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“A boy, his boat, and a tiger”

Written on: 07/03/2013 by mario_alvarez (7 reviews written)

“Interpretation is not the art of construing but the art of construction. Interpreters do not decode poems, they make them.” – Stanley Fish (Is There a Text in This Class?)

“The circus lions don’t care to know that their leader is a weakling human; the fiction guarantees their social well-being and staves off violent anarchy.” - Yann Martel (Life of Pi)


Life of Pi is postmodern literature at its finest. What Lewis said about Christianity through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Yann Martel says about postmodernism in Life of Pi. It’s not a story so much as it is an allegory, and it’s not an allegory so much as it is a story. …welcome to the world of postmodernism.

A story is powerful, though. You can say things and evoke feelings through a story that you aren’t able to do through other means of expression. For example, an agnostic can read about Aslan’s death and resurrection without being annoyed or bored, however, if they were reading the same thing in…say a John McArthur Bible commentary…he (or, she) may not be able to finish the paragraph.

Life of Pi. A boy is trapped at sea with a Bengal tiger. They’re stuck in a lifeboat. And, we observe segments of their months at sea. The thing we are challenged to ask ourselves is: Do these facts really matter? Does the story really matter as long as the experience is expressed?

Pi. Meet Piscine Molitor Patel. His mathematical nickname is Pi…it keeps him away from nicknames like “Pissing”. Our friend Pi is a lover of religions. He has adopted not just Christianity and Islam, but Hinduism as well. “These all contradict” you non-post-moderns might say…But, does it really matter? Are they by their very nature required to disagree?

Richard Parker. …our tiger friend. The one who shares a 26' lifeboat with Pi. The one who Pi both fishes for and fears. The one who could take Pi’s life with little more than a slight effort to his tired, hungry body. Believable? Unbelievable? Any disgruntled thoughts? “…Never! A boy and a tiger cannot get along. Their very natures disagree…the boy would be eaten.” Perhaps.

I don’t consider The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to be preachy. To me, the Christ-type is there if you want to see it, or you can just as easily skip it and simply enjoy the story. Similarly, Life of Pi refrains from preaching its message of postmodern thought. Take it at its M. Night Shyamalan story-telling level; or, dig a little deeper…get more for your money.

Life of Pi is gripping, though. True, it gets off to a slow start. And, at times it reminded me of the movie Castaway, at other times the book Pincher Martin. Maybe I could accuse it of unoriginality… On the other hand, I haven’t read a 300+ page book that quickly in a while. I haven’t woken early to finish a book in a long time, either.

Postmodernism begs us to ask “what is real”? Can we know anything for sure? Can even a simple sentence convey a simple truth or will your experiences and my experiences dilute the sentence into entirely different entities? And, does it really matter? As long as you are experiencing something from the sentence and I am experiencing something from the sentence do we have to agree on the actual truth of the sentence?

It’s an interesting dilemma. Perhaps because if it is true…hasn’t its argument immediately been defeated? And, as you look to Life of Pi, with its subtle riddles and meanings you are confronted with an interesting dilemma…What can you believe? Can you have faith in what seems contradictory? …Can a tiger live on a lifeboat with a boy… Must things that contradict actually contradict? …Islam + Christianity + Hinduism =…

No matter what your views on these matters are, it will be difficult to complain about the journey that Yann Martel takes you on in Life of Pi. Overanalyze it, like I’m bordering on doing, or just appreciate it for the power of its storytelling…either way, I think you are sure to have a good time. It’s one that sticks with you for a while after you read it…of course, that’s part of the curse of the book. You just can’t adequately discuss the book with people until they’ve read it. …but, maybe that’s part of the fun.

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