Allusion in Life of Pi: Examples & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine examples of literary, religious, and historical references from Yann Martel's ''Life of Pi''. This is a novel about a boy with eclectic beliefs who finds himself stranded at sea with zoo animals as his only companions.

Background and Definition

In 'Through the Wire' by Kanye West, he sings, 'Look back on my life like the Ghost of Christmas Past' This is an allusion to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Allusions are ambiguous references to literature or history that are not explained by the author, but bring meaning to the text. The protagonist, Pi, of Yann Martel's Life of Pi is intrigued by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religions and turns to all of them to get through 227 days at sea on a lifeboat with the zoo animals that survived after their ship from India to Canada sank. Multiple references are made to literature, religion, and history in this novel. Let's look at some examples of allusions in Life of Pi.

Literary References

The tiger's name, Richard Parker comes from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe entitled 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.' This poem contains themes that are similar to Life of Pi, including a sinking ship and cannibalism. There is even a helpful tiger. Richard Parker in the poem refers to a mutineer on the whaling ship who is spared after the others are killed so he can help run the ship.

Pi is an unconventional character who practices three opposing religions simultaneously. When he talks to his mother about his beliefs, she tries to change the subject by suggesting that he read Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan Doyle, R.K. Narayan, or Robinson Crusoe. He has read all of these multiple times. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island and Kidnapped, which are adventure stories involving sea travel. Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. R.K. Narayan wrote realistic fiction about culture in India and Hinduism. 'Robinson Crusoe' is a famous novel by Daniel Defoe about a castaway on a deserted island. Pi's story has similarities with each of these works.

Religious References

Pi's full name is Piscine Molitor Patel, which causes his classmates to mock him and call him 'Pissing Patel.' Pi refers to this as his 'crown of thorns,' which was what was placed on Jesus' head prior to his crucifixion to mock him.

When the ship sinks, Pi waits on the lifeboat filled with zoo animals to be rescued. He imagines his brother, Ravi, saying, ''What's this? You find yourself a great big lifeboat and you fill it with animals? You think you're Noah or something?' This is a reference to Noah's Ark from the Old Testament of the Bible. When God wiped out the world with a flood, Noah's family and two of each animal were saved on an ark.

After killing his first fish, Pi felt terrible. He thinks, 'I was now a killer. I was now as guilty as Cain.' Cain is one of the sons of Adam and Eve in the Old Testament of the Bible. He killed his own brother, Abel, out of jealousy.

When Pi is commenting on catching and eating turtles, he recalls that 'hauling a struggling 130-pound turtle aboard a lifeboat was anything but easy. It was a labour that demanded feats of strength worthy of Hanuman.' Hanuman is a Hindu God who can move mountains.

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