1. As Pi's father says, when he is explaining the ferocity of
the zoo animals to his sons, "Life will defend itself no matter how
small it is." In what ways does Pi defend himself in this
2. With his stories about zoos and zoology, Pi teaches us that
the ability to adapt is crucial not only to animals but to humans,
and is rooted in the will to survive. How do Pi's theories of
zoo-keeping play out on the lifeboat? Does Pi go through a
transformation on his journey? What does he learn?
3. Our author discovers the story of Pi Patel after an elderly
man in an Indian coffee house tells him, "I have a story that will
make you believe in God." As a young man, Pi shocks his family and
local religious officials by embracing Christianity, Hinduism, and
Islam, and sees no reason to pick just one. And on the lifeboat, it
is God that Pi turns to in his despair. Discuss the role of
religion, and religious stories, in this novel.
4. When Pi meets with the Japanese officials at the end of his
journey and tells them his story, they do not believe him and ask
what really happened. Pi provides them with a new story, one of
"dry, yeastless factuality," without animals, and then asks which
one they prefer. Discuss the nature of storytelling and belief in
relation to Life of Pi, and to life.
5. "As for hearing, the sloth is not so much deaf as
uninterested in sound." "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is
akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." As a
story of death, loss, fear and destruction, Life of
Pi has at its heart a number of very tragic events.
However, one of the most pervasive elements of the novel is its
very matter-of-fact humour. Why do you think this is? What is the
effect on you, as a reader?
6. Near the end of Life of Pi, Pi and Richard
Parker come ashore on a free-floating island comprised entirely of
algae and inhabited only by many, many meerkats. Why does Pi decide
to leave the island? What is the significance of this story? Is
there a difference between survival and life?
7. Whereas the bulk of this novel is told by Pi Patel -- "in his
voice and through his eyes," our author tells us -- we also see the
current-day Pi through the eyes of the author, and read "excerpts
from the verbatim transcript" of the young Pi's interview with the
Japanese officials. Why? Discuss the effect of and possible reasons
for the narrative structure of this novel.
8. The Author's Note ends with a what seems to be a call to
arms: "If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we
sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end
up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams." In reviews of
Life of Pi, Yann Martel has been equally and
abundantly praised for his realism and his great imagination. Do
you see a conflict between these approaches to writing fiction?
What is the role of "truth" in fiction?
9. In Life of Pi we know Richard Parker to be a
450-pound Royal Bengal tiger mistakenly named after the hunter who
captured him, and Pi's companion during his seven months at sea.
But there are further nautical stories involving Richard Parkers,
outside of this book: Edgar Allan Poe's Richard Parker was eaten by
his shipmates in the novel The Adventures of Arthur Gordon
Pym, a real-life cabin boy named Richard Parker was eaten
by his fellow castaways after the sinking of the
Mignonette in the 1870s, and so on. Who is Richard Parker?
Why might Yann Martel have chosen the name Richard Parker for this
tiger, and this novel? Discuss the importance of names, and naming,
in Life of Pi.