Motifs in Life of Pi

Instructor: Rachel Hanson
In this lesson, we will examine the meaning of motif in literature as well as consider the various important motifs, such as strength, beauty, love, and strong will in 'Life of Pi.' Afterwards, test what you learned with our quiz.

The Meaning of Motif in Literature

In literature, a motif is a thread or line that continuously comes up in a story, essay, or novel. Some of the major motifs in Life of Pi include strength, love, courage, beauty, and strong-will, and each is often represented through the color orange. Just think about how often Yann Martel uses the color orange - it represents people, animals, and emotion, and it moves us along in the narrative.

Richard Parker as Strength

Perhaps most obviously, Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger, is orange in color (as well as black and white) and incredibly strong. At first, Richard Parker represents a very real threat to Pi's survival, but as the book progresses, Pi is able to establish a master/animal interaction by using food and an orange whistle to establish authority over the tiger. Eventually, Pi comes to love Richard Parker. We can also see a few motifs in the tiger. First, the fact that Richard Parker survives on a lifeboat represents not only the motifs of strong will and strength in Life of Pi, but the tiger's strength comes to represent Pi's at the end of the novel. We come to understand that, whether Richard Parker is an actual tiger or the tiger within himself, Pi is attached to his strength and his will to survive.

Orange Juice as Love, Courage, and Beauty

The orangutan, Orange Juice, arrives to the lifeboat floating on numerous bunches of bananas: 'She came floating on an island of banana in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.' As we see, Orange Juice is framed by the rising sun, a beautiful orange halo. Here we see an instance of orange as a motif for beauty and goodness. Pi is overcome with joy and sadness when he sees Orange Juice - joy because he's happy to see her and will have her company, and sad because he knows she will not survive long because the elements and the hyena. Still, while Orange Juice is on the lifeboat she surprises Pi by standing up to the hyena, who represents degradation. Although Orange Juice loses her fight with the hyena, Pi is inspired by her courage.

Orange Juice also represents Pi's mother, who of course represents love and goodness. Like Orange Juice, Pi's mother has two sons, cares for them tenderly, and defends them even at the cost of her own life. For instance, in Pi's alternative narrative about of his trials, which he relates at the end of the novel, Pi's mother disparages the French cook for his brutality and cruelty, which results in him killing and beheading her, much in the way that Orange Juice was decapitated by the hyena.

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