Analysis of Hollow at the Core – Deconstructing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi Essay
Analysis of “Hollow at the core”: Deconstructing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi The author Florence Stratton’s main purpose of this analysis is to deconstruct Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. She argues various points attempting to dissect and make reason of Martel’s choices in the novel. Stratton also discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the novel’s claims. Stratton’s major claim is that Martel’s treatment of religion in the novel is not persuasive in making all its readers believe in God. It will, however, justify the beliefs of those who do believe in God.
She states, “He [Martel] is not out to prove the existence of God, but rather to justify a belief in God’s existence” (Stratton, 3). Stratton quotes Peter Whittaker, “This wonderful book did not make me believe in God but it did reinforce my faith in the considerable redemptive powers of fiction” (3). Stratton puts a huge emphasis from the beginning of her essay on storytelling. She believes Martel is a master storyteller, but questions the effectiveness of storytelling on convincing the reader of believing in God.
Rather, the reader must decide from his or her own reality which of the stories to believe. As evidence, she quotes Pi explaining to Mr. Okamoto, “Isn’t telling about something – using words, English or Japanese – al- ready something of an invention? Isn’t just looking upon this world al- ready something of an invention” (4)? In relation to the use of storytelling she quotes Pi responding to the Japanese investigators, “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer?
Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals” (3)? Stratton further states, “Agnostics, Pi tells us, ‘lack imagination and miss the better story. ’ God’s existence, in other words, is a matter neither of fact nor of faith, but rather is a better story than the one told by those who doubt or deny God’s existence” (3). So, it seems to come down to who tells the best story, and this is an individual answer according to each person’s world view and perspective.
Stratton also argues that Life of Pi is built around various philosophical debates regarding reason over imagination, science over religion, fact over fiction, and so forth. She shows this divide siting the views of Mr. Okamoto who favors science and empirical evidence, and Mr. Chiba who represents the viewpoint of Romanticism (3). Stratton claims, “To deconstruct this reason/imagination binary hierarchy is the project of Martel’s narrative. ” However, Stratton seems to favor a need for both kinds of reason.
She says, “But Martel’s main instrument of deconstruction is Pi, who, as his name might suggest, combines in his character the capacity for both cognitive and affective approaches to knowledge” (4). Perhaps, of all the philosophical claims made by Stratton, this is one of easiest with which to agree – that there must be a balance between both cognitive and affective knowledge, that each has its place. Stratton says Martel leads the reader to believe that science cannot completely win out in the end. “As Pi states, ‘Neither [story] explains the sinking of the Tsimtsum,’ and, as Mr.
Okamoto makes a selection, choosing, like Mr. Chiba, the story with animals as the better story” (4). Thus, there seems to be a preference both by Martel and by Stratton toward affective knowledge. Stratton examines Martel’s use of realism in his novel. She quotes Martel in his Author’s Note stating what distinguishes “great” form mediocre or inferior fiction is “that spark that brings to life a real story” (4). She asserts, “Realism would seem to be very well suited to Martel’s deconstructive purposes.
The detailed documentation demanded by realism helps to make Pi’s ‘better story’ substantial or rubust in its imaginative constitution or makeup” (5). Stratton goes on to demonstrate multiple ways in which Martel “draws upon the conventions of realism” with details such as Pi’s skill as a swimmer, his knowledge of wild animals (his father being a zoo keeper), his possession of a whistle (part of life-saving equipment in a life jacket) to train the tiger, and his ability to use the laws of physics to assert his authority over the tiger in his lifeboat (5).
Stratton discusses Martel’s elaborative plot and characters, discussing their symbolism. She examines the tiger Richard Parker in great detail, including the significance of its name as a victim in other stories of cannibalism. Through the narrator’s brilliant description of Richard Parker Stratton explores the use of colors. She states, “The dazzling display of colours and patterns suggest that Richard Park- er’s primary signification is the incantatory or transcendent power of art; the imaginative truths or realities that great art encompasses” (5). Stratton contrasts the tiger ith the description of the hyena as an animal with its “mismatched colours, ill-proportioned body, and shambling gait” (5). In her essay, Stratton discusses the insatiable appetite of the cook and Frenchman. She then explores the link between cannibalism and secular materialism on algae island. She states, “It seems to be taking direct aim at consumer capitalism as the most secular and materialist from of human existence. ” She describes the meerkats on the island as “eternal consumers, spending all their days nibbling at the algae or staring into the island’s ponds, waiting for the fresh (dead) fish delivery” (8).
She further claims, “In their mass consumerism and confirming order, the meerkats are, as Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno describe human beings living under late capitalism, completely conventionalized in their modes of behavior” (8). Ultimately, Stratton has somewhat gone out on a limb claiming that the novel describes “…the heroic struggle of a religiously devout man to overcome the impediments of material reality” (8). Although the connection between cannibalism and capitalism can be seen from Stratton’s point of view, one might struggle with such a direct link.
It could be argued that with algae island Martel is only attempting to explore the concept of insatiable appetite in relation to Pi’s guilt from straying from his values and, himself, having an insatiable appetite. Utlimately, Stratton rejects the positivist notion as a guarantee of objective meaning, of the relation between language and the world. There can be no absolute conclusion on the two different stories Pi presented. In retrospect, this is probably a safe assumption.