Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Andrea's Thoughts on Life of Pi

I know Kami isn’t quite finished, but I wanted to do my “homework” before I forgot the things that I was thinking about.

First: My Favorite Quotes from the book.

1. “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”

Many people believe that animals would prefer to live in the wild with all the “freedom” that implies. Unfortunately, those people fail to realize that the “wild” is a very, very dangerous place. Animals have much shorter average life spans in the wild because they are prey and there are not any vets to fix them up if they become sick or injured. Their “freedom” in the wild is really a myth, as they are too busy surviving and worrying about where their next meal is coming from to benefit.

In the same way, many non-religious people claim that religion limits people’s freedom. Such is not the case. People CHOOSE to be religious thereby exercising all the same freedom of choice as those who choose to not be religious. At which point, any behavior that is prescribed by the religion becomes an extension of that original choice—long after it has become such a habit that no real choice is made in the doing of it. For example, my choice to go to church this morning did not limit my freedom but was an expression of a choice that I made because I had the freedom to choose.

2. Pi was explaining how lion cubs could be raised by a dog and the lions would choose to not notice that they were so much bigger and different than their adopted parent, “. . . for that would mean they were motherless, the absolute worst condition imaginable for any young, warm-blooded life.”

The thought just struck me as sad—and true. And after what happened to Pi’s mother, and what he saw, I just felt extra sad reading this.

3. During the storm Pi relied on the sailors for assistance. Trusting them absolutely. He said, “Only when they threw me overboard did I begin to have doubts.”

Sometimes we trust our leaders (in all arenas) too much when life is difficult. When we feel stress it is much easier to go along with what a person in authority is saying. Also—when we are complacent and feel like nothing the authorities do can really affect our nice lives—we also are at risk to obey too quickly and ask too few questions.

America appears to have a strange dichotomy at work where half the country is dangerously centered in the complacent model, and the other half hinders all progress by screaming about what the authorities are doing just to cause problems. It is difficult to get through the tons of useless information and sound-bites and people screaming to find real information that would help a person evaluate rationally the questions and issues facing the country.

4. “And between us was only a thin tarpaulin, easily got around.” Pi speaking about himself and Richard Parker.

Sometimes it is disconcerting to realize that our base natures are so close to the surface and so thoroughly a part of our lives. We make good choices over and over again to try and rid ourselves of the parts of us that are distressingly terrible—but it takes a lifetime to do it—and in the meantime we make the same poor choices over and over again despite our ongoing efforts to try and conquer ourselves.

5. Along those same lines: “Only if I tamed him could I possibly trick him into dying first.”

Only if we use some strenuous moral agency and force ourselves to make the good moral choice so many times that it becomes habit—will we even have a chance to get rid of our own basest urges. For example—if you haven’t tamed yourself to avoid drugs, you cannot hope to master anything else about your behavior. If you haven’t tamed your appetite, you cannot hope to lose weight. If you haven’t trained yourself to turn off the tv, your ability to reach other goals will be severely hampered.

6. “I hated him for it, yet at the same time I was grateful. I am grateful. It’s the plain truth—without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.”

This sounds a lot like survivor guilt to me. As a deeply religious, nonviolent person, Pi felt excruciatingly the decisions he made and the actions he took. However, it is also true that the survivor instinct in humans is amazing and impressive and absolutely necessary—especially in extreme circumstances.

7. “To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”

This made me think of parenting, because most things make me think of parenting. Linda Eyre (a parenting guru from our mothers’ generation) talks about aware parenting. Know what you want your kids to be like and then plan out how you are going to help them get there. I think this concept has had an incredible impact on my development as a mother.

8. “I saw my suffering for what it was, finite and insignificant.”

None of our suffering is insignificant to God—although it is finite.

9. “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love—but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness . . . .The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart.”

10. “What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell.” Similarly, “It is important in life to conclude things properly.”

