As
the English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon once said, “knowledge
itself is power” (Prakash 2015). In Yann Martel’s award winning novel Life
of Pi, the importance of knowledge appears to be a recurring notion, as the
protagonist Pi Patel uses his knowledge to face many conflicts. Many sections
of the story are devoted to demonstrating the knowledge Pi possesses, and
throughout the novel, Pi uses this knowledge in conflicts of man versus nature,
man versus man and man versus self. Life of Pi is a story about a sixteen year
old boy from South India who is on aboard a cargo ship with the animals of his
father’s zoo. Due to an undetermined event, the ship begins to malfunction and
sinks. Pi is the only survivor, managing to escape onto a lifeboat. However, he
is stranded at sea with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and adult Bengal Tiger
who also reside on the boat as well. Over the course of being stranded, and he
is forced to deal with many conflicts, and only through his knowledge, was he
able to survive.

The
first form of conflict Pi faces is man versus nature conflict. As he is
stranded with wild animals on a lifeboat, he is forced to use his wit and prior
knowledge to ensure his survival. In the beginning of chapter four in Yann
Martel’s Life of Pi, the protagonist Pi gives a vivid description of the
zoo in his hometown. Pi states, “You must imagine a hot and humid place, bathed
is sunshine and bright colors. The riot of flowers is incessant. There are
trees, shrubs and climbing plants in profusion” (Martel 13). The tone set by
this quotation is a very joyous one, as the author’s use of vocabulary clearly
establishes Pi’s positive opinion of this setting. There are universally
positive archetypes surrounding imagery such as “bright colors” and “bathed in
sunshine”. Furthermore, the zoo is described as having plants growing
“profusely” suggesting a place of growth and fertility often symbolized by the colour
green. He describes the climate as hot and humid, both of which give the
impression of tropical paradise. He also describes “a riot of flowers” which
suggesting the plethora of beautiful flowers has a dominant presence. This
“riot of flowers” forces the reader to imagine a menagerie of colors, such as
whites, blues reds and more; all of which having positive archetypes attached
to them of security, hope and innocence. This passage is riddled with literary
clues that ensure the reader understand that Pi sees this setting in a favorable
light. This suggests this place has some significance to his childhood,
possibly even shaping his character. After describing the zoo where he spent
his childhood with such enthusiasm, it suggests it had a great impact on his
personality. Through this enthusiasm, and having spent his childhood at the zoo
it is likely that much of the knowledge he gains into adulthood stems from his
experiences in the zoo. Through the knowledge he would have gained from the
zoo, and the impact the natural beauty of the zoo’s flora had on him, it is
likely his understanding of nature would later help him combat nature in the
form of Richard Parker the tiger later in the novel.

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In
addition, the importance of Pi’s knowledge to his survival is shown at the
beginning of chapter nine, as his knowledge is shown to be useful in man vs
nature conflicts. Pi describes the importance of  “flight distance” in
regards to taming animals and understanding their behavior. Pi states, “Getting
animals used to the presence of humans is at the heart of the art and science
of zoo keeping. The key aim is to diminish an animal’s flight distance, which
is the maximum distance at which an animal wants to keep a perceived enemy”
(Martel, 43). Throughout the novel, passages like these have presented
themselves numerous times. Significant sections of the novel has been dedicated
to demonstrating Pi’s knowledge of zoos and animal behavior. It is clear that
these passages are significant, as they foreshadow future conflicts in the
novel. By emphasizing Pi’s understanding of animals, it suggests to me he may
need to use it later in the story. Pi does indeed use the “flight distance”
principal in dealing with Richard Parker the tiger as he is on the lifeboat.
 Furthermore, this passage is significant as it reveals Pi’s enthusiasm as
a character, and it sets a positive tone. Through the author’s effective use of
descriptive vocabulary, Pi’s love for zoology is apparent. To use “at the heart
of” shows Pi’s adore for zoo keeping, as in his mind he personifies it,
comparing it to a living organism with a beating heart. Pi describes it as a
science, emphasizing his passion as it suggests he views zoo keeping as a
detailed practice and as a systematic study. Additionally, he describes it as
an art, clearly implying his appreciation of it because he sees it as something
that is done with imagination and skill; something to admire. As Yann Martel
devotes much of the novel to showing Pi as a knowledgeable and passionate
character in regards to zoo keeping early in the book, it gives credibility to
his ability to survive and deal with man vs nature conflicts later in the plot.

A
pertinent passage in regards to Pi’s knowledge being used to face man versus
nature conflicts can be found as the protagonist Pi discusses the hardships of
the life of other animals. He states, ” Animals in the wild lead lives of
compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an
environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and
where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What
is the meaning of freedom in this context? Animals in the wild are, in
practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor their personal relations”
(Martel 16). This passage demonstrates Pi’s knowledge of animals and sheds
light on his personal views Pi’s ideology towards freedom, is that he wants
freedom for all. Through his knowledge of zoology and his experience in zoos,
he has come to believe that other animals desire a sense of freedom as well.
This is significant, as this may have played a role in Pi’s survival. Pi went
to great lengths to treat the tiger Richard Parker with whom he was stranded,
with care. Pi built an entire other raft knowing the tiger would feel the need
to defend his own territory. Furthermore, Pi also treated Richard fairly by
feeding him fish that he had caught and sharing rainwater he had collected. Pi
likely did these things in part because of his understanding of animal behavior,
and that by satisfying the animal his odds of survival would greatly increase.
This arguably could have created some sort of loose bond between Pi and Richard
further increasing Pi’s odds of survival. The fact that Pi took these measures
to satisfy the tiger, show’s Pi has an extensive understanding of the behavior
of animals. Through his knowledge, he knew what was best physically for the
tiger as he fed Richard, and Pi knew enough about Richards’s psychology to give
him his proper territory on the boat. This is significant as it supports the
notion that Pi’s knowledge was crucial in his ability to face conflicts.
Without his understanding of zoology, Pi may not have survived as long as he
had in his man versus nature conflict with Richard Parker throughout the novel.

