Use of conflict in Life of Pi

8 August 2016

?Oliver Christie-Limbrick Analyse how conflict was used to explore a theme In Life of Pi, the author Yann Martel analyses how a conflict was used to explore one of the main themes within the text, coming of age. Martel uses the conflict between the main protagonist Piscine Patel and Richard Parker the Bengal tiger, and how this conflict develops to skilfully teach the reader about what it means to become a fully grown individual.

There are three stages to this conflict, when Piscine is fighting Richard Parker for territory upon the life boat, when Piscine touches Richard Parker and comes to be able to cooperate with him, and then when Piscine tells the second story in Mexico and learns to accept his own actions. Within this essay I will explain how these stages represent the long process of coming of age through the use of Richard Parker as a part of Piscine’s own psyche. When Piscine first enters the life boat, he has not fully grasped the side of himself which is needed to survive and come of age.

“…I was so obviously out matched by Richard Parker that it wasn’t even worth worrying about” is what the narrator says on page 149. At the beginning of Piscine’s adventures, he often has to fight and evade Richard Parker as at that point they have not learned to cooperate with each other. During Life of Pi, Richard parker is a character created by Piscine within his mind for which he blames for the actions he is not willing to accept he committed due to their inhumanity.

Piscine creates the story with the tiger in order to cope with his own trauma. In Life of Pi the colour orange symbolises survival, therefore because the tiger is orange it is these action which are needed to survive, the survival instinct. If one comes to realise this part of them they become empowered. They grow and become stronger. Yet because Piscine and Richard Parker are seen as conflicting the reader comes to realise Piscine has not realised that part of himself, and in order to come of age this is what needs to happen.

Martel uses this conflict to teach society that in order to come of age you need to come to see that humans are not black or white, good or evil, rather that they are black and white, good and evil; they are a mix of two opposites. Piscine is shown as not seeing this through the Zebra and its black AND white stripes which represent what he believed at that time. In order to come of age we need to come to realise that we are also made of morals and our survival instincts, with our survival instincts being our own Richard Parker’s.

As Piscine trains Richard Parker into cooperating with him in chapter 72, he has controlled the part of him needed to ‘grow up’ but has still not fully acknowledged it within himself. On page 207 at the end of chapter 72, the narrator says “The fifth shield lasted me the rest of his training. ” This meant that Piscine had now learnt how to control Richard Parker. Due to Richard parker representing the side of Piscine which is needed to survive and come of age, this development in the conflict was a step in the right direction.

Through showing Piscine as being able to control Richard Parker the reader learns that at that instance Piscine has learnt to control his survival instincts as by controlling the tiger it has made it easier for Piscine to survive on the Life boat. Yet he has still not fully come of age as in order to do this you need to acknowledge that this fragment of your psyche consists within your own self. As Piscine is still at this point using the character Richard Parker who he blames the actions he is not willing to accept he did on, Piscine is still failing to accept his own survival instincts and therefore has not come of age.

Through this development in the conflict between Piscine and Richard Parker, Martel intentionally demonstrates to society that the process of coming of age is not entirely instant. It is impossible in the space of one day to fully develop from the mind of a child to the mind of a fully grown adult. This was a step for Piscine, because of this the reader realises that there are important steps which need to be taken. Life of Pi is the story of Piscine’s coming of age, and Piscine is on the boat for 227 days. Therefore the coming of age is a gradual evolution.

Piscine comes of age when he tells the second story to the Japanese. On page 310 during chapter 99 Piscine says while telling this story “Then we fought and I killed him [the chef]. ” And then he says “I stabbed him in the stomach. ” In order to come of age you need to come to terms with your own survival instincts. Due to Piscine in this story plainly saying exactly what he committed and him no longer placing the blame on the imaginary character Richard Parker, he has now fully realised that he contains within him not only his ideals, but also his survival instincts.

He is a mixture of the two. With this he also realises that humanity is not made up of only black or white, good or evil, rather that it is made up of grey. Again, it is made up of a mixture. Before Piscine had been internalising the conflict between himself and Richard Parker. He was trying to distance himself from his instincts. So during this very moment that conflict had been resolved. As a result of this Piscine becomes empowered and stronger. This newly found strength is demonstrated through his precision of language while telling the second story.

In those two examples of Piscine explaining how he killed the chef, short precise simple sentences are used to explain directly what occurred. This gives the impression to the reader that Piscine is now fully able to interpret his actions clearly and therefore becomes much stronger for it. While demonstrating this, Yann Martel deliberately shows society that once an individual becomes fully grown, they will achieve this precision of language and clear interpretation of their own actions. They will become strong human beings who will be succeed within our society’s and understand how their own mind works.

In conclusion Yann Martel uses the internalized conflict between Richard Parker and Piscine to demonstrate the process of coming of age and analysing exactly what it means to come of age. He shows Piscine’s process using three important stages. The first is when he first gets on the boat and is fighting Richard Parker for territory, the second is when he learns to control the tiger thus learning to control his survival instincts, and the third is when he tells the second story and realising Richard Parker is part of him.

Also by showing Piscine come of age through realising that he consists of a mixture of ideals and survival instincts, Martel shows the reader that coming of age is to realise humanity is not black or white, but a combination of the two. It is a great novel which should all of society aspire for that moment of revelation, that moment when we ‘grow up’. By Oliver Christie-Limbrick

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