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Headscratchers / Life of Pi

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  • In the book, Pi describes the hyena as evil incarnate. Richard Parker isn't exactly seen as "majestic" or anything, but still has a more dignified presence. Any particular reason for this?
    • Troper is going off of the movie, but the hatred of the hyena seemed to stem from the fact that it killed the zebra and orangutang. Pi seemed to see all of the animals as allies, so he basically saw the hyena as a traitor. Richard Parker killed the hyena after that, so Pi seemed to make some connection that the tiger carried out justice for the hyena's "crime" (yes they're animals, but it's through the perspective of a scared teenage boy). If one took the second story to be true, the hyena represented the cook, who was pragmatic to the point of being terrifying, and ended up killing Pi's mother. Richard Parker represented Pi, and so his killing of the cook was, again, justice. At least, that's the impression this troper got.
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    • Tigers are pretty and hyenas are ugly. It's not hard to see a tiger as a Noble Demon and a hyena as some kind of savage ghoul.
    • Hyenas are also really dangerous and wild beasts. Some acts at least try to tame tigers, know anyone that attempted a hyena and lived to tell the tale?
    • True hyenas can be dangerous, but equally so can tigers, and most other wild animals, and not just the carnivores either, herbivores can and have killed people too, even deer and moose have attacked people.Despite their reputation Spotted hyenas are actually very intelligent, socially complex animals, learning more quickly than the great apes in certain recent scientific tests. In most places, they hunt a lot more than they scavenge too (exact ratio can depend on area), and almost ALL wild predators scavenge sometimes if given the chance, lions, tigers and other big cats included.Circus tigers can and do turn and maul or kill their trainers sometimes. Captive,yes,trained,yes, tamed, no, they are still wild animals with all the instincts and needs that go with it. Hyenas are likely not used in general simply because they are not viewed as "pretty" or "popular" with the public, but considering how inherently abusive the circus environment is to wild animals, that is probably a good thing for the hyenas. And hyenas can and have formed positive relationships with humans if treated with the proper consideration, knowledge, and sensible caution and respect (which should be exercised around any wild animal, acclimatised to people or not), its just that because of the prejudice few people can be bothered or are motivated to try with hyenas, but they are fully capable- Kevin Richardson is one example that proves this fact , and Pi was very interested in wildlife and animals and presumably as a result had done some homework and research about them, his father ran a zoo after all. He should have known enough not to believe the stereotype.
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    • As if the attitude wasn't enough, the fact the hyena's normal Verbal Tic sounds like a laugh may be very much Nightmare Fuel to anyone having to deal with them
  • How does the second story make sense if the cook is present in both versions? Surely Pi could have just omitted him in the first story.
    • That's how it happens in the film: the last time the cook is seen is on the lifeboat while it's still attached.
      • But that's the movie. In the book, there's a scene in which the ship's cook appears while Pi is blinded (due to health complications brought about by the wonderful place that is a boat in the middle of the tropical Pacific) and attempts to eat him, only to be eaten by Richard Parker. If Pi was trying to keep the story ambiguous, surely he'd just remove that part.
    • That wasn't the ship's cook in the book. It was just another Frenchman lost out at sea.
  • If the pools of water in the carnivorous island are connected to the ocean, how can they possibly be freshwater? (Even a river flowing into the ocean has its own flow functioning to keep the salt out, and the estuaries are usually a mixture.) And if they aren't connected, how does a fresh assortment of fish get in there every night to be dissolved and absorbed?
    • Whatever makes the water acidic at night seems to make it fresh by the morning. As for the fish, they swim through and from the "roots"of the island freely, until the acid kills them at night and their bodies float to the top.
      • Yes, but poison aside, the lack of salt in the water should be killing or injuring the fish, even during the day. Every day seems to bring a fresh lot of newly-arrived open-ocean fish, which are species suited to live in saltwater. Pi is happily drinking the pool water, so clearly it's freshwater. Setting aside the question of how the saltwater in the ocean isn't mixing with the freshwater in the still pools, the saltwater fish shouldn't stay healthy when they swim from one to the other, even during the day when the water is acid-free.
      • Perhaps some of the pools are brackish?
  • How on earth did a human tooth end up in the middle of a fruit? Does the carnivorous island function like a clam, forming "pearls" around objects it can't dissolve? Why?
    • First, it wasn't a fruit, it was actually a clump of leaves. Second, Pi brainstorms this and decides a man arrived on the island before him and lived there until he died. He died in a tree, and it slowly began absorbing his body until only its hardest parts were left, ending with his teeth.
  • The animals of the first story symbolize people in the second story. What does the carnivorous island symbolize, if anything?
    • That's up for debate. Some interpret it as his mother's body, which he was able to live of off. In the film, the island is shaped like a person lying down, and some people say it resembles a common portrayal of Vishnu, so it could be some religion thing.
  • At the end of the movie, the author says that he prefers the story with the tiger. Pi replies "So it is with God." So...what's he saying there? It seems to be "God is a story we tell ourselves because it sounds better than the truth." Or is there another way of looking at it?
    • The book is one that encourages readers to interpret the story as they wish. Many do interpret it as saying that religion is another way of telling the truth, except it's usually more fantastic.
      • And some would say that religion is a convenient lie rather than "another way of telling the truth." Either he was in the boat with a tiger, or he wasn't. One of those two stories had to be false, and the one with the tiger was less plausible (though it was more pleasant).
