The main goal of every living thing on earth is to survive. Creatures will do amazing, extraordinary, and heroic things to live. However, they might also do terrible and horrific things in dire situations. It is interesting to think about how far one may go to keep their life. Shameful things might be done and morals might be broken. Times like these are what really show the true colors of people and hold anyone watching or reading or hearing in fascination. In almost every book or movie there is, most of the time, a life threatening situation the character must overcome: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Life of Pi. Almost every story follows this classic monomyth archetype structure in which a character starts at home but is soon thrown into a situation where they must overcome many hard and life threatening trials. Yann Martel’s novel , Life of Pi, is a great example of the will to survive. Yann Martell uses the Monomyth archetype and the journey of a boy named Pi to show the extraordinary things people will do to survive, even if it puts their morals and even their religion at risk. In the first part of the monomyth archetype, life at home, Pi is still living in a reality where everyday needs are held for granted and believing in God and following his beliefs are relatively easy.
Pi is a very content boy who strongly values his religion and his morals. He lives a modern and relatively simple life in which he is blessed with things like grocery stores, running water, a house, etc. Pi is also a very spiritual boy who honors his values. He simultaneously believes in the Hindu, Christian, and Islamic faith which he follows avidly. He does not eat meat, he reads his bible, and he attends the mosque every Friday. His vegetarian life is also made possible with his abundant supply of alternative foods. It is obvious that he holds his morals in high regards and follows his beliefs. But soon Pi is faced with a “call to adventure” when his family decides to sell their zoo and move to Canada. It is not until Pi is stranded in the middle of the Ocean with a Bengal tiger that everyday becomes a struggle for survival and his morals are really tested.
After Pi descends into the next part of the monomyth archetype, “belly of the best”, and faces the bitter choice of survival, his morals are tested for the first time. Pi soon realizes that he has a strong will to survive. In dire situations creatures have a choice, to give up and die or struggle to survive. As Pi is stuck on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a soon to be discovered tiger, he witnesses each creature slowly and painfully die. But each one fights as hard as they can to live. The zebra fights for days to keep its life as the hyena eats it from the inside out. Then a peaceful orangutan fights furiously to the death with a hyena. Now it is Pi’s turn to choose. Will he throw himself upon the hyena in a final suicidal struggle and put his life in his own hands, or will he choose to survive despite the odds and put his trust in God? Pi is on the edge of giving up until a voice in his head says, “I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare” (pg. 148). Pi too discovers that he has “a fierce will to live” (pg.148). Pi’s morals are tested for the first time as he is given the choice to cast his life away or intrust it to God and “turn miracle into routine” as he works everyday to keep his life.
Pi chooses to live “so long as God is with [him]” (pg.148). Pi is able to hold on to his morals and his life simultaneously but his trials have only just begun. Pi is now “on the road of trials” (the next step of the monomyth archetype structure) and his next tests will put his life and his morals of keeping a vegetarian lifestyle at risk. Pi will have to choose to ignore his religious values in order to survive. He is stuck on a lifeboat with a hungry tiger and limited food. He soon sees the reality of his situation. He knows that he will have to slaughter an “innocent fish” for his sake and Richard Parker’s (the tiger), die of starvation, or wait until Richard’s hunger leads to his death. “A lifetime of peaceful vegetarianism stood between [him] and the willful beheading of a fish” (pg. 183). But of course Pi chooses his life over the fishes and abandons his old life as a vegetarian for the sake of his survival. “It was the first sentient being [he] had ever killed. [He] was now a killer. [He] was now as guilty as Cain” (pg.183). In this test the will to survive overcomes the will of morality. Soon “killing became no problem” (pg.185). Pi’s eating habits began to get more and more barbaric as time wore on and survival became harder and harder. Pi killed and ate any sea animal he could catch.
