Primacy of Survival in Life of Pi

Category: Life of Pi, Survival
Last Updated: 17 Aug 2022
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The urgent crave to survive at all costs is known as the primacy of survival. Survival is essential for every animal, and there is no shortage of lengths they will go to in order to survive. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi portrays the theme of primacy of survival based on Pi’s determination and courage throughout his journey. Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as Pi, is a Hindu boy who embarks on a journey to Canada along with his family and their zoo animals. Midway through his journey, the boat sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat.

However, Pi is not alone on the raft; in his presence are a zebra, orangutan, hyena, and a fearsome Bengal tiger. Once he is aware of what happened, Pi understands that giving up on his life is not an option. This lust for survival is expressed by examining how all animals are naturally dangerous, how man will do cruel things in order to survive, and how all of our morals are lost when we feel threatened. Early on in Pi’s life, he is taught by his father that all animals are naturally dangerous.

Pi’s father, who is the owner of a zoo in India doesn’t want Pi to be too comfortable around the animals at the zoo, since they could harm him if they feel threatened. In order to protect his son, he tells him “Life will defend itself no matter how small it is. Every animal is ferocious and dangerous. ” (Martel, 41). This is crucial for Pi to understand, since he may think that some animals are harmless, meanwhile due to their natural instincts, they can be vicious if they feel threatened.

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However, after Pi’s father explains this to him he still isn’t convinced that Pi is fully aware of the consequences if he becomes too comfortable with the animals. Therefore he decides he needs to prove exactly how dangerous some of the animals can be. One day, he takes Pi and his brother to the big cats section of the zoo, to find a massive 550 pound female Bengal tiger; the king of the jungle. He tells them how Mahisha, the tiger, hasn’t eaten in 2 whole days. Then, he says “I want you to remember this lesson for the rest of your lives” (Martel, 47). He then threw in a live goat into the tiger’s cage.

With a sudden flash of orange and black fur, Mahisha demolished the goat with a single blow. Blood splattered everywhere, and Pi and his brother Ravi were utterly appalled by the sound of the dying goat. Pi himself is also an example of his father’s words that “Life will defend itself no matter how small it is. ”( Martel, 41). Pi, a very skinny Hindu boy is faced alone with a hyena, orangutan, zebra and tiger on a lifeboat with no weapons. For the majority of his journey, he knows that death could be present at any given moment, but he still manages to protect and preserve himself.

In certain situations, the primacy of survival of animals and humans alike can have an immensely powerful feeling, urging us to do anything in order to survive. This urge to survive can sometimes drive us to do cruel and unimaginable things. Pi experiences the cruelness of our hunger for survival when the boat Pi and his family are on begins to sink, and crew members throw Pi onto the lifeboat. Pi was thankful for them at first, since he thought being on the lifeboat would ensure his safety; however he wasn’t alone on the lifeboat.

An adult hyena that was being shipped had managed to escape its cage and make refuge on the very same lifeboat as Pi! He soon realizes that the crew members didn’t throw him on the lifeboat to save his life, but rather as bait. Shocked, Pi says “They were using me as a fodder. They were hoping the hyena would attack me and that somehow I would get rid of it and make the boat safe for them. ” (Martel, 121). This shows the extent to which humans will go to in order to survive, since there is ultimately nothing more drastic than human sacrifice. Later on in Pi’s journey, he surprisingly runs into another lone survivor on another lifeboat.

At this point in Pi’s journey, his body is severely dehydrated, and is beginning to deteriorate, which results in his loss of vision. The man on the other raft is blind as well, but once Pi begins to talk with him he is able to identify his accent as French. The man, much like Pi, hasn’t had food in days and is starving. Craving his own survival, the man attempts to attack and kill Pi for food. Pi is sure this is the end of his life, “I could feel him moving off the tarpaulin onto the middle bench and, fatally, bringing a foot down to the floor of the boat. ‘No, no, my brother! Don’t! We’re not-’ ” (Martel, 283).