        • I think the key point is that, as presented in the story, there's no definitive proof either way. The investigators certainly nitpick holes in the tiger story—and I think the audience is encouraged to, as well—but ultimately I don't think we're given an answer. The only person who can confirm or repudiate the existence of a tiger on that boat is Pi, and he's not talking. So it really does become about your personal beliefs: is Pi lying, has he gone crazy from the isolation and stress, or was the tiger really there (as C.S. Lewis puts, "liar, lunatic or Lord")? Would you rather accept the weird, scary, wonderful story or the darker, bleaker, more realistic version? At the end it's less about the story and more about you, the reader, and what you believe in.
      • While others see it as the book saying that agnosticism/doubt is a bleak, depressing outlook on life that people turn to because they won't accept a seemingly less plausible (yet, in context, equally possible and much more encouraging) explanation.
      • It should be noted that agnostisim isn't as straightforward as Pi put's it
    • Context need also be remembered here. Book and movie take you to the same argument but the way they present this causes conflict
      • Book Pi spends time arguing with the officials as to what they see as problems with his story. He takes a few moments and begins the second story, all this seems hostile. Afterwards he asks them "which of the two were the better story". They say the Tiger and he says so it goes with God
      • Movie Pi answers quickly to the second story while crying and instead asks the question to the writer
      • The difference here is in the audience. To the investigators they had spent time establishing they weren't believing the first story at face value, so after making them admit they liked the tiger better even though the contest added "even though we don't believe it", would have you thinking he means God is the better story even if it's not what he believes is true. The writer has none of those convictions, it's just pure taste, which would make the line sound more like "God's the better story go with it."
    • Don't forget Pi ends story 2 with saying he turned to God and survived. It could be interpreted as Pi poking fun at the investigators. When they say the Tiger story is better even if they don't believe it and he says to him the God story is better even if he knows that's not what happened.
    • It's been about 5 years since this troper read the book in full, and have again but outside of academic settings and I think I've gotten a fresh take on the metaphor here. Pi does admonish the agnostics a lot more than I recall people (and myself) mentioning. As they miss the better story. A line said more than once. With this in mind I get the message is really to be interpreted that you need to have the guts to believe than keep pressing on doubts like he thinks an agnostic does. He tells the weird wild story of his adventure that takes a way of faith to accept you might say. But the investigators treat him like an agnostic (to Pi) treats religion. Doubting and not being willing to accept it. Pi's "and so it goes with god" line than simply becomes more along the lines of you can't appreciate an idea like a religion if you act that way. Not really about "go with the better story" or "God's a better story even though it's not what's true" as mentioned above. Under this lens religion is merely a tool, and this story could make you believe in anything, God just being one thing that could be applied. Making it actually a philosophy lesson than a religious one. Am i the only one now seeing this view or not?
    • Could be, but the text as published is on purpose open to interpretation. There is room for multiple viewpoints. Mr. Martel being the only one who knows, but based on some response I've seen, he seems to think it should trigger conversations more so than a specific viewpoint.
    • I’ll be honest, I have NEVER interrupted that line that way before. I always saw Pi saying, “So it is with God”, not as a way of comparing the stories to belief in God, but simply as an acceptance of the Writers choice of belief. Pi asked him what story he’d rather take, and the Writer said the tiger. Now think of it in reverse. Say that the Writer decided to take the story WITHOUT the tiger. What would Pi say then? Would he say, “So it is without God”? I don’t think so. I believe Pi would make the same statement regardless of which story you choose. Remember, Pi that believes in God himself so to him, everything goes with God. To me, that line is basically just Pi’s own theological way of saying, “And that’s way the cookie crumbles”.
  • In both version of the story, Pi survives 277 days at sea. (Or maybe it was about 250 days, if he spent a while on that island.) Is that plausible? It seems to me that you'd run out of fresh water long before you reached the halfway point, even if the lifeboat was well-stocked.
    • He did run out. He still had his salt water filter, though that wasn't perfect because his nutrition was dropping.
    • I think he collected rainwater as well to drink.
    • The record-holders for the longest time spent adrift at sea in real life are a group of Mexican fisherman who survived, coincidentally, almost exactly the same amount of time as Pi (270 days) despite only having four days worth of supplies on their boat. So, yes, it's plausible that he could survive that amount of time at sea. The fishermen, however, were noted to have been extremely lucky as they got rained on quite often (at least after the first month), so they had a relatively high amount of rainwater to drink.
  • Is the rat one of the major hints the second is faked metaphor? While all the other animals match up to a people, in the second story it's the cook/Hyena that does the rat in, not Pi/Richard Parker as in the first story. The rat is a small forgettable animal, but it could also mean it's in the small details the truth lies, as story 1 is also the one with the small details
    • The rat is mentioned earlier as being the transport of Ganesha, the "remover of obstacles." Rule of Symbolism?
    • Interesting idea in that the rat brings the removal of an obstacle if you think of him importantly. You look to the rat and you see why the metaphor is imperfect.
  • Here's another thought. This book was in my 12th grade curriculum. And in that setting the ending of the story is mostly about which story you believe and why. And the religious part is often made a big deal of what do you think about it, typical good essay question (although my class didn't have that one). But my question is if we take a way the bigger message is that you should't let doubt and scrutinizing the details get in the way of enjoying a good story, can't that be turned right at the English curriculum? As it's the focusing on what do you think it means, forced reading and inspiring doubt of not having good enough backing up are indeed various reasons kids don't have fun with the books they read. Could we say the Academic support for this book is a Misaimed Fandom?
    • If you do, you're in good company. Mark Twain prefaces Huckleberry Finn with a statement that orders punishments for anyone seeking a moral, a plot, or a theme in the book. Hasn't stopped it from being one of the most assigned and studied books in academia.

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