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LIFE OF PI - FREE STUDY GUIDE
Pi imagines what an atheist might experience upon dying and finally having faith and love revealed. He contrasts that with his imagined experience of an agnostic who dies clinging to “dry, yeastless factuality” and thereby misses the “better story” because of lack of imagination and faith.
The meaning of the novel is summarized here. Faith and love provide for the better story in life, and the better story is, well, better. This chapter also foreshadows Pi’s “better story” of his experiences in Part Two.
Pi, now sixteen, is happily practicing his manifold religions without his basically secular family’s knowledge. While walking along the beach, the family happens to meet the “wise men” of each of Pi’s religions. As the priest, imam, and pandit approach, Pi is horribly aware his religious multiplicity will not be accepted. The priest commends Pi on being a good Christian. This, of course, amazes and upsets the others. Each “wise man” takes his turn attempting to correct the others about Pi’s faith and about which religion is truest. After much proselytizing, the holy men finally agree that though it is venerable for Pi to seek God so enthusiastically, he cannot practice all three religions. He must choose. Embarrassed, Pi replies, “I just want to love God.” No one could object to or reprimand that comment so the three wise men walk away. Father escapes the situation by offering to buy ice cream and the family continues their walk in silence.
All three religions espouse a personal relationship with God and profess that God is love. Pi is able to accept this commonality innocently. The “wise men,” caught up in dogma, do not see it until Pi explains himself, inoffensively yet incontrovertibly. Diffidently, they depart, unwilling to accept the Truth Pi has revealed, but unable to dispute it. Not being ingrained with any particular dogma, Pi’s parents quietly accept it.
Ravi teases Pi about his religious affiliations. He enumerates the days of worship for each and jokes that Pi needs only three more religions to be on religious holiday every day of the week.
There is an interesting play on words here when Ravi asks Pi if he will be the next Pope Pius. Pi who is pious may be the next Pius. Pi is used to his brother’s teasing and does not let it dissuade his religious zeal.
Pi defends his religious practices and scorns those who are so small minded that they lose sight of the real meaning of faith because they are too busy pronouncing the outer appearances of faith. He is chased away from the usual houses of worship and must rearrange his patterns and places of worship. He is not deterred, however, because he knows “that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside...The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.”
Here again is the syncretic theme. For Pi, the point of religion is to have faith and demonstrate love for God, not to cubbyhole one’s faith into a particular doctrine. He defends this eloquently, as quoted above.