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The Life of Pi

Page history last edited by David Hodges 14 years ago

The Life of Pi 

by Yann Martel 


     (From the book cover) Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of Canadian parents. He grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Canada. After studying philosophy at university, he worked variously as a dishwasher, tree planter, and security guard. Then he began to write. When he's not living somewhere else, he lives in Montreal. This excerpt is a brief episode from his National Bestselling novel, The Life of Pi. The main character, Pi Patel, is a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper. He has a fervent love of stories and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family and their zoo animals emigrate from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship. When, alas, the ship sinks, Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a variety of animals.



     I wish I could describe that happened next, not as I saw it, which I might manage, but as I felt it. I beheld Richard Parker from the angle that showed him off to greatest effect: from the back, half-raised, with his head turned. The stance had something of a pose to it, as if it were an intentional, even affected, display of might art. And what art, what might. His presence was overwhelming, yet equally evident was the lithesome grace of it. He was incredibly muscular, yet his haunches were thin and his glossy coat hung loosely on his frame. His body, bright brownish orange streaked with black vertical stripes, was incomparably beautiful, matched with a tailor's eye for harmony by his pure white chest and underside and the black rings of his long tail. His head was large and round, displaying formidable sideburns, a stylish goatee and some of the finest whiskers of the cat world, thick, long and white. Atop the head were small, expressive ears shaped like perfect arches. His carrot orange face had a broad bridge and a pink nose, and it was made up with brazen flair. Wavy dabs of black circled the face in a pattern that was striking yet subtle, for it brought less attention to itself than it did to the one part of the face left untouched by it, the bridge, whose rufous lustre shone nearly with a radiance. The patches of white above the eyes, on the cheeks and around the mouth came off ass finishing touches worthy of a Kathakali dancer. The result was a face that looked like the wings of a butterfly and bore an expression vaguely old and Chinese. But when Richard Parker's amber eyes met mine, the stare was intense, cold and unflinching, not flighty or friendly, and spoke of self-possession on the point of exploding with rage. His ears twitched and then swivelled right around. One of his lips began to rise and fall. The yellow canine thus coyly revealed was as long as my longest finger.

     Every hair on me was standing up, shrieking with fear.

     That's when the rat appeared. Out of nowhere, a scrawny brown rat materialized on the side bench, nervous and breathless. Richard Parker looked as astonished as I was. The rat leapt onto the tarpaulin and raced my way. At the sight, in shock and surprise, my legs gave way beneath me and I practically fell into the locker. Before my incredulous eyes the rodent hopped over the various parts of the raft, jumped onto me and climbed to the top of my head, where I felt its little claws clamping down on my scalp, holding on for dear life.

     Richard Parker's eyes had followed the rat. They were now fixed on my head.

     He completed the turn of his head with a slow turn of his body, moving his forepaws sideways along the side bench. He dropped to the floor of the boat with ponderous ease. I could see the top of his head, his back and his long, curled tail. His ears lay flat against his skull. In three paces he was at the middle of the boat. Without effort the front half of his body rose in the air and his forepaws came to rest on the rolled-up edge of the tarpaulin.

     He was less than ten feet way. His head, his chest, his paws—so big! so big! His teeth—an entire army battalion in a mouth. He was making to jump onto the tarpaulin. I was about to die.


When you finish enjoying the passage above, with its artful blend of description and narration, I'd like you to predict what happens next in the story of Pi's adventure with the tiger. I'd also appreciate your comments about the particular technique we've talked about in your own writing: the alternating of long and short. Here Martel alternates not only long and short sentences but also long and short paragraphs to achieve certain effects.Tell me what you notice about the technique. Next Saturday, after the Midnight Friday deadline, I'll share the rest of the story with you.


     But the tarpaulin's strange softness bothered him. He pressed at it tentatively. He looked up anxiously—the exposure to so much light and open space did not please him either. And the rolling motion of the boat continued to unsettle him. For a brief moment, Richard Parker was hesitating.

     I grabbed the rat and threw it his way. I can still see it in my mind as it sailed through the air—its outstretched claws and erect tail, hit tiny elongated scrotum and pinpoint anus. Richard Parker opened his maw and the squealing rat disappeared into it like a baseball into a catcher's mitt. Its hairless tail vanished like a spaghetti noodle sucked into a mouth.

     He seemed satisfied with the offering. He backed down and returned beneath the tarpaulin. My legs instantly became functional again. I leapt up and raised the locker lid again to block the open space between bow bench and tarpaulin.