He drank turtle blood. He ate raw fish and even intestines. One time he even attempted to eat Richard Parker’s feces. Pi began to resemble an animal more and more as time went by and as his life became more and more fragile. Finally, when he is on the edge of death, Pi encounters another lifeboat in the middle of the pacific ocean! The man or boy on the lifeboat attempts to kill Pi but little did he know that Pi was not alone on his lifeboat. After Richard Parker slaughters the stranger, Pi then uses his flesh as bait and, “driven by the extremity of [his] need and the madness to which it pushed [him], [he] ate some of his flesh” (pg.256). Pi’s life as a vegetarian was long gone. His will to survive pushed him to barbaric and shameful extremes. Pi fought everyday to keep himself and even Richard Parker alive. He no longer had the luxury of easily accessible food, water, shelter, clothes, entertainment or even vegetables. As survival began to get harder, religion also began to get harder and at times his morals would wither away. Pi’s faith in God also became more difficult as his trials and his survival became more difficult. It has been made evident that, for those who have faith, it is easy to follow religion and morals when life is “easy.” But when life and even survival gets difficult, religion and morality also become difficult.
As time wears on, Pi finds it hard to believe and “sometimes it was hard to love” (pg. 208). “[He practiced] religious rituals that [he] adapted to the circumstances-they brought [him] comfort, that is certain. But it was hard, oh, it was hard. Sometimes [his] heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, [he] was afraid [he] would not be able to lift it back up” (pgs. 208-209). Before this disaster happened, Pi never felt such intense doubt and difficulty to love. Of course it is easy to love when everything and everyone around you is doing well. But in times of suffering it is hard to believe that a loving God can exist. Pi feels all of the pressure and hardships weighing down on him. The fight to survive is too much to bare. At times he would cry out to God but “God’s ear didn’t seem to be listening” (pg. 209). Pi was hapless. He felt ignored; fear and doubt would work together as they crept into his mind, his heart, and his soul; but “the blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in [his] heart” (pg.209). God’s love always prevailed, eventually.
Pi passed through many trials, both spiritual and physical as he worked to tame Richard Parker, find food, make fresh water, and stay sane. Everyday was a trial that tested his body, mind and soul. Pi would soon face his most challenging trial of all. Finally, Pi is faced with “the ordeal”, his biggest trial, where he must choose physical satisfaction or religion. Pi’s faith and his value for morality is ultimately tested. As Pi is laying in his lifeboat, awaiting death, he sees an island in the distance. On the island Pi finds an unlimited supply of food (that is not meat) and water for both himself and Richard Parker. It is almost too good to be true as if it is a gift from God. He stays on the island, rejuvenating himself for about a of couple of weeks. Now the real test of faith is whether Pi will accept this gift and continue on his path, or stay on the island living a life of physical content and spiritual death. Eventually Pi discovers that the island is carnivorous and becomes acidic at night. This realization sparks Pi’s want to leave.
Pi begins to contemplate the idea of leaving the island to continue his interminable search to find civilization (and once again risk his life) or stay on the island and be physically content forever, avoiding the acidity of the ground at night. In other words Pi must choose what matters to him most: assured survival and spiritual death or a life of morality/religion but ascending again into the hands of death. In this battle of body v.s spirit Pi overcomes the temptation of physical contentment and “prefers to set off and perish in search of [his] own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island” (pg.283). The last part of the monomyth archetype is the return home where Pi receives his greatest reward. Pi encounters another long and intense journey in which he faces starvation and death once again but he continues believing. Through Pi Yann Martel proves that every person has a strong will to live and in times of suffering, religion and morals are put aside for the sake of survival. Pi’s morals were put at risk and he had to make mental sacrifices in order to survive. For a while he put aside his values of vegetarianism to avoid starvation.
He was also given the choice to live a life of complete physical contentment over spiritual contentment but Pi’s decision shows that in the end his value for God and his morals overcame his value for assured survival. When Pi finally reaches Mexico and returns to civilization, he receives a great gift. Pi is given a story to tell. A miraculous story that shows the shameful and the heroic actions he had to do to survive. Yann Martel gives us a wonderful display of the role of religion and morals in the lives of people and how they can be affected during our suffering. In the end the reader is forced to decide what he/she think is acceptable and more important in a life or death situation.