This reminds me of when I was in Mexico. I botched a farewell there and it still hurts me to think about it. My BIL just told me about “quitting” his job by pulling a no-show, no-call. He justified his behavior by saying that he didn’t like the job. He should have concluded things properly.

11. Japanese inspector: “We believe what we see.”
Pi: “What do you do when you are in the dark?”

A very, very good question.

12. “Doesn’t the telling of something always become a story?”


2. Early in the novel we discover that the narrator majored in religious studies and zoology. In subsequent chapters, he explains the ways in which religions and zoos are both steeped in illusion. Discuss some of the other ways in which these two fields find unlikely compatibility.

I disagree with the writer of this question. I do not think the author discussed the “illusion” of religion. The whole book reinforced the belief in God and the benefits of religion and real faith. I also don’t think Martel discussed the “illusion” of zoos. He talked in length about the fallacies that surround the discussion of zoos, but that is all. Maybe I missed something—but the more I read through these questions the more I think I should have thought through them more carefully before selecting them.

3. Yann Martel sprinkles the novel with italicized memories of the "real" Pi Patel and wonders in his author's note whether fiction is "the selective transforming of reality, the twisting of it to bring out its essence." If this is so, what is the essence of Pi. And what is the essence of reality?

I like thinking about the essence of reality because in a large family you quickly learn that the essence of reality is nothing. There is no essence of reality. The only thing that is truly “real” is people’s perceptions of reality. I have nine siblings. Half of us think we had the happiest childhoods possible. The other half remembers things very differently. Coming to understand that a person’s perception is reality for them prevents a lot of conflicts.

4. How might the novel's flavor have been changed if Pi's sole surviving animal were the zebra or Orange Juice? (We assume that if the hyena had been the only surviving animal, Pi would not have lived to tell us his story.)

Obviously, the sailor was too wounded to make it more than a week or so. So that is a lame question. Also, if his mother made it, the entire story would be different. He wouldn’t have killed the cook, most likely, and would not have had to come to terms with that. Or, even if he had killed the cook, he would have had his mother to motivate him to survive and would not have the memory of his mother’s brutal murder to dwell on. Being ALONE made the story so poignant. His thinking about his own capacity to be brutal, and human nature, and God. All of those things would have altered significantly if he had another human on board to talk to.

8. Besides the loss of his family and possessions, what else did Pi lose when the Tsimtsum sank? What did he gain?

The obvious answer to that is that he lost his innocence. His innocence about his own nature and his innocence about the decency of other humans. Also, he found that he could rely on God more than he had ever dreamed, and that he could survive due to his strong desire to live. And that he could “rise above.” I know, I know, a little trite.

10. Why did Pi at first try so hard to save Richard Parker? (This question confuses me because, like some of the other questions--it makes me wonder if the person writing these questions really understands what happened. Make of it what you will--I still think it is an interesting question.)

Mostly, he kept Richard Parker alive because Richard Parker was the human/ahuman in him that would go to extremes to stay alive and he needed to stay alive. If he had let Richard Parker die, what would be left? A gentle vegetarian philosopher who could not have dealt with the ferocity of his surroundings.


Kami said...

I completely agree with your comment about how everybody has their own reality determined by their persepective anyway--so it's a mute point to argue what is reality. Sorry it's late, that's all I could think to say at this point. Oh, by the way--if we read Their Finest Hour (750+ pages) I think you more than owe me the Colombia book (350+ pages). Hee. Hee.

Andrea said...

Kami--you can throw pages at me when it is some other, lowly author--but with Sir Winston Churchill--we shall never, never, never give up no matter how many pages face us!

Kami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kami said...

I wasn't arguing the point of reading Their Finest Hour, I'm pretty sure I can handle it. WWII history has always been fascinating to me too (well, usually in the form of a historical fiction novel). Anyway I was just making the point that you shouldn't quibble about the length of the Colombia book I chose then. :)