     I heard loud sniffing and the noise of a body being dragged. His shifting weight made the boat rock a little. I began hearing the sound of a mouth eating. I peeked beneath the tarpaulin. He was in the middle of the boat. He was eating the hyena by great chunks, voraciously. This chance would not come again. I reached and retrieved the remaining life jackets—six in all—and the last oar. They would go to improving the raft. I noticed in passing a smell. It was not the sharp smell of cat piss. It was vomit. There was a patch of it on the floor of the boat. It must have come from Richard Parker. So he was indeed seasick.

     . . .

     I eased the raft off the lifeboat. If for some reason it did not float, I was as good as dead. It took to the water beautifully. In fact, the buoyancy of the life jackets was such that they pushed the oars and the lifebuoy right out of the water. But my heart sank. As soon as the raft touched the water, the fish scattered—except for the sharks. They remained. Three or four of them. One swam directly beneath the raft. Richard Parker growled.

     I felt like a prisoner being pushed off a plank by pirates.


As you can see, the episode of the rat is not the end of Pi's adventure (actually, it's just about the middle). Somehow, he'll either have to abandon the lifeboat and trust to the seaworthiness of the raft, or make some sort of inter-species peace with Richard Parker and share the lifeboat. How many more hyenas can there be on board before Pi is the only edible thing left?

Comments (27)

David Hodges said

at 9:45 am on Jun 13, 2010

Clara, Sevgi, we didn't hear from you until the deadline day last time. Nafisa, Lin-Yong, we didn't get your comments at all. Would one of you be willing to get us started this time?


at 11:42 am on Jun 13, 2010

You should know professor this is my hobby. In my opinion I think the tiger will immediatly jump onto the trapulin and use its hunting skills and its own instinct to catch the rat on Pi's head. In this particular passage the author uses the short paragraphs he has to his advantage. Using all the descriptive words he helped his short paragraphs become more complete. The affects he has is he focuses on 1 or 2 details in the short paragraphs and points them out so the reader fully understands what is going on. Focusing on the important details help the reader also imagine the scene better.

David Hodges said

at 12:42 pm on Jun 13, 2010

What's your hobby, Nora, crossing the ocean with a tiger? You certainly make a reasonable prediction about the outcome of the scene! Maybe you do have experience of this sort.

Regarding your comments about short paragraphs, I'm less clear on what you mean. "to his advantage" doesn't tell me much, I'm afraid. Focusing on details and using descriptive words to explain what's going on sounds like an explanation, but I'd need an example to be sure I know what you're suggesting.

Thank you for getting us started so quickly!


at 4:46 pm on Jun 13, 2010

My hobby is reading like this assignments. Richard Parker is a tiger who plays important role in Pi's life. He lives with Pi during his whole life . They inforce a lot of ordeals like when rat appeared suddenely in the boat.
My favorate part in the story when the writer used a woderful techinque. First, he discribe the behovior Pichard Parker in the biggining of first pragraph.Second, he discribes physical appearence of the tiger from the general into spacific details, so he goes from discribe his body into his face.Third, he discribes the proplem between the tiger and the rat.This is a very organization for discribtion when the writer uses organization techinque and vived sentencas to support his thought.Do not affraid my professour , I just needed more focus!Thank you sir.

Mustapha said

at 12:40 am on Jun 16, 2010

From my own opinion I think the tiger should use his hunting,and brave techniqye to catch the rat from Pi's head.And I also think forcusing on the most vital details will help the reader to understand what he or she is reading,and I will also like to predict that Pi's is going to lost his life in this adventure with the tiger.I may also say using descriptive way to discribed the tiger very carefully was a very nice way that help the writer paragraphs to more complete,and short as well as understanding it very easily.The problem the writer has is that he only focus on discribing the tiger,and forget to discribe the rat as well.

David Hodges said

at 5:16 am on Jun 16, 2010

You could both be right, Nourhan and Mustapha! Nourhan says the tiger and Pi will live together for the rest of Pi's life and Mustapha says the same thing with one important difference.

That's clever of you to notice that the rat gets very little description, Mustapha. You can probably predict why that is so also, if you haven't already.

