The Concept of Religion Creates an Identical Sense of Comfort to that of Animal Territory in Martel’s Life of Pi[(Essay dated June 9, 2010) In the following essay A.G. analyzes Yann Martel’s use of various animals and religions in his novel Life of Pi to express the truth that every living being possesses the same fundamental desire to be content in life, despite their different methods of attaining that contentedness.]

As living things, our thinking and methodology used to cope with life will always be dominated by the characteristics of our individual traits as a species. Within the human species we have divided into an innumerable amount of sectors of belief systems that we label as religions. Each of these belief systems from Christianity, to Atheism, to Hinduism offer one main thing; a source of comfort in which one feels they have a place in the world because of a set prescription of purpose and a promise of security. Likewise animals do this through adaptation and territories. It is an animalistic instinct that stretches over every living thing to desire comfort in living. Martel outlines this parallelism between animals and humans through comparison of the first third of his novel to its remaining two thirds. In the first third the author touches on the humanistic ways of coping with life. During this segment, Pi, the main character makes acquaintance with or experiments with the beliefs of Christianity, the Muslim religion, Atheism, Hinduism, and his father’s own indifference that is spurred by a Faith in the current moment. Due to his father’s indifference to religion, Pi is put in a very unique situation. He has not yet been influenced by the general societal view that religions cannot mix, and therefore constructs his own method of coping with the world which is a combination of the above listed systems of belief. This phenomenon which is experienced in all creatures can be described in one word: adaptation. There is a small segment preceding the religious section of the novel that details the characteristics of animals. It runs parallel to Pi’s belief system that he has taken on in order to feel comfortable in society.

“Don’t we say, “There’s no place like home,”? That’s certainly what animals feel. Animals are territorial. That is the key to their minds. Only a familiar territory will allow them to fulfill the two relentless imperatives of the wild: the avoidance of enemies and the getting of food and water.” (17)

Through religion Pi, like many other people, has created his own portable “territory”. Similar to an animal’s territory it gives him the necessities of a contented life through its principles.

Martel in an even greater way conveys the parallelism between religion and animal adaptation in the last two thirds of the book in which Pi, because of his status as a castaway, becomes dependent on the raw characteristics of animal instinct in order to survive. When he is at his worst, most desperate points in his shipwrecking Pi’s thoughts become more and more animalistic. For example: he breaks the Hindu religion and consumes meat, the society’s normal concern for health is forgotten due to hunger and he consumes a tiger’s feces, etc. In short he puts his belief system in constant flux in order to adapt to the situations which nature presents to him. This is similar to the way in which religion helps one adapt to situations, but in this situation his religion in sense becomes that of the base needs for survival. In reading these two passages, one can see distinct similarities between Pi’s methods of gaining comfort. One of these however is brought on by base needs of survival to cope with the world, while the other is brought on by religious methods to cope with the world.

“I loved my prayer rug. Ordinary in quality though it was, it glowed with beauty in my eyes. I’m sorry I lost it. Wherever I laid it I felt special affection for the patch of ground beneath it and the immediate surroundings…” (76)

“The result was no galleon. The mast, so called, ended hardly a few inches above my head. As for the deck, it was just big enough to sit on cross-legged or to lie on in a tight, nearly-to-term fetal position. But I wasn’t complaining. It was seaworthy and it would save me from Richard Parker.” (174)

While one emotion based description details a prayer rug, and the other details a raft, both give Pi a sense of belonging in the world. They are essentially the same thing, with the same purpose. They are only different in the matter that they were created for the different beings that were a result of the situations they found themselves in. One can see by the words and phrases used in both passages such as “affection”, “glowed with beauty”, and “save me from Richard Parker” that they create an identical sense of safety. The comparison in these two passages between adaptation and religion proves that every living thing desires the same safety and contentedness but that we have simply labeled the very similar methods used to reach it so that they reside within separate categories.

Martel at the end of the book addresses the differing needs of living things to gain the content feeling that everything desires one final time. When Pi is being interviewed by the Japanese men about the sinking of the Tsimtsum they don’t believe the story which involves him surviving on a life raft for over 200 days with a Bengal tiger. They however accept one involving only people, which is much harsher and possesses less quality as a story. They are comfortable with it, because it does not go beyond what they are used in life. The two Japanese men believe it because it gives them a contentedness to know that nothing has changed in their environment and therefore their beliefs do not have to change. This is similar to an early passage in the book in which Pi discusses animal’s dislike of change.

“In the wild, animals stick to the same paths for the same pressing reasons, season after season. In a zoo, if an animal is not in its normal place in its normal posture at the usual hour, it means something.” (16-17)

A comparison between the Japanese men and Pi’s description of animals shows that, in the same way that because of a need to adapt, animals desire repetitiveness and a sense of defined territory, humans desire those same exact things, using religion or a specific way of life as a means to attain them. The analysis of the above passage brings up the ability of living things to become comfortable with a specific situation, no matter how strange or unlikely that situation may look like on the surface in order to maintain the standards in life which they are accustomed too. In the encounter between the Japanese businessmen and Pi the Japanese businessmen are as equally comfortable with the shortened “human” version of Pi’s survival as Pi is with the seemingly fanciful account which is in truth what really happened. Pi could easily have dismissed his memories of the uncanny way in which he survived as but a product of lack of nutrients and overexposure to the sun. However, due to his religion centralized mind, he readily accepts it simply because he is used to accepting the strange. The Japanese businessmen do not accept the story as they are comfortable living in the practical way which is similar to that of how Pi’s father lives. Realists, they have Faith in the current moment, and believe only what is most plausible. This direct comparison which Martel presents the reader with brings light to the fact that people’s perception of things is dominated by their beliefs in order to maintain the repetition that we as living things desire in life.

