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LIFE OF PI - CHAPTER NOTES
Pi analyzes for the reader the process of lion taming. The trainer enters the cage first to establish it as his territory, and then as the lions enter he cracks his whip and asserts himself as the super-alpha male to whom the other lions submit. It is in fact more relaxing for the animals once they know their place in the social order because then there are fewer unknowns to cause fear or discomfort.
This chapter accounts for the human side of lion taming. This seemingly random piece of information is more of the back-story, so that in Part Two the reader understands from where Pi gets his ideas.
Pi continues his discussion of lion taming. The animal with the lowest social standing is the easiest to train. It has the most to gain from maintaining a close relationship with the trainer. It needs the trainer to provide food and protection so it is likely to be the hardest working, most faithful animal. Pi says this concept holds true across the animal kingdom.
This chapter explains the animal’s side of the psychology of lion taming so the reader understands why an animal of superior strength (as graphically demonstrated by Pi’s father in Chapter 8) would want to submit to a human. Again, this is more back-story to add credibility to Part Two.
The author describes Pi’s home as a temple. There are countless religious articles. Surprisingly, the objects represent different religions. There are statues and shrines of various Hindu divinities (Ganesha, Shiva, etc.), representations of Christianity (the Cross, Virgin Mary), and items of Islam as well (photo of the Kaaba, prayer rug). The author merely describes and does not comment on this inconsistency.
The chapter is a preface to the next thirteen chapters which are devoted to theological discussion. The reader will come to know how and why Pi ends up practicing three different religions.
Pi tells of his first visit to a Hindu temple. He describes with delight, the rituals of worship, then goes on to explain the beliefs behind the rituals. He takes pleasure in being religious, in being Hindu, but cautions against fundamentalism using a parable about how Krishna vanishes when milkmaids become possessive. He compares Hindus, specifically Hare Krishnas (misunderstood to be “hairless Christians” by Pi’s foster mother), to Christians because of their trust in love. And “Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”
Chapter 16 speaks principally about Hinduism. However, many parallels between religions are brought out in the chapter. This religious syncretism is an ongoing theme throughout the novel, though Pi practices each religion in his own way. Subsequent chapters will focus on Catholicism (Christianity) and then Islam as Pi develops his own increasingly complex relationship with God.
Simplified definitions of Hindu concepts/terms from this chapter that may be unfamiliar to some readers follow: samskara - the Hindu series of sacraments to purify and perfect man
“foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word - faith” - probably refers to tilaks, the shapes marked on the forehead as symbols of the divine, or bindi, dots made with kumkum (vermillion) used to signify female energy and marital status, worn to protect women and their husbands
murti - statues of deities
prasad - an offering, sometimes sweets or flowers that is returned to the offerer to eat or wear
atman - the universal inner spiritual force or soul
“Bank of Karma” - karma means “action” i.e. whatever you do, and also the consequences, are your responsibility therefore your actions in this life determine the nature of your next life