Baby Tanuwidjaja said

at 1:46 pm on Jun 16, 2010

In the first paragaraph is descriptive paragarph. In this paragraph, the writer wrote in detail about Richard Parker's form, and also he used metaphor style to emphasis the detail; for exmaple, "...worthy of a Kathakali dancer," or "...like tge wubgs if a butterfly."
Ther writer use a short paragraphs : pararagraph 2 which started "Every hair..." is descriptive paragraph to describe "me" ' s situation, and paragraph 4 which started "Richard parker's eye..." is narrative paragraph.
Paragraph 2 ("that's...dear life") is narrative. In paragraph 5 ("He completed the turn..") and the last paragraph, the writer blended narration and description.
The writer used many short sentences to generate the tension/emotion of the reader.
I will continue the story with my own version:
"...suddenly the rat jumped from my head to the pile of boxes next to my body. Richard with his sharp eyes followed the movement of the rat. He roared laudly. I felt my heart stop beating as he jumped over my body to the box."

David Hodges said

at 2:35 pm on Jun 16, 2010

That's fantastic, Baby! I love your version! So Pi survives, Richard gets to eat, and the anonymous mouse (who warrants very little description because he will not live very long) is sacrificed to the gods of narrative! : a perfectly reasonable resolution.

WeiWeiZheng said

at 5:13 pm on Jun 16, 2010

This story was pretty fine, I enjoyed, At the beginning, writer used described way to tell how Pi first saw the tiger Richard Parker.(The first name is as same as my younger brother's) Moreover, he also used with narrative as the main character faced this unusual situation; what if happened to me, I don't know how am I going to do, stay silence, can't move cause the fear, and hope it won't eat me. Also it just looked like Professor Hodges said in class today, when you first time meet me in restaurant, you saw from my back, then described more when you truly see my face. And writer used same rule described from the tiger's appearance, showed how Pi feel about in his eyes. In the rat part, it reflected tiger's fierce that it had a fear; you can image a man afraid of tiger, and the tiger afraid of a rat, like a triangle, each point connected. Finally, the story back to main character Pi's standing point, how he felt his situation, danger, scared, and no way to escape. Dying... I hope the continued story will not as same as he said that he was about to die. I guess next will be a big change, they may arrive a island, live peaceful, or traveling boat find them, save they, and put the tiger in a zoo. The ending you can create as many as you want if you are the writer. So I think the ending may have many posiible.


at 9:31 am on Jun 17, 2010

I really enjoyed reading this descriptive narrative. Since there was about a whole paragraph describing the tiger, I was actually able to picture its face in my mind. I loved how there was so much action going on and the intensity of the story.
I could only imagine that the story would continue with the tiger jumping onto the canvas, about to kill Pi, but jumps over him instead. Pi lays there, unsure of what to do. His heart is pounding so fast, it becomes difficult for him to breath. For a moment, he loses faith, but then regains his courage and stands up. The tiger is slowly walking in the opposite direction of Pi, and therefore Pi slowly begins to walk away from the tiger. Just then, he realizes the tiger beginning to follow him. Soon enough, they're almost face to face. Just as Pi thinks the tiger will kill him, the tiger suddenly turns friendly and peaceful.
In the following year, Pi and all the zoo animals are brought to North America. On his way to the tiger's cage, Pi remembers when they met. He remembers the tigers cold and intense stare. Now they could practically be called best friends (if only he were human).

philip said

at 12:29 pm on Jun 17, 2010

Well, after thinking for a while I have an hypothesis. In the introduction says, that Pi , his family, and their zoo animals emigrate from India to America. When the ship sinks, Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a variety of animals. So Pi already know Richard Parker because he knows his name and also is the family's tiger, but Pi is describing the tiger for us. Then Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a variety of animals, but now there are 3 of them only. Why Richard did not eat Pi before? Because he knows Pi too. I'm sorry for the little rat but I think he will die. Maybe the rat thought that, "if I go to Pi's head, Richard will eat him instead of me."
About the passage, the first paragraph is a very awesome descriptive using long sentences and details. First he beheld Richard from distance, then little by little his description is going closer and closer until you can feel Richard Parker in front of you. About the technique of short sentences like, "His ears twitched and then swivelled around" or, " one of his lips began to rise and fall" or, " every hair on my was standing up, shrieking with fear," I think he's trying to emphasis that action giving the reader an effect like something is happen or going to happen.

David Hodges said

at 12:41 pm on Jun 17, 2010

You're right about the endless possibilities available to the author, WeiWei. His only obligation is to be believable within the context of his own story. (The whole idea of a boy adrift on the ocean with a crew of zoo animals is almost impossible to believe, but once we accept THAT, it provides the context for everything else.)

I wish you were right about the "fear triangle"; its a wonderful idea. But I don't think Richard Parker is afraid of the rat. He's astonished, which only means surprised. Pi is afraid for sure; the rat probably is too; at least, he should be.

