Main Conflict in Life of Pi: Analysis & Quotes

Main Conflict in Life of Pi: Analysis & Quotes
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  • 0:04 Conflict in Life of Pi
  • 0:32 Man vs Nature
  • 2:46 Man vs Self
  • 3:32 Man vs Man
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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 will examine the main conflict in Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi', which is Pi's struggle to survive after he is stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea with zoo animals.

Conflict in Life of Pi

Where would Spiderman be without the Green Goblin? Conflict in a story drives the plot as the characters work to overcome obstacles to resolve the conflict. In Life of Pi, a novel by Yann Martel, the major conflict is related to Pi's fight for survival after he is stranded at sea when the ship that he and his family are traveling to Canada on sinks. To resolve this conflict, he has to face both internal and external challenges. Let's learn more about conflict in this novel.

Man Versus Nature

The biggest conflict Pi faces is against the natural environment. Pi is forced to battle the elements, animals, and a carnivorous island while stranded at sea. Each of these conflicts challenges Pi's bid to survive.


As if being stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean wasn't enough, Pi shares his lifeboat with zoo animals. While growing up in the zoo, Pi was warned about the hyena by Father: ''The strongest jaws in nature. Don't think that they're cowardly or that they only eat carrion. They're not and they don't! They'll start eating you while you're still alive.'' After the zebra and the orangutan are killed by the hyena, Pi is sure he is next, but is saved when the tiger kills the hyena.

Pi is now alone on a lifeboat with a tiger. Pi is hardly able to comprehend his circumstances. He tells himself, ''There was a tiger in the lifeboat. I could hardly believe it… I had to save myself.''

Additionally, the sharks made the water as unsafe as the lifeboat. Pi recalls, ''There were sharks every day… once a tiger shark straight from the blackest of nightmares…The main nuisance of sharks was that they made being in the water risky, like trespassing on a property where there's a sign saying Beware of Dog.''


Pi also faces terrifying weather conditions that make life at sea unpredictable. Pi describes a storm that ''came on slowly one afternoon. The clouds looked as if they were stumbling along before the wind, frightened. The sea took its cue. It started rising and falling in a manner that made my heart sink.'' The storm destroys the raft and many of the supplies on the lifeboat.

Violent weather is not the only negative effect of the elements on Pi's survival. The sun and the salt wear on him. Pi narrates, ''My clothes disintegrated, victims of the sun and the salt... Salt-water boils - red, angry, disfiguring - were a leprosy of the high seas, transmitted by the water that soaked me.''

The Island

Just when Pi thinks he's caught a break by landing on an island filled with vegetation and fresh water, he discovers a dark side. ''Suddenly a searing pain shot up through my feet. I shrieked. I thought I would fall over. I managed to take hold of the rope and pull myself off the ground. I frantically rubbed the soles of my feet against the tree trunk. It helped, but not enough… The island was carnivorous.'' Pi is forced to flee the island that offered sustenance for a time.

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