The central theme of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi concerns religion and human faith in God. However, the novel pointedly refrains from advocating any single religious faith over another. Instead, the novel investigates the nature of religious faith itself. This theme is embodied most clearly in the novel’s protagonist, Pi Patel, who is a devout follower of three very different religions. Pi has studied and memorized the stories of all the various incarnations of the Hindu gods, maintaining shrines in his home to many of them. He also possesses a crucifix and a rosary, going to church on Sundays and praying to Jesus. Lastly, he owns and proudly uses a prayer rug, observing the call to prayer several times a day as a devoted Muslim. By comfortably following three of the world’s major religions, Pi represents not just the possibility of peaceful coexistence between different faiths but also the belief that different religions are merely alternative paths to the same destination.
The specific doctrines of Pi’s three faiths make very little difference to him. When comparing these religions to one another, Pi seems to conclude in his innocence that there need not be conflict between them. For him, each religion simply emphasizes what is most powerful and true in the others according to its own strengths. The religions resemble different chapters of one very long book, each chapter setting up and feeding into the next. The novel contrasts Pi’s easy acceptance of his three faiths with the competition and arguments between the leaders of those faiths. In Munnar, while Pi is walking in a busy marketplace with his parents, they happen upon the pandit, imam, and priest who are the leaders of Pi’s Hindu, Muslim, and Christian faiths, respectively. When the leaders discover that Pi has been following three different religions, each attempts to claim Pi for himself. They reason that one boy cannot follow three different paths, and they begin to debate which religion would be best for Pi. When the leaders demand that Pi choose one faith to the exclusion of all others, he blurts out, “I just want to love God,” embarrassing the hot-headed religious leaders and putting a stop to their debate.
This tension between reason, logic, and argument, on one hand, and simple religious faith and the desire to love God, on the other hand, lies at the novel’s core. The human capacity for reason is contrasted to religious faith repeatedly, nowhere more poignantly than in the chapters showing Pi adrift on the Pacific Ocean, where his faith, not his reason, enables Pi to survive: I was alone and orphaned in the middle of the Pacific hanging onto an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me. Had I considered my prospects in the light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten.
Pi’s refusal to consider his predicament “in the light of reason” opens up space for his faith in God to flourish, and this faith sustains him even through the darkest, most fearful moments. Fear, Pi realizes, is “life’s only true opponent,” and he holds back the fear with his faith, no matter what religion embodies that faith.
The novel also explores another meaning of faith—the human capacity to believe what is unbelievable. Pi’s story challenges readers with plot twists that sound impossible. That Pi survives 227 days adrift on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean is remarkable enough; that he survives this time in the company of a Bengal tiger or that he happens to run into a floating island of carnivorous algae strains readers’ ability to suspend their disbelief. A skeptical attitude toward the narrative is embodied by Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba, who at first refuse to believe Pi’s stories about a Bengal tiger and carnivorous algae. They insist that his story contradicts reality, to which Pi replies, “You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story.”
When Pi gives them the flat story they want, a story that fails to contradict what they are prepared to believe, the men become excited by the prospect that this second version is the truth. However, Pi is not finished with them or their skepticism. He demonstrates that the facts of both stories are irrelevant to the men’s purpose of finding out what caused the Tsimtsum to sink, and he points out that the men are in a position to verify neither of the two versions. Then, he asks, “Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” The men agree that the story with animals is superior, which prompts Pi to add, “And so it goes with God.” This is faith, Pi seems to say. Since it is the nature of religious faith that it can never be proven, just as the facts of Pi’s journey across the Pacific can never be verified, the question is not a matter of reason but of belief. Pi seems to argue that what should compel one to believe a story is whether the story is a good one—whether it helps readers “see higher or further or differently.”
Power Of Religion In Yann Martel's Life Of Pi
In the words of Gandhi, “The essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different”. In the story Life of Pi, Pi Patel personally experiences different aspects of four religions including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. The author, Yann Martel promotes the concept of believing in more than one religion by exemplifying the diversities within each faith.
The evident motif of religion plays a major factor in Pi’s life; however the author chooses not to focus on one religion specifically but instead enforces a glorification of more religions. Martel creates a main character who is a curious young boy who decides to learn about Christianity, Hinduism and Islam all at once. Even though Pi is primarily Hindu, he has insight on the conception of religion being “more than [just] rite and ritual” (Martel 48). Pi’s insight on religion opens his mind to more options than just sticking to one. Unlike the traditional standards of Pi’s society, he chooses to explore different religions in his community. His exploration helps him realizes “we are all born…in limbo- without religion, until some figure introduces us to God…” (Martel 47). Pi is recognizing the idea that religion is a life-style choice people make by deciding the morals of which they will live their life. Along with Pi’s understanding of structured life through religion, he discovers the freedom of being able to celebrate different religions at the same time. While reflecting on his religious background, being raised Hindu, he finds importance in “not [clinging]!” or focusing “upon fundamentalism and literalism!” (Martel 49). Pi thinks religion is meaningful because of the followers who believe in it. Without belief, religion is nothing, so faith must be taken seriously but not so much literally. By not focusing on the literal facts of religion, Pi is able to accept different theories and, thus, believe in more religions. This open-mindedness of Pi seems unusual in norms of society; however Martel uses it to highlight the beneficial aspects of poly religion. Even after being accused of “treason” in the religious community, Pi sticks with his beliefs to avoid what he sees as “small-mindedness” that the rest of his society has (Martel 71). To him, he feels that putting his faith in different religions brings him closer to God which is important because he is very passionate about his love for God. His yearning to be close to God is cause to his “desire to believe rather than the belief itself" (Stephens). Pi focuses so much on just trying to believe in God that he does not much focus on his own beliefs. Martel, in this way, implies by spreading personal beliefs throughout different religions and maintaining an open mind, one will achieve a great closeness to God. Therefore, Martel suggests that participation in varying religions proves beneficial to having an open lifestyle and to one’s relationship with God.
Martel compares aspects of each faith to provide connection between all...
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