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 novel?
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.