Through comparison of passages from the first third of his novel to ones in the remaining two thirds, Martel makes the statement that religion acts in the same way as territory does for animals. Both concepts leave nothing unexpected. An animal’s territory provides its occupants with the necessary things in life and religion provides people with the necessary answers in life. Always present, these two things are a source of comfort in that they provide a concept of sameness and understanding so that one feels that they have a place in the world.

(A.G. 2010)


Viewing the Holocaust Through Allusions and Symbols with Fiction’s Lens in Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil

[(Essay dated June 10, 2010) A.G. analyzes Martel’s use of allusion and symbolism in his novel Beatrice and Virgil to discuss through fiction how during the Holocaust so many bystanders remained in a state of passive deadly apathy and how after such a terrible organization of hatred people were able to cope enough in order to continue leading their lives.]

Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil is set on the premise of a famous author by the name of Henry who has been struggling to convey the Holocaust through literature. By mere chance he comes across a gaunt, emotionless taxidermist in his mid eighties who is writing a play which takes place on a country called the Shirt. The main characters in the play are a howler monkey called Virgil and a donkey called Beatrice. Many of the beings that reside in the Shirt, are being persecuted, tortured, and killed by a monolithic force. Beatrice and Virgil describe the events that are occurring around them as the Horrors. The entire play is focused on the two animals’ discussion about the Horrors and is centralized around one question.

“How are we going to talk about what happened to us one day when its over?” (133)

The taxidermist himself is symbolic of the very essence of someone who has had to cope with the terrible event. Being in his mid 80’s he grew up during the Holocaust and therefore must have some connection to it. In appearance and character he is awkwardly tall, gaunt, serious, eerily comfortable with silence, and shut out by the community. Of these descriptions his silence is the one which possess the most importance.

“…the taxidermist looked out of place. He was overdressed considering the warm weather. When the waiter came over, Henry noticed that he addressed the question “What can I get you?” only to him and not the taxidermist. And the taxidermist wasn’t looking at the waiter either.” (120)

Ultimately this reflects upon how the voice of the Jewish people was silenced during Hitler‘s barbaric plot. Through propaganda Hitler was able to teach people to believe that Jews did not belong in the world. It is much easier to believe what someone else tells you than it is to formulate your own opinions. In the same respect, due to the taxidermist’s silence accompanied with an out-of-place appearance, society finds it much easier to misunderstand him than to attempt to grasp his true person. The taxidermist’s silence is so heavy that is in fact screaming to be broken. The people which surround him however are so ignorant and ready to accept rumors that they do not hear his absence of voice, they only see his silence and because it is easy, give him their own silence in return. The treatment which the taxidermist receives is very similar to that of an experiment with silence conducted between Beatrice and Virgil within his own play.

“Virgil: Gosh, what a noisy place this is! Beatrice: Very distracting. Virgil: Impossible to hear silence. Beatrice: I agree. (Silence.) Virgil: I bet you if I made a lot of noise, you’d hear silence better. Beatrice: Do you think? Virgil: Why don’t we try. (Virgil stands up. He takes in a big breath. He says the following at top volume.) (Virgil screams, imitating a train conductor) (to Beatrice) Well, the silence. Did you hear it? Beatrice: Yes. Virgil: And? Beatrice: It was thousands of shadows pressing on me.” (140-141)

The above passage demonstrates that silence only gives you time to your own thoughts and outside influence. In contrast, when one is immersed fully in a situation and makes an effort to understand and take in everything they will truly be enlightened to what is actually happening. This enlightenment is detailed in Beatrice’s description of the thousands of shadows. If the waiter at the café had taken the time to talk to the old taxidermist he would realize that he was human just like himself, and all outside influence would be destroyed in the face of first hand evidence. In the same way, if the apathetic German citizens had made but an effort to look past propaganda they may have never allowed the Holocaust to happen.

Also significant about the taxidermist is that of his controlling nature represented through the fact that he never allows our main character Henry to actually read the script of his play. He always reads it out loud. By being the sole reader of his play which is centered around the Holocaust it gives the taxidermist an illusion of control over the story. This comments on the lack of control that the Jews had, and the ability to take charge that every other inhabitant of the world didn’t utilize soon enough.

Henry, the main character of the story has two pets; Erasmus the dog and Mendelssohn the cat. During the course of the novel the two pets strangely get along, but eventually Erasmus ends up killing Mendelssohn due to a contraction of rabies. The behavior of these two animals is extremely symbolic when coupled with their namesakes. The namesake of the cat, Moses Mendelssohn was a German born Jewish philosopher who contributed to the creation of Reform Judaism and did a lot for the tolerance of Jews in society. The name Erasmus is an allusion to the Catholic humanist and philosopher Desiderius Erasmus, who fought with the church for the concept of free will and also changed part of the Bible to his own liking. In a clever metaphor the rabies symbolizes the madness fed by ignorance that enveloped the societies involved in the Holocaust. In Nazi Germany, Hitler justified the killing of the Jews through an extremely warped view of religion. In a similar way, Erasmus the philosopher changed the Bible to his own liking and taught his version to the people. Martel’s allusion goes even deeper in the connection to Erasmus’s promotion of free will, and the fact that society during the Holocaust did not use their free will in a way that was productive to help the Jews to once again become tolerated like the philosopher Mendelssohn had worked so hard for. In the end both Mendelssohn the cat, and Erasmus the dog die, symbolic of how the Holocaust deeply scarred both the persecuted and the persecutors.

