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LIFE OF PI - PLOT SUMMARY / ANALYSIS
Though Pi endured many torturous nights, he remembers the second night as particularly wrenching. After noticing the mako sharks in the water, Pi watches Orange Juice. Anthropomorphizing again, he feels she is searching the horizon hopelessly in search of her sons. The hyena rips the hide from the zebra. The zebra’s protests enrage the hyena into a tearing and eating frenzy. Pi describes the gruesome scene as the hyena slides on the blood, right into the zebra, and eats the still conscious victim from the inside. Orange Juice roars at the sight. They hyena responds with its own roar. The zebra sputters some blood overboard causing frenzy among the sharks. The violent noise persists. Finally, the roaring of animals and banging of sharks against the hull stops. Pi is distraught with the realization that he has lost everything. He deeply mourns the loss of his family, and cries through the night. The hyena continues eating.
At the beginning of the chapter, Pi makes it clear that his ordeal was severe. “I have so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion.” He then describes a grisly and emotionally crushing night. Martel continues to blend physical description with the abstract underscoring the simultaneous spiritual and scientific motif of the novel.
Horror-struck, Pi sees that the zebra is still alive the next day. “I had no idea a living being could sustain so much injury and go on living.” It dies by noon, but the afternoon brings another hyena attack - this time against Orange Juice. Pi is uplifted by Orange Juice’s indomitable spirit as she whacks the hyena. He recalls that she had been a pet that was donated to the zoo when she got too large and intimidating. After only a few blows, however, the hyena manages to get to Orange Juice’s throat. Pi assumes he is the next victim and approaches the hyena. Before he is upon it, he looks beneath the tarpaulin and sees Richard Parker. He collapses.
Pi may be referring to himself as well as the zebra with his remark about the endurance of a living being. He, too, will sustain much injury, physical and emotional. Orange Juice is a maternal symbol. In the previous chapter she mournfully searches for her sons. Here, she represents to Pi a motherly defender, but fear and lack of killing experience defeat her.
Pi recounts how Richard Parker came to have a human name. Seven people had been killed in Bangladesh, presumably by a panther. A hunter is hired. He baits the panther with a goat, but it is a tiger rather than a panther that appears. The tiger and her cub drink from the river before approaching the goat. (Pi points out here that thirst is a greater requirement than hunger.) The hunter shoots the tiger with a tranquilizer. The tiger, and her cub which the hunter names Thirsty, are being sent to the Pondicherry Zoo. The clerk at the train station, however, transposes the hunter’s name, Richard Parker, with the tiger cub’s name on the official paperwork. Pi’s father is amused and the name sticks.
As mentioned in Chapter 37, the human name helps give the tiger “main character” status and blur the distinction between humans and animals. The name itself, however, was carefully chosen by Martel. There were several shipwrecked Richard Parkers preceding the tiger. In 1837, Poe wrote his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym about a shipwreck where Pym and another survivor cannibalize a third survivor named Richard Parker. In 1846, the ship Francis Speight sank leading to another tale of cannibalism, one victim being Richard Parker. In 1884, in another true story, a yacht, the Mignonette sank and the cabin boy, Richard Parker, was killed and eaten by the other survivors. Yet another Richard Parker died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. His body was never recovered. This background information hints at the possibility of cannibalism or that Richard Parker may end up missing.
Immobilized by weakness, Pi realizes he has not eaten, drunk or slept for three days. Seeing his hopeless situation and incapacity to defeat a tiger, Pi ironically perks up and decides to search for fresh water. Since Richard Parker is the threat now, Pi is no longer afraid of the hyena, and proposes that the hyena might sense this, perceiving Pi as the super alpha. The presence of the tiger helps Pi understand the prior unusual behavior of the animals, but he has no basis for Richard Parker’s unusual inactivity. He guesses that the tiger is either sedated from before the shipwreck, or seasick. Pi continues to explore the lifeboat for water.
Pi is finally taking action toward his own survival. Ironically, this comes only after realizing that he has virtually no chance of survival.