David Hodges said

at 12:48 pm on Jun 17, 2010

Wow, Sevgi. Just wow. What a wonderful and thorough prediction! You not only thought about the relationships and situations, you wrote a gripping narrative of your own. Your ending is beautifully poignant. Thank you. I've never seen you write so well.

David Hodges said

at 12:56 pm on Jun 17, 2010

You really HAVE been thinking, Philip! I'm not sure we can safely conclude that only three passengers remain on the raft, but if you're right, everything else you say makes perfect sense. Of course, Pi must already know Richard Parker, and vice versa! Again, if you're right about the rest of the animals, they may have suffered what the rat is about to experience.

I see both you and WeiWei were paying attention in class to my observations about description! This excerpt does a beautiful job of organizing the details from distant to near. If he got any closer, Pi would be describing Richard Parker's breath!

Chunhui Hao said

at 11:04 am on Jun 18, 2010

The author blends description and narrative artfully and beautifully. The author focus on tell the story’s process although he add some detail description in the essay as introduce the backdrop of the story. The description help readers drop in the story as if readers can see the tigers look at the readers.
On the other hand, I like the alternating of long and short sentences. First, this skill make the essay have rhythm and make readers feel more interesting than just read long boring sentence. Second, this skill emphasizes the main point. When readers read the short sentence, they will put more attention on the short sentence.
At last, I predict the story. I don’t worry about the character, and I believe the character’s situation will turn to another way which he will make friend with the tiger.

David Hodges said

at 1:45 pm on Jun 18, 2010

Nice work, Charlotte. You managed to cover all the questions in one comment: description/narration, sentence variety, and prediction!

This makes 7 students who have completed this week's Wiki Assignment by Noon Friday: Charlotte, Philip, Sevgi, WeiWei, Mustapha, Baby, and of course Nora, who always manages to be first to leave us her insights! You have each earned 5 out of 5.

If you're a friend of Bruna, Moshe, Nafisa, Clara, Lin-Yong, Elizabeth, Ana, or Kankamol, please consider reminding your friend to leave a comment here before Midnight!

David Hodges said

at 4:00 pm on Jun 18, 2010

Elizabeth has emailed her comments on "The Life of Pi" to me:

The writer uses descriptive words to bring out the artistic nature of the tiger. For example, he used hyperbole about his presence being overwhelming and his incredibly muscular body. Bright colors were used to describe his attractiveness to human like brownish orange face and his pink nose.In my opinion Richard and the rat were not eaten by the tiger, until they were rescue from the sea. It is evident that Richard himself explain the story afterward. He used simile to compare his face to the wing of a butterfly. The writer uses dependent and independent clause for example,": His ears twitched and then swiveled right around around". He also use imagery as his unique style of writing for instance, "Every hair on me was standing shrieking with fear". Martel had five short paragraph and no concluding paragraph because the last paragraph still ended with description of the tiger.

Thanks, Elizabeth!

Kankamol said

at 10:49 pm on Jun 18, 2010

Thank you for sharing the good reading professor !!

I would say this is a good descriptive and narrative passage. All from the first paragraph was about the tiger. The writer started how the tiger looked like from far away then came closer until the end of the paragraph. First, Pi thought the tiger was fierce and unfriendly because Pi saw him from a long distance. Yeah!!! I like one technique which the writer said " ...,display of might art. And what art, what might." This is very very beautiful short sentence. The writer repeated the sentence by using the same words.

The next paragraph is only one sentence which described another scene how he felt about the tiger for the first he saw.

After that the paragraph belonged to the rat. I think the writer might want to make the story more interesting because this boat was full of many kinds of animals. In my opinion, for the rest of the story, the writer may talk about other kinds of animals.

It came back to one sentence for the next paragraph again. It just liked the previous one that he cut off to another action and then went back to the main story. The tiger came closer and closer to Pi and that made him was pale with fear. Finally, the tiger came close to Pi that Pi could see his teeth. I can imagine in this shot how Pi felt. He might close his eyes and be shaking in the corner of the boat because he said " I was about to die". The tiger might kill him but in my prediction, I would say the tiger finally found that Pi is his friend or just want to be friend with Pi. Actually, I think the way tiger was approaching to Pi is just the way to make a fear since it is the tiger habit.

Sorry for submit the reading assignment a little bit late professor but I am still in time, just one hour before.

Ana Morano said

at 11:04 pm on Jun 18, 2010

This adventure is really exciting and I can´t wait to know what come next in this episode. In my version, the story can follow in this way: looking to tiger´s eyes he just find out that was the tiger´s Achilles heel. So, the Tiger fell in love for him and they became best friends, like a cute pet can be.
As I already wrote before narratives are my favorites and of course, get better when is fusion with a good description. So, reading this text is like feel and also watch what they are doing. If it was the author challenge, just how he start writing his text, he did it and did well.
The alternating of long and short sentences paragraphs, in my opinion, is a great way to keep the rhythm of the text. And also, is a good help to keep the reader´s attention.