The part of Beatrice and Virgil most directly associated with the Holocaust is a scene in the taxidermist’s play in which two women and their babies are forced into a pond to drown, by men with Nazi like characteristics. This scene is witnessed by both Beatrice and Virgil. They are so heavily influenced by it that they must talk about something in order to find comfort. They discuss a pear in great depth but the scene they have just witnessed remains in the backdrop, the pear being but a method to see things in a simpler light in order to cope. The pear itself is talked about in a manner which greatly glorifies it. It discusses its soft abundant flesh and mellow shape in the way that which one talks about an extremely lofty ideal or life dream. In this, the pear takes on a new meaning. It represents promise of knowledge, purity, and a lack of ignorance.

“ Virgil: Slice a pear and you will find that its flesh is incandescent white. It glows with inner light. Those who carry a knife and a pear are never afraid of the dark.” (50)

The darkness in this line represents the Holocaust. The pear, its description being one of such a glowing white, indicates a feeling of hope and promise. Through simple methods such as talking about a pear as metaphor for freedom from a terrible situation Martel discusses the ends to which people had to go to in order to mentally survive the horrors of the Holocaust.

By using symbols and allusions Martel ultimately shows us the Holocaust from a completely different perspective that is just as terrifying yet connectable on different levels. It creates a fictional representation of the Holocaust which encompasses elements from a plethora of sources in order to make it more relatable and real to a reader than the cold constantly reported facts of history.

(A.G. 2010)




STORYTELLING: A CLEVER DETAIL OF FICTION, WAY TO RELATE RELIGION, OR BOTH?

[(Essay date 1 June 2008) In the following essay, S.P. discusses Yann Martel's use of storytelling in the novel Life of Pi to portray the value of fiction and how storytelling relates to religion. S.P. claims that Martel successfully employs storytelling techniques to pose questions as to how stories relate to fiction and religion. Yann Martell is able to go beyond just creating another adventure story by stimulating the mind of the reader in order for them to debate fact from fiction and the importance of stories.]

Think about your favorite story. Now think about your religion (or your devotion to no religion). Finally think of the two in combination-religion told through stories or stories with religion in them. The opinion dealing with this relationship differs greatly from person to person. In Yann Martel’s masterpiece, Life of Pi, he delves into two popular and often intertwined topics-the nature of stories and religion. Not only does he deal with each of these topics separately, but Martel’s writing challenges the reader to ask themselves how they feel about the relationship between stories and religion.

In Life of Pi, you can find frame stories that are even within the overall story. Martel sets up the novel to begin with a completely fictional prologue on how the story came to be. Martel’s storytelling ability is so exceptionally creative, that the reader is instantly lulled into the belief they are experiencing a real life event written down over three hundred and odd some pages. Throughout the novel, there are chapters written in italics, which show that Martel is writing about ‘real life’; a life in which he is interviewing the sole survivor of the sinking of the Tsimtsum. For example, Martel describes Pi as, “A small, slim man—no more than five foot five. Dark hair, dark eyes. Hair greying at the temples. Can’t be older than forty. Pleasing coffee-coloured complexion.” (7) This physical description of Pi presents a great deal of imagery. The reader can see Pi in their head as if they are looking at an actual picture of him. The key aspect to consider though is that Pi is not real. He is created to give this work of fiction the perception of factuality. These chapters reinforce the idea of story telling because they are part of the story of the man who the overall story is about. The main context of the novel then deals with what Martel finds out from Mr. Piscine Molitor Patel (a.k.a. Pi) about his ordeal that took place in the past; when Pi was sixteen years old sailing from India to Canada. Mr. Patel speaks of grand Bengal tigers, savage hyenas, courageous orangutans, and wounded zebras; along with Islam, Hindu, and Christianity. This grouping of animals and religions seem quite odd to all be lumped together, but they are all important because they play pivotal roles in Pi’s story.

The bulk of the story is written in first person, as if Pi is relating the story to the audience himself. It appears to the reader as if it is no longer a story, but a real life account of Pi’s own life. The genius of Martel to trap his audience in a story so well that they forget it is only a story marks his superiority in writing fiction. If Pi’s story has been retold from an outside source, it would have had the characteristics of just being an adventure story. By Martel going straight to the essence of story telling, he creates a brilliant work of fiction. The reader can truly appreciate how the novel has been presented and can question what makes a story fictional. Some may have trouble believing how such a convincing account of what happened to Pi Patel can only be a story; the novel tests the reader to determine fact from fiction.

If the realness of the story was not enough to press the issue of storytelling, Martel further compounds the issue in the last part of the novel. When Pi recounts his story to men from the shipping company, their “yeastless factuality” (302) inhibits them from believing what Pi says. They see his ordeal as only a story. They think there is a greater truth. At this point, Martel throws every reader for a spin. Pi tells the men another story. One very similar in events, but instead of animals, it is full of people. It is determined that Richard Parker is Pi, the Frenchman is the hyena, Pi’s mother is the orangutan, and the sailor is the zebra. It is at this moment where Martel forces his audience to think for themselves. He displays the great power of fiction through this twist in the story. The responsibility to distinguish which story is the truth and which story is simple just a story falls in the hands of the person holding the book. There is so much evidence that could point in either direction. At one point in the novel, Pi says, “It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” (164) This quote, though short and seemingly straight forward, can support both stories Pi tells. In the version with the animals, Richard Parker saves Pi’s life by keeping him company and sane, but Richard Parker can easily just be a representation of Pi himself. If this is the case, then it would make sense that he would not be alive if it was not for himself. Who is to say which story is the real one? This question portrays the excellence of well written fiction. Fiction should stimulate the audiences’ minds, and superior fiction should appear as a believable reality. Yann Martel, in Life of Pi, attains this high level and gives his audience an excellent reading experience that challenges them intellectually to determine what they believe is the real story. In the end, there may be no right or wrong answer.

