi used his knowledge ofzoology to some extent in his interactions with Richard Parker later in thestory. As Pi struggles to survive on the lifeboat the tiger, utilizing theknowledge from this passage would surely help him live. Pi knows animals have aneed to understand their role in the social hierarchy. Pi knows the dangers ofthis because otherwise an animal could become unpredictable and dangerous. Piis aware that he needs to establish dominance over Richard Parker, and this canbe done with Pi’s wit and cunning. Pi himself stated that one does notnecessarily need brute strength to establish an authoritative role in ahierarchy with animals. So through Pi’s understanding of animal behavior, he iscapable of using his intelligence to tame Richard Parker through psychological,opposed to physical means.Furthermore,Pi’s knowledge was also crucial in dealing with man versus man conflicts.
As Pi recalls his observations of visitors at the Pondicherry Zoo where hehad spent much of his life, Pi learns the dangers human beings are capable of.Pi states, “They say the most dangerous animal at the zoo is man. Noteverybody in general, but the ones who “feed” animals fish hooks,razors, ping-pong balls, tennis balls, broken glass, safety pins, ballpointpens, horseshoes, jewelry, straws, rubber bands, spoons, and more. Theautopsies of animals that have died from foreign species includes: gorillas,bisons, storks, rheas…(Martel 8). As Pi states that the most dangerous animalin the zoo is man, it is clear that Pi strongly feels that other people arepotentially very dangerous. Despite spending lots of time at the zoo, in closeproximity to a plethora of dangerous wildlife, Pi still considers human beingsas the most dangerous. This knowledge of the dangers of people likely helpedhim survive man versus man conflicts later in the story. It is suggested thatthe animals Pi is later stranded with on the lifeboat are actually human beingsthat Pi imagines as other animals.
It is possible that his encounters withRichard Parker the tiger, and the hyena where actually people, and Pi’s priorunderstanding of the dangers of man likely aided in his survival.Pi’sknowledge helped him survive man versus man conflicts also because of thelessons Pi recalls his father teaching him at the Pondicherry zoo. Pi states,”Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright redletters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THEZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curioushands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind itwas a mirror” (Martel 8). This passage illustrates a strong message that Pi’sfather wished to share.
As all the visitors were excited to see what the mostdangerous animal of the zoo was, they would have be shocked to see their ownreflection. This suggests Pi’s father believed man is more dangerous than anyanimal, and he believed everyone should be reminded of it. Pi retained thisnotion into his adulthood, and this knowledge of how dangerous human can be,especially compared to other dangerous animals, would have proven to be usefulwhen dealing with the other “people” with whom he was stranded on the lifeboat.Pi’sknowledge further aids him in survival of man versus self-conflicts, as it isshown he knows lots about fear and how it can affect people; “I must say a wordabout fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is aclever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects nolaw or convention, shows no mercy.
It goes for your weakest spot, which itfinds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fighthard to express it.
You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it.Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid,perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fearbecause you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you” (Martel 56). AsPi shares his views on fear, it should he clearly knows how it affects people.He is aware that it goes for one’s weakest spot, and that one has to fight hard to combat it.It is likely Pi uses this knowledge of how to deal with his fear in his man vs self-conflictas he is likely at war with his fears throughout his journey.
With theprecariousness of his survival, his ability to fight his inner conflictsthrough his knowledge of fear would have certainly aided his survival andsanity on the life boat.Inconclusion, the importance of knowledge appears to be a significant themethroughout Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Over the course of the story, theprotagonist Pi is forced to face conflicts of man versus nature, man versusman, and man versus self. Pi defied the odds, and despite his periloussituation, he beat the odds and survived. Pi survived not merely by luck orfaith, but through his knowledge of nature, of people and his understanding ofhis inner self. Much of the novel was devoted to demonstrating Pi’s knowledge.This was merely a clever use of foreshadow, as he would later need to applywhat he had learnt to increase his odds of survival.
Through this powerfulstory of a boy using his knowledge to survive in the face of overwhelming odds,it effectively shares a profound message with the reader. It suggests theimportance of knowledge, and that knowledge truly is power.