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“Life of Pi” Commentary

In the extract of “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel, the narrator saves a Bengal Tiger, forgetting that the beast will very likely be a threat to his own life. Through the use of theme, storyline, personification, and sound effect, the reader is invited to experience the desperation and hopelessness of humans before the power of nature.

Survival and the battle between man and nature have always been popular themes for writers because these topics often show how humans can use their courage, wisdom and willpower to stay alive in all kinds of harsh environments. Yann Martel has described both sides of the narrator in detail: whining for the unfairness of life (“I am to suffer hell without any account from heaven?”) and unremittingly trying to save the life of the Bengal tiger Richard Parker (“Don’t you love life, Richard Parker? Keep swimming then!”)

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This way, the author has made the story look more realistic, as it shows the boy is a strong and positive figure and is an average human with common weaknesses (blaming fate and fear of death). The storyline of the extract is quite exciting and catchy, as the author has placed the main character in a circumstance that is full of danger from the beginning of the extract. The three simple words at the very beginning of the extract, “The ship sank,” didn’t only describe the situation but also left the place for the reader’s imagination.

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Although no other descriptive words are used here, the readers can immediately draw a picture in their minds of black clouds, strong wind, frightening thunders and roaring sea. In this situation, when the main character is lonely and scared, he suddenly sees the Bengal Tiger that he knows makes him happy (“how good to see you, Richard Parker!”) and creates the first climax. Yann Martel has created several climaxes (where there are hopes to save the tiger) and low tides (where the tiger is drowning and fails to grab the lifebuoy) in this relatively short extract, which almost forces the readers to experience the same feeling as if they are on a roller coaster.

Right after the highest climax, where Richard Parker was saved, the readers receive the biggest fall. They get to know that Richard Parker was a “three-year-old adult Bengal Tiger” that can quickly kill the narrator. The extract ends when the narrator jumps overboard, which makes the ending full of unpredictability and suspense. The personification plays a vital role in this text, as it is not revealed to the reader that Richard Parker, who the narrator tries to save, is an adult Bengal tiger.

The unexpectedness is created by the Bengal Tiger’s human surname “Parker” and how the narrator addresses the tiger using the pronoun “he” rather than the usual “it.” From the annotation, we can see the narrator was very likely a zookeeper (or son of a zookeeper), which explains why he values animals almost as much as his father, mother, and brother Ravi, shown by personifying other animals like “birds, beasts and reptiles” and calling them his “extended family.” These personifications clearly show the attachment between the narrator and the animals because only those who love and respect animals use words like “he,” “she” or “family” to represent them.

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There are quite a lot of sound effects used in this extract, and many of them effectively create tension in the story and helping the readers to understand the text better. For example, starting from the first paragraph, Yann Martel uses phrases like “a monstrous metallic burp” to describe the sound produced by the sinking ship. This gives the readers a feeling as if the sea was a monster that was satisfied (the satisfaction is created by the word “burp” that usually occurs when someone enjoyed a meal) after swallowing the ship.

Verbs such as “bubbled” and “screaming” are very vivid because they all describe processes where sounds are given off. Other than the words mentioned above, the author also uses direct sound effects like “TREEEEEE” and “HUMPF” to portray the noises caused by whistling and the lifebuoy hitting the water. These words are even more effective than the other sound effects because they represent specific sounds and are highlighted with capital letters and italic style.

They grab the readers’ attention and in a way serve for the story as small climaxes and breaks where the readers can pause for some time and then continue with their reading. By using various literary techniques, Yann Martel has effectively told a story about a battle for life between nature, tiger and man. Without any of the elements that are analyzed above, will make this piece of literary work dull and tiresome for the audience.

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"Life of Pi" Commentary. (2021, Sep 26). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from