Perhaps an even greater accomplishment of Yann Martel’s storytelling is the implications that point to a close connection between stories and religion. He clearly uses the novel to make a statement revolving around his ideas of how stories are connected to religion. In the fictional prologue, Mr. Adirubasamy tells Martel, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” (x) This single line not only sets a clear course for the novel, but is wide open to interpretation of exactly what it means. Life of Pi is not a novel indoctrinating the reader with religious beliefs, but instead explores various religions and the importance of a firm belief in something.

Mr. Adirubasamy’s words also set the stage for one of the main ideas in the novel; the idea that religion is expressed to its believers in a series of stories. Pi has an odd assortment of religious beliefs. He is a follower of Christianity, Hindu, and Islam; this combination strikes the reader as being fictional because of its diversity. Each of these religions has its own stories and tales associated with them in order to spread and teach the religion. Followers of any faith must look past what makes sense and is maybe scientific and believe the stories they are told. This is what faith is. It is believing in the unknown. When Pi is in the process of learning about Christianity from Father Martin, Pi says, “Father Martin […] was very kind; he treated me like a grown-up; he told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, a Story. And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief […] What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology. I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying [but] their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again and again, over and over. It was story enough for them.” (53) and then, “This Son is a god who spent most of His time telling stories, talking.” (55-56). Pi represents what anyone individual goes through when the experience something for the first time that is difficult to believe. They have doubts, uncertainties, and reservations about everything they are being exposed to. Pi even states that he felt disbelief at first. As he hears more stories and develops a fondness for Christianity, he begins to believe in the very faith he had difficulty comprehending at first. Pi’s transformation from nonbeliever to devoted follower portrays the beauty of faith, and not even just the beauty of faith, but the beauty in believing in something that can not be proven one hundred percent. Pi finds himself having to abandon what may make sense to him in order to believe in these stories, which may even appear to simply be works of fiction, just like the overall novel.

Both stories and religion require faith on the part of the individual to believe what is being professed. In Life of Pi, Martel discusses this very aspect of faith. Many people who have complex, unsure thoughts on religion have them because they do not know what is true and what is story to only prove a point. In the previous quote Pi says, “Their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again and again, over and over. It was story enough for them.” (53). Pi is impressed with Christian people’s ability to believe in their God even though they receive their information, beliefs, and ideas from a book full of stories. Martel almost challenges his audience to question their hesitancy to religion by writing about Pi’s spiritual journey and submission into believing the stories of his multiple faiths. It is the idea of storytelling that enables Pi to stray from the norm and act as a follower of his three religions. Because each religion has its own sets of stories, Pi feels he can be a part of all of them. Each individual story may touch him in a different way. When Pi is confronted by his three different religious leaders on the wrongness of his multiple religions, he responds by saying, “Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.” (69). What is more important than this fact? Pi feels he can connect to God in different ways through different religions. If he can believe the stories from one religion, then there should be nothing wrong with believing stories from all different religions. Martel claims that it is imperative to have a certain level of trust in these ‘fictional stories’ in order to be able to believe in a religion. I use the word fictional delicately here because it is up to the individual to determine if they think it is just a story or if there could be truth behind it.

And thus, it is this decision which readers of Life of Pi must come to themselves. Yann Martel brilliantly kindles the thoughts of each individual revolving around the powerful effects of talented storytelling. The reader must look past the simplistic adventure story presented in the novel and focus on the various stories prevalent in the novel. Each person must sort through each story and take a leap of faith in order to determine which one they choose to believe in. As Yann Martel portrays, this also holds true for religion. Life of Pi explores the impact of stories on religion and allows the reader to ponder their own beliefs. This work of fiction, presented in such a convincing way it may appear to be reality, captures the reader’s interest immediately and keeps them submersed in an exceptional story.

(S.P. 2008)

DISCOVERY OF ONE'S SELF
[(Essay date 11 June 2008) In the following essay, S.P. explores Yann Martel's ideas on love and the connection of humans through gender in the novel Self. S.P. claims that by writing the novel in the style of a fictitious autobiography, Martel is able to achieve optimal exposure of his thoughts.]

There could not possibly be a more appropriate title for Yann Martel’s novel Self. Martel makes use of his gift; his storytelling gift to employ fiction to tell a story that often times appears real to the reader. The novel delves into the person; not necessarily a particular person, but aspects of human nature that all humans experience. The words found on the back cover superbly sum up what the novel is all about, “What is fiction? What is autobiography? How do the two meet? What is a man? What is a woman? How do the two meet? What is violence? What is happiness? How do the two meet?” (Back cover). Martel does not simply discuss the anatomical differences between a man and a woman, but instead looks at the fundamental differences, or rather lack of differences between the two. Martel explores the concepts of love and human connectiveness by creating an ironic-sounding fictitious autobiography. Through Martel’s use of fiction in a realistic sense, he is able to relay his thoughts and ideas about complex topics to his readers in a way that leaves them questioning how they feel.

