Summary and Analysis
Chapters 95–99: The Interview
After Pi’s rescue, Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto and his junior colleague, Mr. Atsuro Chiba, both of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport, visit Pi and interview him for the record, in part because they are trying to find an explanation for the sinking of the Tsimtsum.
The two officials are very skeptical of Pi’s entire story
and try to refute it by questioning simple details, such as whether or not
bananas float. Pi becomes frustrated with the two men and yells at them, saying
that they are incredibly ignorant of how many animals escape and are lost from
zoos all the time.
The three men finally come to an understanding when the two interviewers
explain that they simply need a second story, something more believable. Pi
supplies this alternative version of his journey, that aboard the lifeboat with
him were his mother, the French cook from the ship, and a crewman. The crewman
had a badly broken leg and the cook insisted on amputating it, gaining the
cooperation of both Pi and Pi’s mother. After the amputation, the crewman died
a slow and painful death. Then the cook revealed that the only reason he
amputated the leg was to use it for bait. Pi’s mother, outraged and sickened by
the act, railed against the cook, especially when he began to eat the crewman,
which Pi insists neither he nor his mother took part in. Pi’s mother and the
cook quarreled, but they eventually became relatively civil shipmates. The
turning point came when a turtle escaped capture and the cook hit Pi. Pi’s
mother then became violent toward the cook and directed Pi to leave the
lifeboat for a raft that was tethered to the lifeboat. Pi watched as the cook
decapitated his mother and threw the severed head to Pi on the raft. In the end,
Pi stabbed the cook to death.
The officials observe that Pi’s first story is much like his
second, only with animals—the zebra is the crewman, the hyena is the French
cook, Orange Juice is Pi’s mother, and the tiger is Pi himself. The two men
decide, and are advised by Pi, that there is no way to tell which story is
true, that they will have to take Pi’s word for it.
Pi also reveals that he believes that the Tsimtsum’s crew was drunk and released
the animals from their cages. He is unable to explain how the ship sank. The
two investigators believe that the storm would not have been strong enough to do
it. Pi is unable to address their concerns or suspicions.
These chapters are related by The Author, who introduces the
transcript of the Japanese officials’ interview with Pi. Up until now, the
novel has consisted of two types of narrative: first-person from the point of
view of The Author, and first-person from the point of view of The Author
giving us Pi’s first-person account. This new form of narrative is a
third-person transcription, which can only be the invention of the novel’s
author—Yann Martel—and is meant to be completely accepted as fact.
However, Martel continues to introduce ambiguity into the
novel with Pi’s second version of his ordeal. This new story of what happened
on the lifeboat, with its gruesome details and heartbreaking intimacy, rings
very close to being real. A reader could deduce that perhaps Pi Patel was so
traumatized by his experience on the lifeboat with his mother, the cook, and
the crewman that he recast these individuals as animals in order to avoid
having to process such a terrible experience. Martel makes it a matter of faith
for the reader, allowing anyone reading or hearing the two accounts to
subscribe to one or the other, influenced only by Pi’s insistence that the
animal version is the true one.
The exchange between Pi and Mr. Okamoto about invention is
another moment of metafiction that allows all possible scenarios to be true—at least
to some extent. Mr. Okamoto wants truth, and Pi is able to offer only story. Ultimately
Pi states that any narrative, however close to or far from a true experience,
is an invention, thus relieving the reader, The Author, Pi himself, his
interviewers, and Martel from the burden of determining what “really happened.”