Elucidating the Meaning of Freedom
In light of the recent National Security Administration (NSA) scandal and the push for gun control the proverbial line between freedom and tyranny has been blurred. “Life of Pi” is complex and exposes many different themes. Many people see Life of Pi as an account a person’s experience, balancing religion, faith and tragedy in the midst of dire situations. This is true for me as I too read stories of freedom in religious practices and life in general throughout the entire story. Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. “Pi” is a man of many religions. He is very subservient and accepting of an external entity controlling his life.
However, practicing multiple religions is usually frowned upon by society, yet he pushes on practicing the concept of freedom in religion. Pi says, “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.” (Ch. 4, Pg. 36) “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 such a context? Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations.” (Chapter 4, page 31) In the quote above, Pi is challenging the views of those who say zoos are oppressive to animals by implying that, by giving the animals an enclosed environment free of danger they are freer than their counterparts in the wild. He wrestles with the question of that being a free man really mean.
Does it mean being allowed to do what he pleases with his time? Does it mean that it is safe to rely on a deity or master to guide and protect him through his journeys? Does it mean having the freedom to defend and protect your own home alone, without expecting anyone else to stand with you? In the story, Pi associates freedom with the leisure of time. He is clearly a subservient and welcomes the belief that a deity or external force
controls his every move in exchange for safety.
However, Pi’s views on freedom were challenged during his time on the open ocean. The author, Yann Martel, expresses Pi’s complete freedom as unforgiving and punishing. He does this by giving Pi the freedom to do anything he wants but within in a confined space surrounded by a dangerous beast, yet with no one to protect him. “Then it is captured by the wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. It yearns mightily for ‘Freedom’ and does all it can to escape. Being denied its freedom for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.
This is not the way it is.” (Ch. 4, Pg.32) In the story, Pi depicts himself as a zoo animal. Some may argue that because he is not being properly provided for he cannot be as a zoo animal is, but because Pi has faith in many gods he believes that these gods will provide for him by giving him food and a safe place to rest that protects him from the sharks which are like parasites that plague animals. Pi desperately tries to escape from his confinement he “yearns desperately to be free” once again to walk where he wants to eat what he pleases and when he pleases but according to his definition of freedom he is free.
In the story, he has leisure time, is “provided” for, and has protection from everything but Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. Eventually Richard Parker is tamed, but still his “spirits are broken” and becomes “a shadow” of himself. My conclusion is that a human spirit cannot be truly free if it is confined or controlled. This is the kind of freedom that prisoners are allowed by their condition. No matter the extremity of the confinement people, and animals, alike yearn for complete freedom even if it is dangerous and requires that they life solitary lives. Humans do not understand the true nature of the lack of freedom until they experience the kind of confinement that Pi experienced.