Similar to Martel’s Life of Pi, Self is a reflection on real life through the use of fiction. Numerous events within the novel mirror experiences Martel himself underwent in his life. An autobiography seems so believable when the audience reads about Martel’s diplomat parents or his impressive traveling record or even the many jobs he bounced around in on his way to becoming an aspiring writer. Martel uses this realistic aspect to draw the reader in and put them in a scenario where it feels as though they are witnesses to real events in Martel’s realistic pass. However, though, the creativity and brilliance behind the curtain of an autobiography is that Self is a pure work of fiction. Spontaneous gender change is just not a probability in our ‘real’ world, which is one of the key events that disprove the belief that the novel is something other than the whole truth. Martel deals with issues such as love, exploration of oneself, and rape that give the novel the aura of being based on facts. Indeed it is, despite its fictitious nature. The issues and feelings are real, but the story in which they are related in the untrue part.

One of the most challenging ideas an author can attempt to write about is emotion; not just the basic emotions of happy, sad, or angry, but what emotion is and what causes it and how can one express or control it. The narrator can feel emotions from others at points within the novel. For example, when she is surrounded by on Hungarian speaking individuals she says, “When she spoke to her son, I listened to their voices. Since I couldn’t understand a word they said, it was their emotions I heard […] and saw. Their manner was easygoing, attentive, respectful. They seemed never to interrupt each other. Clearly, mother trusted son and son trusted mother.” (261) The narrator reflects exactly what Martel is attempting to make obvious about emotion. The truth of emotions does not just come from someone saying how the feel, but from how one acts. Emotions originate internally and seeps out through every pore in an individual’s body. The narrator is a witness to what emotion really is; a feeling that is clear even when you are not told directly what it is. The narrator could just sense the way the mother and son felt, which is much more important than being told how they felt. This idea about emotion not only being something superficial, but something that comes from deep inside a person is one of the clever thoughts that Martel intertwines throughout his fictitious autobiography.

Not only does Self deal with a sufficient amount of emotion, but specific emotions; the most significant one being love. Throughout the novel, the narrator, at times as a male and at times as a female, searches for what love means and in that search the meaning transforms greatly as the narrator matures and gets in better touch with their own self. As a young child, our male narrator believes, “That love is something oceanic” (16). During his adolescence he views love as a deep emotion saying, “If you’d asked me then what love was, I would have replied in terms of a deep, upsetting beauty-hunger, with at its center the tang of it, lust; and I would have said that love was my favorite emotion, though I was far less familiar with it than I was with desolation and frustration.” (79) Even as a child, the narrator’s view on love expanded and encompassed his maturity. At his very young age, love was a vast idea that had no bound, but as he grew he understood it was something deep and special that had its confines. He could not answer all the questions he had about love because he was not able to successfully capture love. As an adult, our female narrator sees love as something yet different, “Love is a form of childhood in the way we become capable again of being wholly enthralled, able to believe much so easily so intensely.” (258) This opinion on love reverts back to the narrator’s innocent thought as a child. During their adolescence, the narrator tried to pinpoint love and focus on a more exact definition. However, at an older age and with more wisdom, the narrator realizes that love should be viewed in a childish way because it cannot be defined exactly. Love knows no bounds (as in the oceanic type of love) and can conquer any adversity (as in being able to believe much so easily so intensely). Martel takes different approaches to describe this complex emotion and, in doing so, explores the foundations of love.

In close relation with the idea of love in the novel, the idea of the connect between humans arises also. Tied into this connect is specifically the relationship between male and female. Gender has a profound effect on the narrator as they undergo a transformation from male to female after turning eighteen only to be turned back to a male at the age of thirty. Just as when describing love, the narrator’s attitude on what the differences are between the genders differs with age and maturity. The narrator recounts, “I cannot recall noticing, as a small child, any difference between my parents that I could ascribe to sex. Though, I knew they weren’t the same thing twice over, the distinctions did not express themselves in fixed roles.” (5) The narrator finds himself not fully understanding the difference between male and female. As he grows he learns the physical difference is the sex organ, but still he does not associate things based on gender. Most importantly he does not love based on gender (as is obvious with the narrator’s numerous lesbian and gay affairs and claiming to love a member of the same sex). He associates love with how he feels about a person, regardless of their gender. Martel makes a point here that is not blatant, but holds a great deal of merit. The important thing with love is to do it for the right reasons and love does not necessarily have to be a romantic type of love or a love between opposite genders. Martel uses the innocence of the narrator as a child to portray the belief that too much emphasis can be put on romantic love of heterosexuals. He argues, though, that love is a feeling that should be expressed by people who feel it for a variety of reasons. Even as the narrator matures, their opinion on gender differences does not change beyond the superficial level. With age and a personal change in gender, the narrator associates certain stereotypes to men and women, but still believes deep down that it is the soul and the person within that should be judged, not their gender based on the physical traits. Martel uses this novel to investigate if there are really any true differences between men and women on levels that truly matter.

With the culmination of the novel, the narrator begins to grasp an understanding of himself. All his/her experiences flow into who he really is. Throughout the entire novel there are at least seven references to an explosion of some sorts, whether it is an exploding pimple, a sexual climax, a tasteful flavor, or pain. The explosion is symbolic of the narrator. Explosions typically allude to instantaneous results, which is exactly what the narrator was often searching for at times to their questions. Unfortunately though, the narrator rarely found what they were looking for immediately. The narrator had to endure the process of maturation in order to comprehend who they were. The symbolism of the explosions may appear contradictory because it is, but this is exactly what Martel was attempting to accomplish. He used the explosions to portray what the narrator wanted in order that the audience captures the true essence of Martel’s message on finding oneself. Martel’s message is a powerful one that deals with love and humanness so to speak.
By using his fictitious autobiographical style, Martel gives the reader an excellent opportunity to take something very meaningful and personal away from this novel; an exploration of one’sSelf.

