The Character’s Development And Controversial Sacrifice In The Life Of Pi

In nature, the law of equivalent exchange states that in order to get something with equal value, one must first give something up. This logic states that sacrifice is an absolute necessity of life. It is also a gray-area with no clear boundaries for good and bad. Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi illustrates that theme in Piscine Patel’s struggle against the odds of living alone. Pi is left alone and terrified after a hurricane washes out all hope. Pi, alone and scared, struggles to accept that the life he once lived is gone. Neither religion nor family can help him. Pi’s sacrifices are a cost he has to pay in order to stay alive. Pi learns to sacrifice his former faith and lifestyle in order to survive.

Richard Parker has such an importance in Pi’s life that Pi deliberately sacrifices both his comfort and safety for the sake of keeping the tiger alive and, therefore, himself. Richard Parker provides Pi with companionship, something no other animal can do during his long journey. Pi is stranded at the bottom of an ocean, without any hope of rescue. It is during this time of deep loneliness when he realizes that his fear of going insane due to solitude overwhelms his fear Richard Parker. He chooses Richard Parker’s life over his own safety. It’s ironic that in this story, the person who first scared me was also the person who brought me peace and purpose. I might even dare to say that he gave me wholeness. Richard Parker uses work to fill Pi’s empty hours and prevent him from wasting his time. Pi can then focus on keeping them both alive instead of wasting away hopelessly. Pi is constantly afraid that Richard Parker will turn against him and kill him. However, he still considers this better than being alone. Pi’s sacrifices to keep Richard Parker in life, including psychological horrors and depleting supply levels, pay off because he is reassured that he will not be alone on the sea. Pi eventually admits that he would be dead today if it weren’t for Richard Parker. Richard Parker terrorizes Pi, making him paranoid and on edge all the time. But Pi comes to realize that Richard Parker is his nemesis. Richard Parker, Pi’s nemesis, is also his defender. Pi sees no way out of the situation they are both in, but the fact that they are stuck together gives him comfort. He believes the tiger is so important that he’s willing to cohabit with someone to prevent the loneliness which he says will kill him. Pi’s admission of Richard Parker being a good thing for him despite how uncomfortable he is makes his trauma even more intense, and highlights the importance of the sacrifice. While his survival is “good”, the trauma that he experiences as a result of it makes this sacrifice more negligent.

Pi’s life will be forever changed by the trauma he has suffered in surviving. In this way, saving Richard Parker’s life is both “good”, and “bad,” illustrating sacrifice in its ambiguous nature. Pi also states, while reflecting on the events which transpired in the novel, that “Richard Parker’s stayed within me.” I’ve never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? Do I miss him? I do. He is still there in my dream. It’s usually nightmares, but they have a love-tinge to them. The human heart is strange. Pi’s dependence upon Richard Parker for the duration of his stay on the boat has shaped his view of him, and he is now fond of him despite his antagonistic role. Richard Parker was a nightmare on the boat, but Pi remembers that Richard Parker kept him busy, focused, and alive. Pi has clearly been psychologically scarred, to the point that he is dependent on Richard Parker. This is not true. The scenarios of living with Richard Parker, despite mental strain, and living alone are both classified as “bad”, because they cause different kinds of pain. It does not matter if one option seems to be better than another. Pi, who admits he was alone without Richard Parker and with no work to keep his mind occupied, still suffers from trauma even when Richard Parker is around. Pi’s sacrifice pays off and is essential to his life, but the decision cannot be simply categorized into black and white. It blurs all lines of “good” and ‘bad”, establishing a grey area in which his sacrifice can be viewed as neither good or bad but both.

Pi is a Hindu who has been raised as a vegetarian. He still adheres to the Hindu values that disapprove of harming and eating other living animals, even after he accepts Christianity and Islam into himself. Pi was born and raised as Hindu. He still adheres to Hindu values, which are vegetarian, and disapproves of eating and harming other living creatures, even though he has accepted Christianity and Islam. He cannot kill or eat meat because of his beliefs. Pi’s survival is threatened by the depletion of supplies and his growing sense of despair. After he accepts that he is in danger, Pi abandons Hinduism and kills an albatross. At first he weeps with anguish, but when he sees how vital it is to survive, a meat-eating lifestyle becomes a habit. The act of eating meat keeps him from dying, even if he has to lose his Hindu values and become numb to violence. Pi’s actions are deplorable to him, but he continues to repeat them. Pi’s actions keep him alive. Since he is able to survive, the sacrifice of his religion becomes both “good” as well as “bad.” Pi, who has learned to compartmentalize religion and survival as it becomes second nature, tells the story of how he killed so many people that his body was covered in fish scales. I wore them. . . He says, “Like the tilaks that Hindus put on their foreheads to symbolize the divine” (196). After he starts eating meat, he mentions his religion very little, but still relates his sins ironically to the tilaks worn by Hindus.

Pi still feels guilty about his willingness to ignore his religious beliefs for survival, but it isn’t enough to stop him. He is aware of this, but he doesn’t confront it. Pi tells his audience in the beginning of the story that his faith is important enough to create tensions among his family. In the end, even Pi’s religious belief cannot withstand starvation. Pi’s desperation is evident from the moment he consumes animal fat-based biscuits. Pi is increasingly less religious as the book progresses. Pi’s devoutness is sacrificed to ensure his survival. Pi may consider his actions to be “bad,” but his survival is still a good thing. In the first case, Pi dies for his Hindu values and in another, he survives by betraying those values. Both death and becoming a heretic are “bad,” so neither choice is entirely good. In the end, Pi’s choice is a matter of different religions and views on life.

Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi offers a unique perspective on sacrifice and its dual meaning. Pi’s journey teaches him that what he valued before is worthless when it comes to his life, and essential for survival if betrayed. To satisfy his loneliness, he sacrifices Richard Parker’s life and eats meat in defiance of his Hindu heritage. Pi chooses to live in both his mind and his body. He is kept alive by his choice in both cases. His choices are bad because he has suffered psychological damage. It is “good” to keep him alive. Pi’s choices and the consequences they bring are all viewed through this double-standard.

Works Cited

Both the original and paraphrased versions of the phrase “Works Cited” remain the same.

Martel, Yann. The narrative of Pi’s life. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt first published the work in 2001.


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.