David Hodges said

at 6:01 am on Jun 19, 2010

Thank you, Kankamol. I love that very short sentence too! You're so right about the short sentences here. They occur at places where the authors shifts his focus. Like breaths, they give the writer and the readers oxygen for another long passage.

You must be thinking the story is a movie because you say "I can imagine in this shot." I understand completely. In this age of multimedia experience, vivid descriptions of exciting action always make us imagine the scene as a film!

I have added more of the story now, so you can see how accurate your prediction was about Pi and Richard Parker being friends.

David Hodges said

at 6:04 am on Jun 19, 2010

That's terrific, Ana: deep eye contact is the tiger's Achilles heel! I hope you're right about love between the tiger and the boy; they could both use a sustaining friendship on their long sea voyage! Return to the story above and see how well you did.

David Hodges said

at 6:05 pm on Jun 19, 2010

Clara Lee emailed me her comments Friday night, but I didn't find them until just now. Here they are:

This story blended with descriptive and narrative style that pararelly and comparably symbolized the tiger, Richard to the beauty of nature.

The writer described of tiger, how beautiful was he/she and how scary looks from the scene to the reader. And the story did not explain what was the happen from the beginning that how Pi, who was son of zookeeper, was front of Richard and where were them, were they inside of lifeboat then, was tiger slipped out from the cadge or Pi took tiger to the lifeboat without cadge. After, all of sudden, the rat appeared on the story which was the tiger paid attention to the rat instead starring to Pi. So that the scary moment moved onto the other direction which the reader could breath for a moment. However, the writer focus on to the shape of tiger and how scary was to Pi's moment which is the descriptive style changed to narrative essay.

In my version of next scenario will be the tiger turned around from Pi and becomes calm down after he killed the rat. Finally, Pi can have a chance to be escaped from the scary moment some how. Because the story mentioned that Pi is the God's loving child, so that there was a hint that the main character won't be dead and the story will be continued.

David Hodges said

at 6:06 pm on Jun 19, 2010

That's a good hint, Clara. I think we can be confident that Pi makes it to the end of any book titled, "The Life of Pi"!

clara lee said

at 9:10 pm on Jun 19, 2010

Dear Prof.Hodges,

I hope you read this e-mail first and then disregard all other e-mail that I sent to CamdenCC address.
I am really confusing, how come I can able to get this "add a comment" box after all the troubles.
Anyway, I am so glad.
Thank you,

moshe edri said

at 11:05 am on Jun 21, 2010

Better late then ont at all !!!
the author clearly use the general to specific technique, the paragraph is very rich with various details on Richard Parker's look. when he started with the general fram and through many details got to the patches above the eyes ( specific). moreover, the text structure was built with synchronized details exposure. that makes the suspense and keep the reader curious to find out what will be next .
the mix of description sentences with narration gives to the story Authentication and keeps the reader informed with many details through the narrative parts.

David Hodges said

at 7:31 am on Jun 23, 2010

Synchronized details exposure! If I understood that fully, I think I would be very impressed, Moshe! :)

I think you must mean that details are revealed in a pattern or at a pace that keeps readers wanting more instead of exhausting them and causing them to complain: Enough already with the tiger's fur! Let's have some action!

What you say about authentication sounds very much like something I said myself to a colleague about this book. When the subject matter is admittedly unbelievable (a boy on a lifeboat, then a raft, makes a cross-ocean journey with no companions except zoo animals!), the wealth of description and carefully observed details makes the story more plausible. Surely if someone can describe the scene so vividly it must have happened!

WeiWeiZheng said

at 6:20 pm on Jun 24, 2010

The following story still around with Richard Parker and Pi, where only very close distance between them. Pi threw rat to Parker, and Parker ate it, yet it will not more surprised him. Pi also looked carefully that he found Parker was seasick. In this part of story, described more on Parker's reaction and emotion with Pi; for example, he seemed satisfied with the offering. (Pi) I felt like a prisoner being pushed off a plank by pirates. Is he be the one pushed off a plank or Parker? Because Pi reached and retrieved the remaining life jackets, will he be save from in the sea, or Parker knew how to swim? I want to know about what happen next.

Also this week Wiki assigment looks no many people know that it is add comment again in Life Of Pi.

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