Life of Pi: Significance of the Flying Fish

Life of Pi Essay; Significance of the Flying Fish
In Yann Martel’s compelling novel Life of Pi, the main character of the story, Pi Patel, undergoes intense hardships as he lives a castaway’s life on the Pacific Ocean, after losing his entire family and everything he held close to him when the cargo ship, the Tsimtsum, sinks into the dark depths of the sea. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with several animals, and eventually, with a massive Bengal Tiger, and through all of this hardship and suffering Pi experiences realizations of the cruel survival instinct within every person, and loses his innocence of a perfect world without pain. Through a pinnacle event in the story, the killing of the flying fish, Pi’s innocence to the real world is completely torn, and signifies his progression to an enlightened maturity aware of natural human instinct, and reveals also to the reader the cruelty and evil within each and every human being and the extent of what we would do in order to survive. The best way to depict the immensity of Pi’s transformation is to have knowledge of who Pi was initially before this chain of events, to really understand where and what Pi came from. A major contributor to Pi’s innocence to killing animals for food is the fact that he was a devout vegetarian, due to his Hindu faith and love of animals.

Pi recalls his love of life and creation on page 15, in which he states, “I spent more hours than I can count a quiet witness to the highly mannered, manifold expressions of life that grace our planet. It is something so bright, loud, weird and delicate” (Martel, 15). Pi reveals his love of animals through this quote, and also reveals the kind of emotional connection he has with the animals. They are able to uplift Pi’s spirits and feelings because he feels like he is the presence of another living being, which to him, feels like the presence of another person. Another instance in which Pi’s fascination and admiration for animals is clearly seen is when he speaks of his studies in zoology, where he observed the three-toed sloth, and states the religious significance of animals in his life, “…reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God” (Martel, 5). Pi blatantly expresses why he has so much admiration for not only the sloths, but for animals as a whole, as he relates it to his other passion, religion, and uses them as a means of seeing the divine beauty and creation of God.

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While this not only reinforces Pi’s devout faith to God, it also supports his love of animal and provides reasoning behind his vegetarian lifestyle. Understanding the context of Pi’s background and point of view, the reader is better equipped to know the sheer amount of impact the killing of the flying fish had on Pi, for this background shows that, to Pi, killing a flying fish for food was equivalent to killing another human for food, because to him, it is killing another spiritual being. Now, with awareness of Pi’s background and perspective on animals and the importance of their life, it is logical to follow this with the actual event of the flying fish’s death itself, and its immense impact on Pi. The event’s initial effects on Pi are stated immediately following the event, as Pi recalls, “It was the first sentient being I had ever killed. I was now a killer. I was not as guilty as Cain. I was sixteen years old, a harmless boy, bookish and religious, and now I had blood on my hands. It’s a terrible burden to carry. All sentient life is sacred. I never forget to include this fish in my prayers.” (Martel, 183).

Once again, Pi connects animals with his religion by relating his killing of the fish to the biblical story of the death of Abel by Cain, and refers to himself as a killer who is covered in blood. Like his previously clean hands, Pi’s innocence and prudeness was forever stained with the blood of the cruel real world, and forced Pi to mature in a matter of seconds, which had a profound effect on Pi’s life that (according to the novel and dialogue) lasted to the day he was recounting his story to the fictional author. Pi follows the Bildungsroman arch, as he has become enlightened, for better or for worse, on the nature of humans and the world, which is quite evil, after killing a dorado and stating “I could explain it by arguing that profiting from a pitiful flying fish’s navigational mistake made me shy and sorrowful, while the excitement of actively capturing a great dorado made me sanguinary and self-assured. But in point of fact the explanation lies elsewhere. It is simple and brutal: a person can get used to anything, even to killing” (Martel, 185). Pi shows the reader how much he had already changed from before killing the flying fish to killing the dorado, and the new set of non-sympathetic survivalistic morality he possesses, which were a direct result of the internal change within Pi from innocence to maturity or realization of nature. The purpose of the quote also shows that the author is trying to push a theme of life and the nature of the world itself, one that exploits that things are not black and white, and that the world is too complex to constantly follow specific guidelines forever, which of course is exactly where maturity and the Bildungsroman arch are implemented. The author also uses this event for another purpose, to show the importance and value of religion, as it plays a large role in Pi’s ethics and morals. Another significant message that is conveyed is the pain he feels even years after killing the flying fish, as it reveals religions profound effect of being conscious of the life around someone.

Through the significance of death of the flying fish in Life of Pi, author Yann Martel not only shows the evil that each human possesses in the natural fight for survival, he allows the reader to see the development of Pi as he reaches adulthood, but more importantly, maturity and awareness to the world around him and the way in which he interacts with it. Proving the importance of religion, Pi’s lasting sympathy to the fish also shows Pi’s love for all living things as creations of the divine. While initially hard to decipher and piece together, the lessons and morals Martel presents through these chain of events are heartwarming and valuable in how the reader looks at life and the world around them which, similar to Pi, enlightens them.

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Life of Pi: Significance of the Flying Fish. (2016, Aug 25). Retrieved from