Right before the man begins to attack Pi, Richard Parker; the mighty but weakened Bengal tiger on Pi’s lifeboat attacks the man and kills him. If it hadn’t been for Richard Parker, the man would have without a doubt killed Pi and ate him in order to secure his own survival. Killing someone of the same species as you is sickening and cruel, but doing so to eat them is absolutely insane; something an animal would do. The truth is “We're animals. We're born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts. ” (Morace, 1).

Humans are essentially animals, but once separated from our race, faced with the possibility of death, we will do anything in order to survive. Not only will humans do unimaginable things in order to survive, their morals are all lost to a craving selfishness for survival. Pi experiences this first hand when the hyena on the lifeboat attacks the zebra and wounds it. He is initially horrified at this, but then he expresses how his sense of empathy was quickly overtaken in the fear of his own life: “When your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival. ” (Martel, 133).

This is natural for humans, something that comes instinctualy to us. Later on, Pi feels remorse for the zebra, unlike how he felt in the moment. His instincts however could have saved his life, since he proceeded to hide once the hyena attacked instead of watching and mourning the zebra. Pi even knew that what happened was normal, and that it may have kept him alive. Before he set sail on the ship through the pacific, he learnt about this madness for survival, “All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it’s part and parcel of the ability to adapt.

Without it, no species would survive. ” (Martel, 45). One may argue however that humans are different, that we should not turn into animals when we feel threatened. This is in fact false, since society is what holds us back: “Deprived of the zoo-like structures (society) that sustain them in their daily lives, humans return quite naturally to lives guided by basic instincts and animalistic impulses. ” (Dominic, 143). Once Pi leaves society all together, he essentially becomes an animal like figure guided by instinct that only does things that are necessary for his survival. Because of Pi’s instincts, he is able to survive.

Even though it may seem that Pi just witnesses these acts of human cruelty and loss of morals, he in fact suffers from the loss of morals and is extremely cruel himself. From as early on as he could remember in his life, Pi was a very strict vegetarian. Once he realized he was stranded on the life raft, he knew he would have to give up on his old habits, and that he would have to eat meat in order to survive. Pi quickly learns that he can’t be picky with the food he gets, and with his stomach rumbling of hunger, he proceeds to devour raw fish eyes, turtle blood and Pi even says that “I tried once to eat Richard Parkers feces.” (Martel, 237).

He quickly learns that tiger feces isn’t suitable for humans to eat, and doesn’t attempt to eat it again. Even though it is entirely disgusting that he would do that, he didn’t have many more options. After these events it is said that “Pi also begins to recognize, much to his disappointment, that his own behaviours are becoming more animal-like” (Dominic, 143). Once Pi does realize that he is simply living off his instincts, he is surprisingly content with himself.

However, on the verge of death, Pi does something that is questionable even in order to survive. One may wonder if there is anything worse that Pi could have done on his journey. The answer is cannibalism. After the man that Pi meets at sea is killed by Richard Parker, Pi actually eats some of the man’s raw flesh. Pi confesses that, “Driven by the extremity of my need and the madness to which it pushed me, I ate some of his flesh. ” (Martel, 284). Having not eaten in nearly 12 days, he even claims that “they slipped into my mouth nearly unnoticed. ” (Martel, 284).

This cruel, sickening and unacceptable act simply shows how we will do absolutely anything and everything in our power to survive. As a whole, the primacy of survival is thoroughly expressed within ample instances of Pi’s journey. What else could show the will to survive better than a teenage boy stranded alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Nothing, except if there perhaps was a giant Bengal tiger aboard. Well in that case Pi’s journey is the ultimate story of survival, since he faced hunger, thirst and death with the king of the jungle in his presence the entire time.

Along his way, Pi learned how dangerous all animals naturally are, how humans can do such cruel things, and how our morals are lost when we are threatened. Some may speculate that what Pi did to survive is just plain wrong and unacceptable. Nevertheless Pi survived a record 227 days on the dreadful Pacific Ocean before his journey finally came to a close. From Pondicherry, India, all the way to Tomatlan, Mexico, Pi had to do many undesirable things that all point to an animal’s primacy of survival.

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Primacy of Survival in Life of Pi. (2016, Aug 18). Retrieved from

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