Human Animal in Life of Pi by Yann Martel


There is only a fragile layer between human self and animals; like the delicate layer under the shell of an egg. There is a familiar phrase found in the famous novel ‘Tarzen’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs (these are not the exact words though): Nevertheless, human beings are wrapped by the garments of civilization, removed and bare naked from that camouflage, there is no difference between human and animals. What do you think? If there are no social fetters to control them, won’t human behave like animals? (History would give you ample examples.)

To get answers for those questions one must read the novel ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel, an unbelievable story of a youth who survived for 247 days inside a life boat in Pacific Ocean with a carnivorous Bengali Tiger. Though seemingly unbelievable, the story should give you an idea of what makes a human different from an animal and what makes a human crosses the boundary of humanity. As well as, how you are being tested by the god, revealing the role of religion and how a religion cannot support at certain matters one comes across. Those make the novel to be a phenomenal work of art worthy to be read.

The big question would be: what makes a human different from an animal? The list may be long. In the first part of the novel, writer through Pi Patel’s point of view gives a descriptive analysis of the nature of animals. His father owned a zoo at Pondicherry, India. Therefore, he could have a closer observation at animals (though they are not actually wild animals) He further studied about animals as he chose zoology for his higher studies. Though he learned things in a theoretical base, later in the novel the reader can see how similar the behaviour of animals to his behaviour after being released from the human world into the world of the wild. 

He gives the nature of a wild life and how animals live a life being true to their instincts. Here, he emphasizes that they too are governed by certain phenomena in the world of the wild: 

“Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended…” (20)

As to the world of humans, animals too have a role in the wild to play. There, they have to struggle for food and survival and protect their territories from invaders. The wild law: the stronger will prey on the weaker makes a social hierarchy in the world of wild where stronger one enjoy certain freedom and the weaker ones have to live hidden with fear. Even the stronger ones have to maintain their territories in order to survive and find food. If wild law governs in the human world, don’t you think that the situation would be the same?

However, one may think, when natural self is forcefully submerged, animals become a shadow of a real wild animal. That is not what has happened to zoo animals as Pi reveals:

“Being denied its ‘freedom’ for too long the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.” (20)

What really has happened is that their natural self is restricted by conditioning their behaviour. They are fed with easy food and given the territories which are free from invaders. So, they cannot actually behave like a wild animal. However, if they are put to the wild again, they adapt to the situation in order to survive or else they will have to surrender to the law of the wild. We see this very fact by the behaviour of Richard Parker, when it has come out of the cage it follows its natural instincts just like a wild animal. Similarly, Pi Patel has exposed to the world of the wild with a wild animal, there he has to act like an animal in order to survive.

The salient factor of wild animals is that they are territorial. You may have seen dogs urinate at trees and bushes, cats too. This is the way they mark their territories. When another dog or cat reach those markers they know that they trespass the territory of another. Similarly, when another animal crosses those markers the owner of the territory attacks the invader in order to defend its territory. As the story reveals:

“Animals are territorial. That is the key to their minds. Only a familiar territory will allow them to fulfil the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water.” (22)

Animals are serious about their territory as it is imperative for their survival. They attack the invaders only to defend their territory; as story says – when a man falls into a cage of a lion, it attacks him not because it is hungry but to defend its territory. Later in the story the reader can see how Richard Parker and Pi divide the lifeboat into two territories and live peacefully. Here, Pi urinates around his area to mark out his territory just like an animal. (seriously, yes) Doesn’t this tell something about us-humans? What do people do throughout their lives, don’t they mark their territories and keep on struggling to defend them?

Story further says that animals never change their natural self. How much conditioned, their actual self can come out at any time, especially when the opportunity is given:  

“I learned the lesson that an animal is an animal essentially and practically removed from us, twice: once with Father and once with Richard Parker.” (41)

Animals are governed by their instincts; they are true to their feelings like hunger. When they are hungry, they trespass any fears and any virtues to fulfil them. That is the survival instinct that keep them alive. If human too is exposed to do or die situation, don’t they behave in the same way?

Then what makes a human different from an animal? The situation, need, hunger and necessity to survive made Pi an animal in the story. However, the reader can see, one thing kept him separated from being a complete animal. That is: he kept his religious faith alive inside his life. He attributed god to everything around him and understood his place in the vast creation of the god as well as he considered the hardships he encounters as a trial of god to show him something bigger than his sufferings. He kept his faith of his god unshaken, which kept him human. Unlike animals, humans have the guide of their religion to see at vast reality through the ‘peephole of life.’ That make him different from animals. To understand this better, you have to read the story more closely as it is obscure behind the story line. 

You may read the The major themes of the novel here.

What do you think? If we faced similar kind of situation like Pi did, how would we behave? How human beings are different from animals. What are your viewpoints about the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel? Please do share your views as a comment to enlighten our readers. 





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