Summary and Analysis
Chapters 50–89: Survival with Richard Parker
Pi and Richard Parker survive, together, for 227 days. Following the deaths of the other animals, Pi starts taking stock of what is in the lifeboat and using what he finds. He identifies thirst as his greatest danger: Drinkable water is his—and Richard Parker’s—greatest priority. Able to sustain himself temporarily on the lifeboat’s supplies, he realizes that he must ration and plan for beyond his immediate needs. He also slowly transitions from a devoted vegetarian to a hunter and a carnivore. He at first laments that the lifeboat’s food supplies contain animal fats, but he eventually begins killing, butchering, and eating sea turtles and fish without any thought.
Pi also confronts the reality of trying to survive while
sharing the lifeboat with Richard Parker. After carefully reviewing his
options, he concludes that he will have to keep the animal alive. Only by
caring for the tiger can Pi protect himself from being killed and eaten by him.
All of Pi’s efforts, then, become focused on finding a way not just for himself
to eat, drink, and sleep, but for Richard Parker to do so as well. In his first
step toward this goal, Pi uses the lifeboat’s oars and lifejackets to construct
a raft that he tethers to the lifeboat and begins to inhabit, putting him out
of the immediate reach of Richard Parker, who remains on the lifeboat.
Pi keeps a journal as a way to mark the days and weeks. He
follows a careful daily schedule to maintain his sanity, humanity, and self-respect.
And he also writes down what has happened to him on a small piece of paper that
he seals in a bottle and casts into the water.
Pi conceives a plan to train Richard Parker, both for his
own protection from the tiger and to mark the territory that is his, not
Richard Parker’s. He maps out a training method in a list of steps, all of
which hinge on using Richard Parker’s own seasickness and an orange whistle Pi finds
in the lifeboat. Pi employs them both in a form of aversion therapy by rocking the
lifeboat to make the tiger seasick while blowing the whistle. Over time, the
tiger begins to associate just the sound of the whistle with his seasickness,
allowing Pi to maintain his own territory and, if necessary, protect himself
from Richard Parker by just blowing the whistle.
The two weather a giant storm that destroys Pi’s raft of oars
and lifejackets. They both become residents of the lifeboat, with Pi
maintaining his territory.
One day a freighter passes nearby, and Pi, hoping to be
rescued, launches a flare into the sky. It goes unseen, though, and the
freighter passes on. Upset at not being rescued, Pi is somewhat comforted by
Richard Parker’s apparent indifference and expresses great love for the tiger,
realizing that they are all each other has.
Names continue to be important in these chapters. Pi’s repeated
declarations that thirst will kill him before anything else does again recall
Richard Parker’s original name. Also note that the survival guide Pi finds in
the lifeboat warns against drinking one’s own urine and that Pi’s original name,
Piscine, sounds like “pissing.”
Pi cannot give in completely to his fear of the tiger; doing
so would cause him to panic and either dive into the shark-infested water or
lose his concentration and become vulnerable to the tiger. One way that Pi
copes with his fear of the tiger is through language. He substitutes his fear
of being eaten with the tiger’s name, Thirsty, as a means of acknowledging a
real fear without naming it completely. Later in this section, Pi remarks
anxiously that Richard Parker will soon be “thirsty”—meaning both that Richard
Parker will want water and that he could revert from a partially tame zoo
animal to one that is completely wild.
Another way that Pi copes with his situation is by constantly
making lists. He makes a list of supplies in the lifeboat, a list of possible
plans to conquer Richard Parker, a list of steps for taming Richard Parker, and
a daily schedule list. Lists (of animals, of gods and saints, of the numbers that
Pi’s name represents) have appeared throughout the book, but now they become
even more important as they represent a method for survival.
Making lists is also a means by which Pi can retain his humanity
and self-respect—and not give in to acting like a wild animal. His constant
focus is on the difference between Richard Parker and himself. He recognizes
that his two potential downfalls will be forgetting that he is a person and acting
only on instinct and fear, and forgetting that Richard Parker is an animal and
allowing affection, the projection of human traits, and naiveté to compromise
his ability to protect himself.
Pi also uses writing to cope with his situation. He writes the
facts of his journey in a diary and also writes the specifics of his situation,
his name, and who to contact about his ordeal on a small piece of paper that he
places in a bottle and casts into the water. This message in a bottle is not meant
to help Pi get rescued but rather is a testament to his very existence, the
most human of impulses.
Pi manages his deep-set fear in various ways, one of which
is distancing frightening events and reducing them to just one of their facets.
For example, when he is once so afraid that his hairs stand on end, he assigns
the fear to the hairs themselves, not to himself as a person. It is the hairs
themselves who shiver with fear. Likewise, while hearing Richard Parker eat the
hyena, Pi views the noise as just a “mouth eating.” Limiting his thoughts in
this way keeps him from thinking about the larger act of killing and consuming,
which would no doubt reduce his ability to keep calm.
Pi’s awareness that he needs to ignore his fear for the sake
of his own self-preservation features heavily in these chapters. He regards
fear as a solid, real, present thing and discusses the crippling impact it will
have on him if he allows it to consume him. He says that fear is uncivilized
and has no morality, and he cements his decision to no longer allow fear to affect
how he relates to his current situation. He rejects fear and dispels it, in
part by anthropomorphizing it and deciding that he wants nothing to do with
such a “person.”
After choosing Richard Parker as his companion instead of fear,
Pi goes on to credit the tiger with relieving his anxiety. Pi can identify,
analyze, train, and control Richard Parker, all of which he can’t do with fear or
his own base instincts. His concentrated effort on training, feeding, providing
for, avoiding, and working with Richard Parker is the main reason Pi remains
vigilant and focused, which is what eventually saves his life. This irony—focusing
on a Bengal tiger in order to save oneself—is one of the novel’s countless
Once he has become an active hunter, a supplier of water and
comfort, and the main force controlling Richard Parker’s actions and life, Pi
sees himself, truly, as the god of the boat and Richard Parker’s deity. He pronounces
Richard Parker his partner in an imaginary circus performance, his complete
dependent, and a being separate from but entangled with his own fate—all of
which make Pi the overseer and commander of the tiger’s existence. Their entanglement
comes to a head when the freighter passes them by: Pi is distraught and Richard
Parker, who doesn’t understand the missed rescue but sees Pi’s, his alpha’s,
mood and behavior change, expresses concern. The two become truly united in a
moment of pain and experience. Pi realizes this and declares his incredible and
undying love for the animal.
Pi’s forced break from his lifelong vegetarianism is a major
contradiction of his identity. His belief that taking another’s life is wrong
is the cornerstone of his life’s philosophy. It is naturally tested when he has
to not only feed himself, but also satisfy Richard Parker’s hunger—and thereby
keep himself alive. The change occurs when a flying fish literally delivers
itself to Pi. Although Pi realizes he must end the fish’s life, he wrestles
with the decision, describing his reluctance, empathy, disgust, sorrow, and the
eventual gut-wrenching act of killing it, which he compares to killing a
rainbow. At the end of this section, he confirms that a person can get used to
anything. He makes good on this declaration: After killing the fish, he no
longer wrestles with or appears troubled by killing animals. His hunting and
killing continue throughout the journey, and he remarks only on the volume, the
variety, the methods, and other practical matters, such as when he tries to
sooth his feet with the blood of several meerkats that he kills on the
carnivorous island. Although Pi becomes very casual about his killing, he
occasionally fluctuates between pride and revulsion as he becomes a proficient
and skilled hunter. At one point he even kills a turtle and drinks its blood,
becoming literally blood-thirsty.