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Free Study Guide for Life of Pi by Yann Martel-Book Notes/Summary
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FREE ONLINE NOTES-LIFE OF PI

CHAPTER 35

Summary

Pi’s family leaves on June 21, 1977. Mother is especially sad to leave the beautiful familiarity of India. They board the Japanese cargo ship Tsimtsum accompanied by the caged, sedated animals. Pi is thrilled. Still, things go wrong.

Notes

This is the last beautiful description of India. The family leaves on a ship that bears the name of a Kabbalist concept from the cosmogony of Isaac Luria (who was first mentioned in Chapter 1). The word tsimtsum or zimzum means “contraction” or “withdrawal.” A simple explanation is that before God could create the universe He had to contract or withdraw Himself so there would be space for His Creation to fill. Then into that space, a second tsimtsum, or contraction of God’s light entered. From that light came the entire universe and its imperfect people. There was no imperfection in Pi’s life before the Tsimtsum.

CHAPTER 36

Summary

The author arrives a little early to Pi’s house and at first sees no one. At that moment, Pi’s teenage son runs out of the house, late for baseball practice. Pi apologizes for the lack of proper introduction. Then, surprised, the author also meets Pi’s dog, four-year-old daughter, and cat. Pi is a proud and loving father. “This story has a happy ending.”

Notes

The reader now has the complete picture of the adult Pi’s life. He seems to be living “happily ever after,” as confirmed by the author’s final remark. Pi has survived whatever obstacles he had to face. Martel has given away the ending of his own novel. In this case, however, knowing the outcome is not a “spoiler” because for Martel (and for Pi), it is not about the result, it is about the story - specifically, the better story.

Pi takes over the narration completely from here. There will be no more interjections from the author for many chapters.


PART TWO - The Pacific Ocean

CHAPTER 37

Summary

The ship sinks and Pi is in a lifeboat with a broken-legged zebra. He exclaims, “Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu,” as he sees Richard Parker in the water and calls to him. Pi is not physically injured, but is emotionally in ruins. As far as he can tell, his family and the animals they were traveling with have all drowned. He focuses on getting Richard Parker to the lifeboat. At last, Parker is within reach. Pi throws him a lifebuoy and pulls him toward the boat. Coming to his senses, Pi tries to fight Richard Parker off, but Parker is able to climb into the boat. Richard Parker is an adult Bengal tiger. “His head was the size and colour of the lifebuoy, with teeth.” Pi jumps overboard.

Notes

“The ship sank.” The opening sentence of this chapter is blunt and to the point, yet full of meaning. The sinking of the Tsimtsum (meaning “contraction” or “withdrawal”) may mean that God has withdrawn from Pi to make room for Pi to develop as an independent creature, or it may mean that Pi must withdraw into himself to make room for the development of the better story. During these first desperate moments as a castaway, Pi ponders the meaning of reason and immortality. He verbalizes his thoughts to Richard Parker (who the reader finally learns is a tiger). What began as a geographic journey now becomes a spiritual one.

Giving the tiger the human name Richard Parker challenges the distinctions between humans and animals that Pi has been describing all along. This humanizes the tiger that is to become a main character. Pi also slips into anthropomorphizing again, “Don’t you love life?”, “We’re in hell yet still we’re afraid of immortality.” His religious values are providing the motivation to save himself and another of God’s creatures.

CHAPTER 38 and 39

Summary

Pi describes the first days of the voyage. He is interested in the chimpanzee and her bananas (complete with large spiders). Ravi is interested in the engine room of the ship, where he thinks something is wrong. In the middle of the night, Pi hears an explosion. He tries to wake Ravi, but ends up leaving him and goes out on deck alone. It is stormy, so Pi decides to go back below, but he cannot because the stairwell is filling with water. He goes back on deck, bewildered, hearing the groans of the ship and the shrieks of the animals. Up on the bridge, he finds three Chinese crewmembers. They shove a life jacket with an orange whistle at Pi and throw him overboard.

He lands on the tarpaulin of a suspended lifeboat, losing the life jacket but not the whistle. The Chinese men are shouting at him. A zebra leaps off the ship and crashes into the bottom of the boat. The boat breaks free and splashes into the water.

Notes

Pi goes back to describe the sinking of the Tsimtsum and how he ended up in the lifeboat with a zebra. He does not yet understand why the Chinese crewmen are shouting at him. This is a chapter of frightening confusion for Pi.

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