An important fact that has been highlighted in Yann Martel Life of Pi is that both fiction and religion seem to loathe disbelief. When he claims that he has a story “that will make you believe in God” (Martel) he not only assumes that many of his readers do not believe in God, his story actually depends on that disbelief. Martel more explicitly analogizes this disbelief of the readers when he portrays the two Japanese interviewers being skeptical about the fact that Pi survived living in a lifeboat for 227 days with a tiger. The novel suspends disbelief by presenting the dramatic notion persists because we see ourselves in God, and this makes Him more believable. Therefore, it is Pi’s desire to see himself in the animals that causes him to give them human qualities, and literally doing so makes his story “better” and more believable.
Even though he denies it, it becomes evident that Pi wishes to see himself in everything, not just the animals. The notion of anthropomorphism, seeing the animal through human eyes as Pi calls it, is introduced early in the novel, where it is noted that when human qualities are attributed to animals, humans are actually seeing a reflection of themselves when looking at an animal. Pi expresses his discontent of the fact that humans are obsessed with putting themselves at the center of everything, which according to him is a cause of distress to both theologians and zoologists (39). However, anthropomorphism can be seen as the very premise of religiosity. Pi experienced a feeling of great happiness after he emerged from Satish Kumar’s bakery after spending the afternoon praying, which is a nice example of how anthropomorphism is linked to meaning in a religious context. He tells the readers how he suddenly felt he was in heaven, being awed by the richness of his surroundings. The fact that Pi finds the earthly surroundings as appealing as heaven, attributing humanistic traits to the variety of elements of his surroundings, shows that Pi wishes to place himself “at the centre of everything,” despite his initial protests against it. The same is also the case with Pi anthropomorphizing the animals. When facing disbelief and the unknown, all human beings can become to prone to seeing humanity whenever possible, whether they see it in their surroundings, in animals, or in God. These are the two most likely reasons that Pi anthropomorphizes the animals.
Pi gives the animals on the lifeboat human qualities because he wants to believe that living beings accompanying him have some sort of “humanity.” If anthropomorphism is regarded as an approach to battle disbelief, then the fact that Pi tends to humanize the animals that he is surrounded by in the lifeboat becomes more notably significant, especially in the context of how extravagantly and incongruously he is engaged with religion. Even though Pi claims that “the fancy was always conscious” (42) in the attempt to justify fact that he gave the baboons, pheasants and other animals of the zoo human qualities, Pi never really stops continuing to anthropomorphize them. This is most apparent in Pi’s attitude towards Richard Parker, the tiger that is mistakenly given a human name, which reflects a more figurative or metaphorical use of the concept of anthropomorphism. It may seem absurd that even though the only comments in Martel’s novel about anthropomorphism express complete disapproval of the concept, the novel itself heavily depends on it. It depends on it to such an extent that a tiger, an animal, is granted an honorary humanity, as a result of which both the narrator and the readers are able to engage with the tiger in a more convincing manner. Pi’s ardent positing may not suggest so, but a careful reading can uncover how the narrative of the novel has an ambiguous and distraught relationship with the concept of anthropomorphism.
For Pi, ultimately it is Richard Parker who is the most “human” of them all, and the only companion that remains with him until the end. The first time Pi speaks of Richard Parker, he is lamenting over the fact that the tiger abandoned him quite unceremoniously, and it seems that he was expecting some “sort of goodbye,” which is his own misunderstanding due to anthropomorphizing the tiger. Of course, the readers do not directly learn that Richard Parker is actually a tiger until they have progressed reading the novel to quite an extent. The readers naturally presume that Richard Parker is a human, not only because of the name, but because we all have an anthropomorphic tendency like Pi, so to the readers, being human is the most significant thing Richard Parker could be. Richard Parker is anthropomorphized to such an extent that he ends up on a continuum with the human characters of the novel, and so his significance is not lost, even when readers realize that he is actually a tiger. Although Pi cannot make his story sound believable unless he details his engagement with the tiger and those details seem to have a “zoological” context, the tiger’s name continues to consistently and subtly humanize him at every mention. Throughout their journey in the lifeboat, Pi tries to avoid directly granting Richard Parker with human qualities, the analogies that are used by him in reference to the tiger tend to be quite anthropomorphic. For instance, Richard Parker is described as having “formidable sideburns,” “a stylish goatee,” and at one point even makes the readers picture Richard Parker sitting at a restaurant table.
Anthropomorphizing Richard Parker allows Pi to share an almost human-like bond with the tiger, which makes becomes evident in his grief of parting from the tiger. Pi tries to convince the readers that he has learned the lesson from the Richard Parker that animals are animals and are something entirely and practically different from human beings. However, as mentioned, Pi cannot help but express his grief and sorrow over Richard Parker’s unceremonious departure at the end of the novel (360). Moreover, Pi admits that parting from the tiger has not stopped hurting him. This indicates the fact that though he may have intellectually accepted that there is a distance between himself and Richard Parker that cannot be bridged, despite the fact that fact that he spent 227 days so close to the tiger on the lifeboat, but watching the tiger leave still upsets him emotionally. Although it may seem that Pi’s experiences with Richard Parker may have persuaded him that faith in the truth of anthropomorphism is nothing but an illusion, the necessity of the concept is still implicitly acknowledged by him. Pi’s claim that “we must give things a meaningful shape” (360) reflects the fact that the presence of the tiger during the journey in the lifeboat provided him with a companion, another living being, another mammal like him to share those endless moments that he would have otherwise spent in solitude. The fact that Richard Parker is present on the lifeboat gives Pi the chance to exercise a radical aspect of his humanity. On the other hand, had the animals not been anthropomorphized by Pi, it is very unlikely that they would have conveyed much of anything to the story.
Much like Pi’s anthropomorphism of the animals, our conceptions of God are also essentially anthropomorphic, i.e. people will always continue believing in God as long as they continue seeing themselves in Him. Indeed, anthropomorphizing Richard Parker allowed Pi to feel an almost humanistic presence with him in the form of the tiger to share those moments with. However, near the end of the novel he literally humanizes the animals that had accompanied him in order to counter the disbelief of Mr. Chiba and Mr. Okamoto in his original story. Ultimately, anthropomorphizing Parker and the other zoo animals not only reflects Pi’s desire to place himself “at the center” of everything” and have humanistic companionship on the lifeboat with him, however, literally humanizing them also makes the revised version of his story “better” and more believable.
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Orlando: Harcourt, 2003. Print.