Moreover,
Pi’s knowledge proves to be useful when dealing with man vs nature conflicts,
as Pi discusses the psychological aspects of circus trainers. He states, “The
animal in front of you must know where it stands, whether above or below you.
Social rank is central to how it leads its life. Rank determines whom it can
associate with and how; where and when it can eat; rest; where it can drink;
and so on. Until it knows its rank for certain, the animal lives a life of
unbearable anarchy. It remains jumpy, dangerous. Luckily for the circus
trainer, decisions about social rank among higher animals are not always based
on brute force” (Martel 13). Throughout this passage, Pi analyses the
techniques of a circus trainer and the psychology of animal behavior in terms
of social rank. This passage is significant because it reinforces a possible
theme in the novel; the importance of knowledge. As the passage demonstrates
the deep understanding Pi has of animal psychology, he has many tools at his
disposal that could aid him in survival. It is likely Pi used his knowledge of
zoology to some extent in his interactions with Richard Parker later in the
story. As Pi struggles to survive on the lifeboat the tiger, utilizing the
knowledge from this passage would surely help him live. Pi knows animals have a
need to understand their role in the social hierarchy. Pi knows the dangers of
this because otherwise an animal could become unpredictable and dangerous. Pi
is aware that he needs to establish dominance over Richard Parker, and this can
be done with Pi’s wit and cunning. Pi himself stated that one does not
necessarily need brute strength to establish an authoritative role in a
hierarchy with animals. So through Pi’s understanding of animal behavior, he is
capable of using his intelligence to tame Richard Parker through psychological,
opposed to physical means.

Furthermore,
Pi’s knowledge was also crucial in dealing with man versus man conflicts.
 As Pi recalls his observations of visitors at the Pondicherry Zoo where he
had spent much of his life, Pi learns the dangers human beings are capable of.
Pi states, “They say the most dangerous animal at the zoo is man.  Not
everybody in general, but the ones who “feed” animals fish hooks,
razors, ping-pong balls, tennis balls, broken glass, safety pins, ballpoint
pens, horseshoes, jewelry, straws, rubber bands, spoons, and more.  The
autopsies of animals that have died from foreign species includes: gorillas,
bisons, storks, rheas…(Martel 8). As Pi states that the most dangerous animal
in the zoo is man, it is clear that Pi strongly feels that other people are
potentially very dangerous. Despite spending lots of time at the zoo, in close
proximity to a plethora of dangerous wildlife, Pi still considers human beings
as the most dangerous. This knowledge of the dangers of people likely helped
him survive man versus man conflicts later in the story. It is suggested that
the animals Pi is later stranded with on the lifeboat are actually human beings
that Pi imagines as other animals. It is possible that his encounters with
Richard Parker the tiger, and the hyena where actually people, and Pi’s prior
understanding of the dangers of man likely aided in his survival.

Pi’s
knowledge helped him survive man versus man conflicts also because of the
lessons Pi recalls his father teaching him at the Pondicherry zoo. Pi states,
“Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red
letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE
ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious
hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it
was a mirror” (Martel 8). This passage illustrates a strong message that Pi’s
father wished to share. As all the visitors were excited to see what the most
dangerous animal of the zoo was, they would have be shocked to see their own
reflection. This suggests Pi’s father believed man is more dangerous than any
animal, and he believed everyone should be reminded of it. Pi retained this
notion into his adulthood, and this knowledge of how dangerous human can be,
especially compared to other dangerous animals, would have proven to be useful
when dealing with the other “people” with whom he was stranded on the lifeboat.

Pi’s
knowledge further aids him in survival of man versus self-conflicts, as it is
shown he knows lots about fear and how it can affect people; “I must say a word
about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a
clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no
law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it
finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight
hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it.
Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid,
perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear
because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you” (Martel 56). As
Pi shares his views on fear, it should he clearly knows how it affects people.
He is aware that it goes for one’s weakest spot, and that one has to

fight hard to combat it.
It is likely Pi uses this knowledge of how to deal with his fear in his man vs self-conflict
as he is likely at war with his fears throughout his journey. With the
precariousness of his survival, his ability to fight his inner conflicts
through his knowledge of fear would have certainly aided his survival and
sanity on the life boat.

In
conclusion, the importance of knowledge appears to be a significant theme
throughout Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Over the course of the story, the
protagonist Pi is forced to face conflicts of man versus nature, man versus
man, and man versus self. Pi defied the odds, and despite his perilous
situation, he beat the odds and survived. Pi survived not merely by luck or
faith, but through his knowledge of nature, of people and his understanding of
his inner self. Much of the novel was devoted to demonstrating Pi’s knowledge.
This was merely a clever use of foreshadow, as he would later need to apply
what he had learnt to increase his odds of survival. Through this powerful
story of a boy using his knowledge to survive in the face of overwhelming odds,
it effectively shares a profound message with the reader. It suggests the
importance of knowledge, and that knowledge truly is power.

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