Religious Metaphors in Life of Pi

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 some examples of religious metaphors from Yann Martel's ''Life of Pi'', the story of a boy with a mixture of theological beliefs who survives 227 days stranded at sea.

Background and Definitions

In 'Light My Fire' by the Doors, Jim Morrison sings, ''And our love become a funeral pyre,'' which is a religious metaphor that connects the relationship to a Hindu cremation ceremony.

Metaphors compare two things that are not alike. In Yann Martel's Life of Pi, the protagonist, Pi, is very religious, but in a non-traditional way. He simultaneously practices Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

Because of his strong interest in theology, when important events occur as he is stranded at sea with zoo animals on his lifeboat, Pi compares them to religious figures and events. Let's look at some examples of religious metaphors from this novel.

The Crown of Thorns

Pi's full name is Piscine Molitor Patel. The kids at school laughed at him, calling him 'Pissing Patel.' Pi remembers, ''In a second everyone was laughing. It fell away as we filed into the class. I walked in last, wearing my crown of thorns.''

According to Christianity, the crown of thorns was worn by Jesus Christ to mock him and cause him pain just before his crucifixion. Pi compares himself being mocked by his classmates to Jesus's crown of thorns.

The Virgin Mary

When Pi finds Orange Juice, the orangutan, after his ship sinks, he describes, ''She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.''

The Virgin Mary, Jesus's mother according to Christianity, and other Saints are often depicted in a halo of light in art work. This is somewhat of a double-metaphor because the orangutan also is a metaphor for Pi's mother. Describing this creature by comparing it to the Virgin Mary depicts Pi's feelings upon seeing her.

Lord Vishnu

After the flying fish swarm the boat, providing both food for Richard Parker and bait to catch larger fish, Pi says, ''Thank you, Lord Vishnu, thank you!... Once you saved the world by taking the form of a fish. Now you have saved me by taking the form of a fish. Thank you, thank you!''

Vishnu is part of the trinity in the Hindu faith. One of his forms is half-fish and half-man. He is considered the protector. In this instance, Pi believes that God himself has formed into a fish to save him.

Point of Light

During his 227 days at sea, Pi becomes deeply depressed, but he holds on to his faith to find blessings during this ordeal. When his mood is dismal, he thinks, ''But God's hat was always unraveling. God's pants were falling apart. God's cat was a constant danger. God's ark was a jail. God's wide acres were slowly killing me. God's ear didn't seem to be listening.''

When the depression passed, he thinks, ''The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart.'' Pi compares the fleeting moments of happiness to God.

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