(S.P. 2008)


Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Connection and Separation in Yann Martel's Self

[In this essay J.M. will explore Yann Martel’s use of style and change of language in bringing the reader closer to Self. J.M. will also examine the use of separation throughout the novel Self.]
A fictional autobiography is, to say the least, an interesting way of advertising a book, though with Self, Yann Martel is selling exactly that. It is full of real experiences Martel had, such as living with diplomat parents and moving around the globe as a child while still being rooted in Canada and speaking it’s two native languages, French and English, but it is also filled with fictional elements, for example the changes from man to woman and from woman to man. In many interviews, Martel has said that he has not found his true self, and, therefore, cannot show it to the rest of the world. This is also true of the narrator, especially in regards to their relationship with the reader.
The first separation, and also the most visually obvious, is that between the two columns which appear at various intervals throughout the novel. Sometimes Self gives a narrative in both English and French, or English and Spanish, depending on who he is speaking about or to, as he separates his languages very carefully between school, home, and play. The usage of two languages at once generally happens during a pivotal moment, either in the plot or in Self’s perceptions. This seems to be an aid for him in comprehending a situation, as this element is generally seen during Self’s childhood, before his parents are killed. When the languages come together, it brings together two separate parts of the narrator’s life, making what is happening more real or more vivid and easily remembered. Yet when this happens in describing the plane crash, the languages are Spanish and English, not the French which he spoke with his parents. All of this in trying to keep a distance from a tragedy, while still attempting to feel it’s effects in other aspects of life. Another use for this visual separation is to emphasize an emotional separation between Self and Tito, her boyfriend. While Self narrates small conversations she has throughout a day of visiting Tito’s family, it appears alongside a long conversation in Hungarian between Tito and his mother. This conversation is not understood by the narrator, and appears to be a very familiar and intimate conversation, a level of closeness that Self will never have with Tito, in part because she does not speak his first and most natural language, something that he does, however, share with his mother. Towards the end of the novel, a third type of separation by columns appears, this another type between thoughts the narrator alone is having. These come about during moments of heightened conciseness, like those from when Self was younger, except that both columns are in english this time; one reflecting the narrator’s outward sense of perception and direction, the other the subconscious, single words that encompass the whole of what Self is feeling, such as “Tito,” “baby,” “fear,” and “pain” during the scenes where she decides to leave Tito and is raped by her neighbor. This double narration is a tool which brings greater understanding not only to the narrator about herself, but to the reader.

The narrator uses Dramatis Personae, short, single-scene plays containing three characters each with only descriptive names, as another way to separate himself from a situation in order to better understand it. These scenes, like the columns, come at pivotal moments. Such as when Arthur Fenton his Self or in describing the relationship that she and Ruth shared. By removing names and identities from these scenes, Self can look at them in a more objective light and understand them better. In the Dramatis Personae to illustrate a typical conversation between Self and Ruth, it’s use appears vividly to the reader.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE
YOUTH
AGE
FUNNY-LOOKING CLOUD
SCENE: a hot, sunny beach in the south-western Peloponnese (The curtain rises. Youth and Age are lying on the beach, facing the sea and sun)
YOUTH: ( rattles on at a hundred miles an hour while age listens .)
(Funny-looking Cloud enters stage right.)
AGE ( pointing): Isn’t that a funny-looking cloud?
YOUTH (looks, smiles): Yes, it is.
(they both look at the Funny-looking Cloud until it floats off stage left. A long pause.)
YOUTH: (rattles on at a hundred miles an hour while age listens.)
CURTAIN

In separating herself from this everyday conversation, Self could find a clearer picture of who she wanted to be; more like the calm, simple, understanding Ruth, not the talkative young, energy who was “emotionally sloppy” and commonly used “needless gesticulations.” This says a lot about Self in the sense that, throughout the novel, she searches for who she is and what she really wants, but never finds it in herself, only in others, like Ruth, and, later on, in Roger. In speaking only one line as opposed to Youth’s “rattling on,” Age conveys a knowledge of the belief to think before she speaks, an age-old philosophy that shows her wisdom and the peace that she finds within that. With her continuous dialogue, Youth displays what is not necessarily a lack of wisdom, but a lack of the ability to use that wisdom to understand herself and the world around her, the problem which the narrator continues to encounter throughout the novel.

