Figurative Language in Life of Pi: Quotes & Techniques

Figurative Language in Life of Pi: Quotes & Techniques
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  • 0:04 Figurative Language…
  • 0:46 Hyperbole
  • 2:03 Simile and Metaphor
  • 3:38 Onomatopoeia
  • 4:31 Personification
  • 5:03 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 examples of figurative language from Yann Martel's ''Life of Pi,'' which is the story of a boy stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

Figurative Language and Life of Pi

'Skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony,' wrote Jacob Grimm to describe Snow White. Her skin was not literally as white as snow, but figurative language was used to describe her pale skin, red lips, and dark hair.

Figurative language can be defined as non-literal word choices that are used to make writing more engaging and descriptive. In Life of Pi, Yann Martel uses different types of figurative language to describe Pi's journey as he survives a sinking ship and finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Let's look at some examples of figurative language from Yann Martel's Life of Pi.


One of the forms of figurative language that is used in this novel is hyperbole. Hyperbole is when an author purposely exaggerates something to add to the drama. For example, when Pi's family of zookeepers decides to emigrate from India to Canada, Pi remarks, 'It's a joke in the zoo business, a weary joke, that the paperwork involved in trading a shrew weighs more than an elephant, that the paperwork involved in trading an elephant weighs more than a whale, and that you must never try to trade a whale, never.' Hyperbole is used to describe the lengthy paperwork involved when selling zoo animals. While there is a great deal of paperwork involved, it does not literally weigh as much as an elephant or a whale.

Another example of hyperbole occurs when Pi describes the makeshift raft that he builds to attach to the lifeboat to provide distance between himself and the tiger. Pi narrates, '. . .I looked directly into the bottomless depths of the sea.' There is a bottom to the sea, but it is far away. Describing the sea as 'bottomless' is hyperbole.

When describing Richard Parker's weight loss, Pi says, 'He lost a lot of weight, became a skeleton in an oversized bag of faded fur.' This is an exaggeration because the tiger was more than just a skeleton and fur even though he had wasted away some.

Simile and Metaphor

A simile is when two things that are not similar are compared to one another with the words 'like' or 'as' to connect them. For example, when Pi's ship sank, he described the sound as being 'like a monstrous metallic burp.' Since the sound comparison was made using the word 'like,' it's a simile.

Similarly, when the crewmen threw Pi unto the life boat, Pi says, 'I landed with a trampoline-like bounce on the half-unrolled tarpaulin covering a lifeboat forty feet below.' The word 'like' is used to compare landing on the tarpaulin to landing on a trampoline. Additionally, a simile using 'as' is used to describe the tiger. Pi describes, 'Each of his claws was as sharp as a knife.'

Metaphors are similar to similes. A metaphor is a comparison between two things that are dissimilar in a more direct way and does not use connecting words 'like' or 'as.' Pi compares his experience to a nightmare when he says, 'Tell me I'm still in my bunk on the Tsimtsum and I'm tossing and turning and soon I'll wake up from this nightmare.'

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