Themes in the Novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi documents the journey of a young boy, shipwrecked and surviving with a Royal Bengal tiger. Though unrealistically realistic, his voyage of experience after the tragedy and before, raises many thematic concerns presented in a novel way using his semi fictional narration. There are obvious themes on the surface while some themes run between lines obscure to the normal reader’s perception. The book obviously carries many layers of philosophy in life inter-connected with religious faith.


Belief in God

This is clearly one of the major themes in the novel. Faith in God runs parallel to other themes. Throughout the novel, Pi talks about God as his sole saviour and someone Who grants him salvation from worldly problems and miseries. When he loses his family amidst the sea storm, he keeps his faith alive which kept him alive for 247 days in the sea.

Throughout the novel, Pi makes his belief in and love of God clear; it is a love profound enough that he can transcend the classical divisions of religion, and worship as a Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Though practiced rather in a playful way, when it comes to the period of testing amid the waves, he experiences true god and sees him everywhere at a universal level.

Pi’s devotion to God is a prominent part of the novel; it becomes, however, much less prominent during his time aboard the lifeboat, when his physical needs come to dominate his spiritual ones. However, Pi never seems to doubt his belief in God while enduring his hardships, but he certainly focuses on it less.


Religious Harmony

Religious harmony is one of the major themes of the Life of Pi. Pi talks about multiple religions and disproves the idea of one religion’s superiority over the other. He does not want to choose one religion to connect with God and looking down upon the followers of other religions. He considers atheism too as a branch of religion. His obsession to follow many religions gives him a wider view to look at life. He considers all religions are a pathway to reach the supreme god who he considers as epitome of love. His devotion to all the religions is a great solution for the crisis based on religions in the world.


Need of Survival

This is the central theme of the second part of the novel while Pi is in the sea. Pi has to share the journey with Richard Parker for survival and not for dying without a companion. He has to kill his innocence and become like a carnivorous animal in order to survive. He goes against his religious norms by killing the creations of god. However, he rationalizes them connecting everything as a small part of god’s big plan for him. He keeps god alive in his heart knowing that it gives him companionship and a light of hope during his miserable state of life.

Need of survival made him to do impossible just like taming and taking care of a hungry Bengal tiger and live with it in the same boat. He leaves the algae island into the uncharted sea for the desire of life. He believed his life is a test by the god to check his survival ability and so he obliged.

At symbolical level, his rage represented as Richard Parker is a portrayal of his necessity to survive. He realizes that he should kill the cook, hyena in order to survive. 


Nature vs Human

Throughout the novel the desire of human to control the nature and nature’s nature of adaptability according to situations is described. As a student of Zoology and a s a member of zookeeper’s family Pi has the ability to observe nature closer than anyone. In the first part of the novel, it is introduced that how animals adapt their territories according to their given space and how humans utilise that knowledge to tame them for their pleasure and use. Pi uses the same method to tame Ricard Parker by defining his and tiger’s territories and making it understand who the master or alpha is. On the other hand, Richard Parker understands his limitations and becomes friendly with his master who provides him without fail. Thus the importance of respecting both nature and its strength and human intelligence is highlighted throughout the narrative.


The Relativity of Truth

This theme is not highlighted as a major theme until the last part of the novel. The question: “which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”  implies that truth is not absolute; the officials can choose to believe whichever story they prefer, and that version becomes the truth. He then asks the officials which story they liked better, since neither can be proven and neither affects the information they are searching for – how the ship sunk. Therefore, the truth is relative, one might believe a story, if they want to believe it or if it suits their purpose.

The mix of genres and the confusing ending to the narrative with alternate versions of events also question the authenticity of truth. The narrative with its many interruptions and the unreliable first person narrators question the validity of its own narrative. It accepts the fact that what will be truth to one will not be truth to the other. Therefore, one can argue that there is nothing called a truth.


You may find other sub themes like: diverse culture, subjective experiences against logic, tolerance, philosophy of life…etc. In a nutshell, it is a great depiction of religion and its value for a person to survive in their troublesome water.

You may also like to read: The summary of Life of Pi and the theme human animal in Life of Pi here.

There can be more themes between the lines of the novel. Let us know about them by leaving a comment below. Subscribe to the blog to receive new posts into your mailbox. Share the post if you find it useful.







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