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Animal Metaphors in Life of Pi

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  • 0:04 The Story
  • 0:47 The Zebra
  • 1:42 The Orangutan
  • 3:10 The Hyena
  • 4:16 The Tiger
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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 examine the extended animal metaphors from Yann Martel's ''Life of Pi'' in which the only survivors of a sinking ship are a boy named Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger.

The Story

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, each of the characters is a metaphor for one of the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, envy, lust, and wrath. An extended metaphor is a comparison between things that are not alike that is developed over several sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. In Yann Martel's Life of Pi, Pi is emigrating from India to Canada with his family and their zoo animals when the ship sinks. The only survivors are Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger. The animals from the story represent other people or ideas. Let's learn more about animal metaphors in this novel.

The Zebra

The zebra was thrown onto the lifeboat with such force that its rear leg was badly broken. Later, the hyena bit off the leg. Pi narrates, 'A flap of skin hung limply over the raw stump.'

After Pi is rescued, no one believes the story he tells about the animals. Pi retells the story of the four survivors. Pi says, 'The sailor was young. Actually, he was older than me, probably in his early twenties, but he broke his leg jumping from the ship and his suffering made him a child.' After the sailor's leg appears to be infected, the cook convinces the others that the leg needs to be amputated to save his life. After the cook amputates the leg, Pi starts to throw it overboard, but the cook says, 'Don't be an idiot. We'll use it as bait. That was the whole point.'

The zebra and the young sailor are victims of ferocious, self-serving beings that are more concerned about their own needs than the welfare of others.

The Orangutan

After the ship sinks, Pi is thrilled to see the orangutan, Orange Juice, floating in on a pile of bananas. He says, 'Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arm spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy too? It's not right that gentleness meet horror. Better that you had died right away. How bitterly glad I am to see you… I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.' That seems like quite a greeting for a primate. The hyena eventually attacks and kills the primate, leaving Pi devastated.

When Pi retells the story, he says, 'Mother held on to some bananas and made it to the lifeboat.' After the cook amputates the sailor's leg, Pi says, 'The next time the cook was close by, Mother slapped him in the face, a full hard slap that punctuated the air with a sharp crack. It was something shocking coming from my mother. And it was heroic.' They further argue when the cook takes more than his fair share of the rations. After that, they became civil to each other for a while, but when the cook hit Pi because he lost his grip on a turtle, mother attacked. The cook beheaded Pi's mother in his presence and then threw her head to him.

The beautiful and beloved orangutan killed by the terrible hyena represents Pi's mother.

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