Martel also uses Self’s separation from others in her life to illustrate the search for who she is and is becoming. The novel that Self writes during her years in Roetown at college is the key to this separation; it is herself, embodied in something more easily interpreted. In writing this novel, Self seemed to be trying to, yet again, find herself, but this time without the company or examples of others. This isolation of a part of herself allowed the narrator to explore all of her ideas freely, but also at a distance because these ideas related to other people, imaginary people, whose actions as well as emotions she had the power to control. In working through the obstacles that her characters encountered throughout the novel, Self had a way to look at her own problems, or those of a similar nature, objectively, such as with the Dramatis Personae.
The physical aspect of how this novel slowly began to come together also demonstrates the condition in which she lived: in a structured form. Self and her housemates were very distanced from each other, they “built those good fences that make good neighbors that Robert Frost so deplored. We divided the fridge into five parts (five chunks of variously aged cheddar cheese, five separate litres of homotwopercentskim milk, five etc.) and we divided the cupboards into five parts (five packages of pasta, five cans of tuna, five etc.). I believe the only victuals we shared were the salt and pepper” (168). The orderly separation of the items in the kitchen and the rest of the house demonstrates how, although the five students lived so closely together, they rarely came together enough to even share essentials like salt and pepper. The novel was so structured on the walls of her office, complete with colored labels giving descriptions of how the ideas on the cards were to be used, that it seemed as though there was no connection by Self between her and the words that she was writing. The separation of even these everyday objects, necessities, even, gives the impression that the narrator (and her housemates) were very self-dependent and rarely keen on the idea of asking for help or letting someone see their true self. Such is true with showing this ordered flow of ideas on her walls to housemates or even closer friends. Yet Self allows Roger into her office without knowing him very well almost immediately, which, in turn, let him into Self’s life at a much faster pace than most of her other relationships.
After Self’s first transformation from man to woman, the narrator talks about her androgynous name, and how it fit her as both a man and as a woman, though she never reveals her name to the reader. This is an underlying factor as to why we, as readers, feel the need to discover who she is through other approaches, alongside of Self’s own journey to discover who she is. When we meet someone, it is common practice to give your name, and you generally expect one in return, automatically making you feel closer to the person because, if nothing else, you know how they identify themselves. Self, however, makes you work to get to know her, in part because she doesn’t even know herself, and simply invites you along on her pilgrimage, wherever it may take her.

(2009) JM

And so it Goes With God and Other Religious beliefs found in Life of Pi by Yann Martel


[In this essay, J.M. will discuss the connections between religion and storytelling, and how the two come together to pose the question, “Which is the better story?” to the reader of the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel. J.M. will also discuss how Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) embodies belief that Religion is so closely connected to storytelling.]
“How true is it that necessity is the mother of invention, how very true” (139).
While, with this quote, Pi isn’t talking about the creation of religion, it applies beautifully to this concept. Religion wasn’t simply created one day, each individual denomination began with hundreds, if not thousands of years of stories, varying by region and dialect. These tales most likely started before theism; the stories became grander and, in some cases, theistic, which were eventually written down or collected in some way that turned them into one common story or collection of stories which were then shared with larger audiences. These stories turned into beliefs and codes that large groups of people lived by, creating a religion, even though it may not have had a name, center or even specific deities other than the stories told within it. What is religion beside that? All that religion is is a set of guidelines a person or group of people choose to follow. Doesn’t this make all religions the same if they are simply rules? Pi, by not conforming to any one religion but to specific aspects of Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, created his own religion. It may not have had a name, but it was a group of rules and beliefs that Pi based his life around, making it his own religion, his own system of beliefs.
Without these sets of beliefs, these religions, there would be no God(s). A god cannot be proven to exist by scientific standards, though one can be proven to exist through standards set by differentbeliefs. Without a god or a religion (and therefore without storytelling), we would be left with the bare, sterile facts that make up science and mathematics, leaving no room for interpretation, only guidelines and boundaries that cannot be crossed.
However, this is not the case, as proven by Martel at the very end of the novel. In the author’s note at the beginning of the book, Mr. Adirubasamy claims that what follows is a story “that will make you believe in God” (x), and the author definitely follows through on this statement. While telling his story, Pi says, “I know my survival is hard to believe.” And that it is; surviving for two hundred and twenty-seven days on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is nearly impossible to believe, then again, isn’t Moses parting the Red Sea something that is, to our knowledge, difficult to believe also? Yet people do, steadfastly, without any hint of a question. After reading Pi’s story, it doesn’t seem quite so difficult to believe that he did survive, the same way that, after reading the Bible, Moses parting the sea doesn’t seem so far-fetched, either. But why were either of these events able to occur? Many, even those unreligious, would answer, “because that is the way that God made it happen,” and before reading this story, someone may believe that Pi survived because of his cunning and skill, especially in regards to Richard Parker, though after reading the novel, their belief may be altered.
In some ways, Pi even relates to Biblical stories, and possibly to some from the Mahabharata or the Quran, as well. At one point, Pi pictures his brother, Ravi, poking fun at him and calling Pi Noah, with all of the animals in his “ark.” Pi, like Noah, was spared. But why? God chose Noah to build an ark and save what He had created because He believed that Noah would carry out the tasks that were set before him unwaveringly and correctly, but also because He knew that Noah would tell the story the way the God had intended it to be told, not the way that it may have actually happened.
“ Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others- and I am one of those- never give up. We fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the very end.” (148)
Whether Pi was chosen to be the sole survivor by God because he had this willpower within him or simply because he couldn’t sleep that night and that is the way that things happened may never be seen, but whichever of these occurred, there is no disputing that God choosing Pi in the same way that He chose Noah makes the better story. The facts of this can never be proven, and even Pi may not know the answer, though he could easily say that it was God who woke him that night and compelled him to go out onto the deck of the ship, or the other way around.
At the closing of Pi’s conversation with Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Chiba, he asks the two men which story they thought was better, not true, as he already knows that they, deep down, know which story was true, but he wants to know which they thought was better.They respond by saying the story with the animals, to which Pi replies, “Thank you. And so it goes with God.” By this, Pi appears to simply be saying that God, religion, won the battle over truth, or what would be considered face, this time, but he is really saying something independent of this. The argument that, throughout the novel, the reader had with themselves over the existence of God and entire concept of religion, is solved. Even though Martel never gives away the point that he had made about the altering of beliefs, it is easy to tell which story he wants the reader to believe. And not just believe in the scientific way by saying that Pi could never have survived on a lifeboat with a full-grown Bengal Tiger, but believe the story that you had become so attached to over the course or reading the novel, even though it may have been scientifically impossible. Doubt is as happiness, anger, or sadness: an uncontrollable human emotion that will never cease to appear. Within science or mathematics, there is little room for doubt, and as human as the calculations might be, it is still within a strict pathway that they must follow, whereas doubt in other areas, like religion or God, can branch off into a million different pathways that may lead to new understandings and acceptances.
Without storytelling, there is no religion. Without religion, there is no God. Though without belief, there is nothing.
(2009) JM

THE VALUE OF FICTION AND STROYTELLING IN TERMS OF ENTERTAINMENT AND RELIGION.



Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a fictional story depicting the extravagant and adventures life and journey of its main character, Pi Patel. This extraordinarily entertaining story has the ability to make one appreciate the true value of fiction and storytelling. As the novel moves throughout Pi’s story one is captured and entertain, not wanting to stop for they must see what Pi will do next or what troubles the weather, sea, or Bengal tiger Richard Parker will give him. This captivating journey of Pi across the Pacific on a lifeboat containing a 450 pound Bengal tiger can capture any reader, even any doubter of fiction any its purpose.

Fiction and storytelling are very relevant in society, we as people love to be entertained by imaginary stories and characters as we fall into the story next to them, experiencing it as a character ourselves. In no case is this more true than Life of Pi. This novel absolutely captures the reader making them fully appreciate fiction at the end when they are faced with a decision. At the end of the book the reader is presented with an alternate story much more realistic and believable then the one that is a large portion of the book, this story however is much less entertaining. Pi poses the questions to his investigators of which was the better story, and both responded the one with the animals, not the people. This puts the importance of fiction into perspective, which would you like to believe. To believe the one with the animals is to expand your imagination to depths so entertaining it feels real and exiting. Fiction allows us to escape our lives and enter that of a book or story where anything is possible, and journey through our imagination.

Fiction is not only a part of society in books, but in legends, short stories, and fairy tales also. Legends such as big foot and the loc ness monster start and spur debate but in reality these stories are fun and entertaining to believe, they would not be spread otherwise. Belief in extra-terrestrial life has led to movies and books observed by millions. Short stories and fairy tales are key in one’s childhood, belief in fictional heroes provide endless thoughts and action to a small child. Fiction is a part of culture, each society has its own legends, stories, books, and myths. They become a part of that society and community.

“Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.”

The quote, and Life of Pi as a whole, link the importance of fiction with that of religion. First the novel focuses on religion, specifically those Pi becomes interested in; Muslim, Hindu, and Christianity. It then turns to the shipwreck and fiction journey. These two separate and contradicting ideas brought together at the end of the novel when the investigators are asked which story which they believe. This choice is parallel with one that every human being must make, their belief in God. For to believe in God is to believe in the story with the animals, the story containing heroism, drastic means of survival, the presence of a higher power, and the never ending will to live. This is the story that cannot be proven true when chose results in a finer more complex and more satisfying life. To believe in God is to believe in a power that brings people together, many stories of miracles and someone to believe in when times are hard. To believe in the story with the people is to believe in the further proven story of evolution. Believers of this theory have no higher power in their lives and believe in a story containing no miracles or no powerful acts. This is a much duller life with imagination so far limited it cannot fully experience life. The choice of religion is the choice of which story to believe, you may chose the realistic one or the extraordinary captivating one of miracles, life, and love.

E.K. (2011)

THE SEARCH FOR ONES SELF THROUGH A SERIOES OF EXPERIENCES AND TRAVELS

Yann Martel’s Self is a combination of fiction and autobiography that depicts life and its struggles. It depicts a male character who awakens as a women and then changes back to man in the face of tragedy. It follows the character from childhood all the way through adulthood, cover all possible parts of life and experiences we may face.

One theme of Self is sexuality and what makes men masculine and women feminine. The novel reveals that the line between these is very thin, and similarities are so common that while reading it is possible to often forget the changes the character had undergone. Fascination with the menstrual cycle as a men and wonders into the lives of women made it a smooth and surprisingly easy transition from male to female. The characters change does not change their thoughts, pleasures, or actions. All of these things simply become replaced by female rather than male attributes. This novel breaks the line between male and female to bring about the realization that our inner thoughts and characteristics rather than appearance make people themselves.

Another theme of the novel is the search for the definition of love. The narrator experiences what they believe is love several times throughout. It comes in all forms, short crushes, love based on looks, physical actions, or lust, and even more true love that lasted a decent amount of time. Love is confusing to the narrator. They express themselves as follows, "The clear liquid in our eyes is seawater and therefore there are fish in our eyes, seawater being the natural medium of fish. Since blue and green are the colors of the richest seawater, blue and green eyes are the fishiest. Dark eyes are somewhat less fecund and albino eyes are nearly fishless, sadly so. But the quantity of fish in an eye means nothing. A single tiger fish can be as beautiful, as powerful, as an entire school of seafaring tuna.” This observation of love shows understand of the quality and levels of love, there is fake love like the albino eyes, ad true quality love like that of the tiger fish. One single tiger fish can be more powerful hen a school of tuna. One true beauty, true love means much more than an series of quick love affairs.

Self is a combination of fiction and autobiography that deals with the definition of love and characteristics the define people. The narrator’s experience is a search for love and self, two of the most important aspects of human life.

E.K.(2011)