English Literature » Notes » Life of Pi: Symbolism
Life of Pi

Life of Pi: Symbolism

Alternate question: Symbolism in Life of Pi.

In Life of Pi, there are many literary technique or devices has been used to infuse different themes and one major literary device used in Life of Pi is symbolism. Symbolism is often used to represent an object to something else, either by association or by resemblance. Most of the names of animals, objects and even humans in this novel have a symbolic meaning. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, symbolism such as Pi’s name, the color orange and the algae island, are used throughout the novel to provide Pi with protection to help him either survive or overcome his emotional pain.

The mathematical pi is undefined, infinite and unable to be understood, just like Piscine Patel. Piscine’s nickname is Pi and it has a symbolic relationship with the mathematical pi. Pi is sixteen when he is shipwrecked, and pi is also the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet. Not only is the mathematical pi symbolic towards Pi, but it also provided him protection from school. Many of Pi’s classmates made fun of his full name and called him names such as “Pissing Patel”.

When Pi transferred to a new school he took the first available opportunity to use his nick name, with “that Greek letter that looked like a shack … *Pi+ found refuge” (Martel, ). This nickname allowed him to find the protection from the bullying he would have got if he had used his actual name. The Greek letter symbolizes the roof the nickname has placed over Pi emotionally. Before the nickname was being used all his former classmates new him as only as Dhami 2 “Pissing Patel”. They did not give him an opportunity to become anything else.

But when his nickname was inserted his opportunity do things was expanded infinitely, because he had no emotional burden. This infinite potential that Piscine has developed by adapting the name of Pi is just like the mathematical symbol of pi which is infinite and never ending. The algae island was an island Pi encountered when he was on his journey going across the Pacific Ocean. The island itself provided Pi with food, water and shelter. The island can be compared to the Garden of Eden. Pi discovers the black fruit” on the twisted branches of the tree of “knowledge of Good and Evil” and his illusion of a perfect island is destroyed. There is a heaven and hell type scenario with the passing of each day and entering of each night. At day the meerkats eat without having to kill and show no fear not even towards Richard Parker. At night however, the ecosystem of the island feeds on itself. Pi then realizes, “*he+ preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on the murderous island” (Martel, ).

The algae island provided Pi with a protection from the struggle he had to survive on his journey across the Pacific. The island provided Pi with food such as the algae and the meerkats which he did not have while he was on the boat. It also provided Pi with shelter against storms; he also did not have that in the boat. Yet Pi still left the island because he realized to live in this island he would surely die without ever meeting another human being again.

Pi left this lifestyle and chose to go with Richard Parker back into the voyage across the Pacific. The last object of symbolism is the color orange. The color orange is shown to be associated with survival. However, Pi has been exposed to the color orange before through Hinduism. In Hinduism the color orange is used to symbolize fire, when the religious leaders Dhami 3 wear the color it represents the burning of both their ego and their former selves. When Pi enters the life boat to begin his journey the only color he seems to see is orange.

This orange can represent that he will have to burn all things mentally except for his survival instincts if he wishes to make it out alive of the boat. Even Pi realizes that the colour orange “is the colour of survival” (Martel, ) because all things inside the boat are orange (such as the tarpaulin, the life jackets and even the oars). The color orange provided Pi with many things that he used to protect himself on his journey in the Pacific. He used the tarpaulin to protect himself from weather of the ocean.

He also used the orange whistle to train Richard Parker and for Pi to claim his territory of the boat. In Life of Pi, the protagonist Pi is confronted with emotional and survival struggles throughout the novel. The symbolism used by Yann Martel provided Pi with many objects to use for his advantage. Even Pi’s name symbolizes how long he will be stranded on the ocean. Pi is represented as 3. 14 and he was stranded on the Pacific for 227 days, 22/7 also equals 3. 14. Everything in Life of Pi is placed their for a reason the only thing to be done is find the true meaning of it.

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