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Carnivorous Island in Life of Pi Explained: Symbolism & Significance

Carnivorous Island in Life of Pi Explained: Symbolism & Significance
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  • 0:03 The Mysterious Island
  • 0:39 Meerkat Manor
  • 1:55 An Exceptional…
  • 3:35 A Paradoxical Symbol
  • 4:56 Curiosity Killed the Cat
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the carnivorous algae island described by Yann Martel in his book 'Life of Pi.' We'll explore the symbolism of the island, its population of meerkats, and the mysterious fruit that grows there through themes of religion and survival.

The Mysterious Island

What would a shipwreck adventure be without a desert island? All the masterworks have them: Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, The Mysterious Island, The Tempest, The Island of Doctor Moreau. If we've learned anything from these famous tales, it's that mysterious islands aren't always the paradises they initially seem to be.

In Life of Pi, author Yann Martel lands his characters, Pi and the tiger (Richard Parker), on a mysterious island paradise in Chapter 92. It's one of the longest episodes and the last leg of their journey.

Meerkat Manor

At first, Pi thinks the island must be a mirage. But desperate to escape the rickety boat, he navigates to the island. Even when he sets foot on solid ground, he's still unsure if the island is real. Pi cautiously investigates. He discovers that it isn't made of soil, but rather dense algae. It's too good to be true.

Pi sets his fears and doubts aside. Exploring the island, he discovers a vast population of meerkats, freshwater ponds, and forests of bare trees. At night, the meerkats retreat into the trees. Pi follows suit, and Richard Parker returns to the boat to sleep. Both gain back their strength and gorge on meerkat meat and the algae itself. They stay on the island for many days.

But Pi can't shake the sneaking suspicion that something feels wrong about this place. There are too many unanswered questions. Where did all the meerkats come from, and why is there no other wildlife on the island? Why does Richard Parker return to the boat every night? How do the island's freshwater pools replenish themselves? But the main mystery of the island is how it can exist at all; it seems to defy so many natural laws.

An Exceptional Botanical Discovery

Pi's curiosity and doubt get the better of him. Unlike the meerkats, Pi and Richard Parker don't take paradise for granted. Upon further exploration, Pi discovers a fruit-bearing tree deep in the woods. 'Whereas elsewhere the forest canopy was uniformly green, these fruit stood out black against green...The fruit grew from only one small part of the tree.' Eager to taste something other than fish and meerkat, Pi salivates over the idea of biting into its juicy flesh.

Pi has to climb the tree to reach the fruit high up in the canopy. When he finally pulls one from the branch, he realizes it's not a fruit at all. It's a dense accumulation of leaves. He peels off layers of the fruit and is horrified to find at its center, like a peach pit, a human tooth. That's when Pi realizes the truth. He pulls the rest of the 'fruit' apart to find an entire set of human teeth. That night he tests his hypothesis, prying a meerkat from its perch and dropping it onto the ground. The animal immediately scurries back to the safety of the branches. Pi discovers that the ground at night becomes a sulfurous ooze that digests anything it touches. The island would eventually digest him like it did the poor lost soul whose teeth he discovered.

'I made an exceptional botanical discovery,' says Pi. The island is carnivorous, like a giant floating Venus flytrap. Pi and Richard Parker immediately return to the boat and set back out to sea. The carnivorous island is the last leg of their journey. Before they know it, they've reached the sandy shore of Mexico.

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