The Lifeboat & Ocean in Life of Pi: Symbolism & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Story Overview
  • 0:58 The Lifeboat
  • 3:00 The Ocean
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

In the 'Life of Pi', Pi, the protagonist, spends months in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, trying to survive. This lesson talks about the symbolism and meaning of the lifeboat and ocean.

Story Overview

Life of Pi is the story of a boy named Pi and how he survives on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean for 227 days. The story starts with background on Pi's childhood first, including the zoo his family owned and tended. The author also describes Pi's intricate belief in three religions: Hinduism, Catholicism, and Islam. Due to a choice to emigrate to Canada, Pi and his family find themselves on a ship along with the zoo animals they plan to sell once they arrive. Unfortunately, a storm sinks the ship, leaving only Pi and a few animals in a lifeboat. In this second part of the book, the setting of the 227-day ordeal is a 26-foot-long lifeboat adrift in the vast Pacific Ocean. Pi survives a terrible journey, eventually landing in Mexico where he tells his fantastical story.

The Lifeboat

As the storm rages, Pi goes on the deck to watch it. This choice saves his life. The remaining crew were about to take the lifeboat and abandon everyone on the ship, but they saw that a hyena had occupied the lifeboat. The crewmen toss Pi into the boat, hoping to feed the hyena. Instead, the act saves Pi's life. It also later saves Richard Parker, a large Bengal tiger that Pi rescues from the water before giving thought to what would happen once the tiger was on board. As if things weren't bad enough, Pi realizes, ''I had a wet, trembling, half-drowned, heaving and coughing three-year-old adult Bengal tiger in my lifeboat.''

Despite the terrible danger, the lifeboat throughout the story symbolizes a safe haven compared to the alternative. Pi is stuck on a tumultuous and unforgiving ocean, and the boat holds life-giving food, water, and even companionship. This is emphasized when Pi says, ''There was not a shadow of doubt about the matter: to leave the lifeboat meant certain death''.

The lifeboat also symbolizes the hope Pi has of survival and, at first, of finding his family. At the beginning of the ordeal, Pi keeps looking for another lifeboat, one that would carry his family back to him.

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