Summary and Analysis Chapters 43–49: The First Days in the Lifeboat

Summary

As morning and calm return, Pi is greeted with the arrival of Orange Juice, a large orangutan. She appears floating on a nest of bananas, covered in black spiders. Pi welcomes her aboard the small lifeboat that he is knowingly sharing with a hyena and a wounded zebra. The tiger is hiding beneath the tarp that covers half of the lifeboat. Pi feels great affection for Orange Juice, fear of and revulsion for the hyena, and vague pity for the dying zebra. He hopes that the hyena will be more interested in eating Orange Juice and the zebra than him, as they are more familiar prey.

The hyena does, indeed, consume both animals. It first eats the zebra alive, which is a horrific and lengthy process. Pi discusses the nature of hyenas in detail, specifically how they are capable of cannibalism and drinking urine. Pi has some hope that Orange Juice will be able to fight off the hyena, and though she does initially hit the hyena very hard and defend herself well, the hyena eventually takes her down and consumes her also. Suddenly the tiger makes himself known, appearing from under the tarp and killing the hyena.

Pi takes a break from the immediate narrative to explain how Richard Parker’s name resulted from a clerical error that mixed up the name of the tiger’s captor with the name of the captive animal itself. Richard Parker’s original name was Thirsty, because he was caught with his mother at a watering hole.

Analysis

Pi’s conflict between self-preservation and his feelings toward the animals with him is very evident in these chapters. The suffering zebra’s death forces Pi to confront the truth about animals’ nature, instinct, and potential brutality, which recalls how he suffered about these truths before when he growing up at his family’s zoo. He continues to struggle with how much empathy to feel for animals. Pi relates that he was initially outraged when the hyena killed the zebra, but that his rage was short-lived; he refuses to be sorry for that. He then apologetically describes how much empathy, sympathy, and sadness he felt, at each turn describing a different level of these emotions. These fluctuating emotions arise from the conflict between his own need to remain alive and sane and his compassion for the zebra.

Pi struggles just as hard to remain detached from Orange Juice’s death. He is touched by the orangutan’s mannerisms, which to him appear to be human traits, and he again breaks his pledge to see animals only as they truly are. Later, after Orange Juice’s death, Pi likens her to a refrigerator with crooked wheels, essentially reducing her to an object as a means to cope with her death. To remember the now dead Orange Juice in the affectionate and loving way he used to think of her would be too much for Pi to handle. By considering Orange Juice’s life, first as a pet, then as a zoo animal, and finally, after the shipwreck, as a “released” animal in the wild—albeit in the ocean and not on land—Pi is able to come to terms with his own circumstances. Like the orangutan, he is ill-equipped to survive in the wild, and the fear therein becomes his primary motivator.

Richard Parker’s name change from “Thirsty” to “Richard Parker” is a direct parallel with Pi’s name change from “Piscine.” Both changes illustrate the duality theme associated with the two characters and, along with the animal-on-animal brutality that occurs in the lifeboat, foreshadows and mirrors the second story that Pi later tells to the Japanese investigators.

Richard Parker’s original name, Thirsty, is also significant because it is literally what Pi becomes as soon as he finishes telling the story of Richard Parker’s name. Thirst is a central element throughout the book. Pi’s thirst is not just physical or mental—for water, companionship, land, and rescue—but also spiritual. His thirst for water, for instance, creates another allusion to the Bible and another recasting of Pi as Christ. Pi points out that Christ died of suffocation but that he complained only of thirst. By recounting Christ’s thirst, Pi compares his own suffering on the lifeboat to Christ’s—which also illustrates just how dire and real the lack of water is for Pi.

Pop Quiz!

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

Q&A

What is perfidy (from Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser)?

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