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PLOT SYNOPSIS FOR LIFE OF PI
Pi drifts to an island made only of plants, no soil, just floating plant-mass. It is entirely green, Piís favorite color and the color of Islam. Pi thinks it is an illusion, but decides to try stepping out onto it. He smells the vegetation. Stunned, he falls overboard on the green mass. He examines the tube-like algae. He tastes it. The inside is salty, but the outside is sugary sweet. Pi continues to break off and eat pieces of algae. He drags himself to the shade of an algal tree, which smells like a lote tree but is not. He weeps and praises God.
Richard Parker summons the strength to go ashore. He stumbles off to the inner part of the island. Pi is concerned that the tiger will claim the island as its territory so he returns to the lifeboat after a day of eating and resting. Richard Parker also returns to the lifeboat, licking his paws. Pi accomplishes defecation for the first time in a long while.
Pi goes back out on the island to feast the next day. Richard Parker is reluctant, but eventually follows suit and disappears to the interior of the island. Pi returns to the lifeboat. Soon he sees Richard Parker charging toward the boat. Pi blows his whistle to stop the tiger. Richard Parker stops, but jumps about uncomfortably. Pi holds the tiger at bay by whistling, but the tiger becomes so agitated it jumps into the water, swims to its side of the lifeboat and boards.
The next day Pi practices walking and eats more algae. Richard Parker disappears into the island vegetation. Pi and Richard Parker are regaining their strength. Richard Parker returns to the boat again that evening. The following morning, after the tiger departs, Pi goes out to explore the island. There are ponds, trees, and hundreds of thousands of meerkats. Pi joins the meerkats which are huddled around a pond. Suddenly, the meerkats dive into a pond and swim back out with many large dead fish. Pi examines a pond and finds it has cool fresh water. He soaks in it. Soon Richard Parker appears, killing and eating meerkats left and right. The meerkats know nothing of predators so they accept their deaths meekly.
Pi cleans out the lifeboat and he and Richard Parker spend several more days on the island, returning to the boat at night. In Richard Parkerís absence Pi explores the island. He finds it uniform throughout and six or seven miles across, for a circumference of about twenty miles. He makes many other scientific observations of the algae.
All the while Pi and Richard Parker are getting stronger and healthier. Pi feels the tiger may be looking for a mate and may become threatening so he decides to resume training. He teaches the tiger three jumping through a hoop tricks, but is unable to perfect jumping through a rolling hoop.
Pi leaves the lifeboat and decides to sleep in a tree. At nightfall thousands of meerkats noisily climb up the tree, surrounding Pi. He awakens in the morning covered with furry meerkats that leave the tree and go back to the ponds. Pi brings provisions from the lifeboat and continues to sleep in the tree, with the meerkats, every night. One night, the meerkats shriek as dead fish once again appear in the ponds. No meerkats leave the trees. In the morning, Pi discovers that the fish are gone.
Later, Pi explores deeper into the forest. He finds a tree that appears to have fruit. The fruits are actually bundles of leaves and as Pi unwraps them he finds a human tooth in each. He thinks the island may be carnivorous. To test this he drops a meerkat from the tree where he sleeps. The animal quickly climbs back up, licking its paws. Pi gingerly steps onto the ground. His feet burn uncontrollably and he too climbs back up, tending his feet. Pi reasons that somehow the surface of the island exudes acid at night and digests anything in contact with it. He decides, sadly, that he must leave the island.
He takes water, skinned meerkats, and dead fish. He takes algae, but it dissolves in its own acid at night. He cannot leave Richard Parker to die, so Pi waits for the tigerís return and is once again lost at sea.
The island is green. Not only is it the color recommended by the survival manual as a color to watch for, but it is the color of Islam. The Qurían says that the inhabitants of paradise will wear fine green silk garments. Also, Muhammad, the Prophet and founder of Islam, is said to have worn green or carried a green banner. The reference to the lote tree is also a Muslim reference. Since lote tress are commonly used as boundary markers or fencing, they are symbolic of the spiritual experience of Muhammadís ascension, where he crosses the border of the domain of God. Perhaps the island is the Garden of Eden and Pi has crossed the border.
Pi literally and figuratively purges himself of corruption by defecating and by cleaning out the lifeboat. He is ready for a new life.
However, there are hints that the island is troublesome. Richard Parker and the meerkats cannot stay on the islandís surface at night. The animals must tend to wounded paws if they try. Fish emerge dead from the ponds. Pi does not understand these things at first.
The island offers only temporary salvation. On the island, science and religion are not intermingled. Science offers Pi respite in the absence of faith. When Richard Parker (representing faith or spiritual salvation) is away, Pi conducts scientific tests and makes observations about the island ecosystem. He calculates the circumference of the island after estimating its diameter. Pi uses pi. When Richard Parker is there, Pi trains him to do hoop tricks as if the tiger (faith) is something to play or experiment with rather than something necessary for survival.
When Pi comes upon the tree that appears to have fruit, the Garden of Eden symbolism is confirmed. In Eden there were many trees, including the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (i.e. the Tree of Death). Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, Pi had plenty to eat and could have chosen faith over the physical desire for fruit. The fruit was black, on twisted branches, and out of reach, but Pi didnít take the hint. His innocence is shattered.
He kills and skins the meek meerkats, acquires water and leaves the island. He does not leave, however, without his spiritual companion, Richard Parker. He symbolically leaves pure logic behind and takes back his faith.
The carnivorous island is an even further stretch of the readerís imagination than the French castaway. Pi loses the piece of algae that could have been physical evidence for the existence of the island, but has the remains of small mammals evidencing the meerkats. Martel is drawing the reader into the deepest frontier of the ďbetter storyĒ.