Summary and Analysis Chapters 33–42: The Ship’s Sinking


Pi, his family, and most of the animals from the zoo board the Tsimtsum, a ship heading to Canada. The family has arranged the sale of most of the animals to zoos in North America, and they intend to start a new life in Canada. One night, in the middle of the ocean, a massive storm threatens the ship. Pi goes on deck to see what is happening. Fearful of the storm, Pi approaches a group of crew members, expecting assistance in saving his family or at the least advice on what he should do next.

Pi is incredibly surprised when crew members throw him overboard, with a lifejacket, into a lifeboat. Pi sees animals drowning all around him and instinctively begins to rescue Richard Parker, though he does realize what a suicidal move this truly is. Pi watches the ship sink, sure that he will never know what caused the disaster. However, he does come to realize that the crew members did not throw him overboard to save him; rather, they were trying to protect themselves, hoping Pi would distract the wild animals in the water if the crew themselves needed to abandon ship. Essentially, Pi was used as fodder.


These chapters concerning the sinking of the Tsimtsum and Pi’s fate heighten the tension in the novel, even though we as readers know from the early chapters that Pi will survive his ordeal. Whether or not Pi survives is not at question; what captures readers’ attention is how Pi will survive to tell his story to The Author. Similarly, the chapter describing the sinking of the Tsimtsum begins by announcing that it sank. With this revelation out of the way, Martel can slow down his telling of the story and describe the events leading up to the ship’s sinking in great detail, with an emphasis on stylistic language rather than on the events themselves.

These chapters finally reveal who—or what—Richard Parker is. The Author has already mentioned him in a few of his narrative interruptions, like when he relates looking at Pi’s few photographs from his life before the shipwreck. However, the name sounds like a human’s, not an animal’s. When Pi spots Richard Parker in the water, Pi calls out to him, begging him to answer that what is happening is nothing but a dream. His calls undercut Pi’s earlier insistence that he does not, and would not, anthropomorphize—that is, give human traits and characteristics to something that is not human. Recall that earlier in the novel Pi’s father warned Pi and his brother never to think of an animal as having human characteristics, which is exactly what Pi is now doing with Richard Parker. The tiger has a human’s name, Pi speaks to the tiger as if it were human, and Pi expects the tiger to reply to him as a human might. Note also that this scene foreshadows one later in the novel in which Pi, blind and on the verge of madness, has a complete conversation with Richard Parker about food.

Pi also assigns human feelings and actions to objects, such as the Tsimtsum (which does “not care”), the water (which is in a “rage”), and the lifeboat (which has a face and a prow with a “snub nose”). Pi even constructs a dialogue between his own fear and reason, with the two arguing over what Pi should do. Telling his story in the first-person point of view allows Pi to create his own version—his own reality—of what happened. Even though Martel uses The Author to address the novel’s readers and assure us that Pi’s version of what happened to him is not necessarily the truth, Pi as a first-person narrator is free to assign human sensations and intentions to all sorts of objects, including the ship, the water, the lifeboat, and even the tiger named Richard Parker. With a narrator as unreliable as Pi and a story that can be read as both a literary narrative and a parable or fantasy, the animals that share the lifeboat with Pi can be viewed as characters (for example, Richard Parker) yet at the same time completely remain as their animal selves (such as a tiger).

Pop Quiz!

How do the inspectors from the Japanese Maritime Department react to the story Pi tells them?

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