The Journey Not the Destination

Niccolo Machiavelli’s quote, “the ends justify the means”, does not apply to every situation. The ability to reach an aspiration or goal may be so agonizing to accomplish that the final result may seem irrelevant. This can be shown in Yann Martel’s main character, Piscine Molitor Patel, also called Pi, in the story Life of Pi. The novel regards the journey of an omnistic, 16-year-old boy isolated at sea for 277 days with a 13 foot-long Bengal tiger as his only companion. Pi’s perpetual odyssey to find salvation is heart-breaking from the start when he lost his entire family in a shipwreck. Soon after, Pi faltered when he resorted to consuming the only available food source, meat; an act sacred to his Hindu lifestyle as a vegetarian. Pi had no human company either, but he was with his feline counterpart, Richard Parker, who ditched Pi as soon as they approached solid land. Even though Pi Patel may have returned to civilization and created a new life for himself after his onerous voyage, there were many factors which ultimately ended his story in heartache and anguish. 

When the boat, the Tsimtsum, drowned abruptly in the middle of the night, it was the beginning of Pi’s suffering and where his life became a shipwreck. That vessel contained his entire family, who were swallowed by the ocean in one big gulp. Only Pi remained alive. He fell into a lifeboat and evaded the ship’s sinking. Preceding this massacre, Pi is mortified. Everything he’s known was decimated instantly and his reaction was to feel terribly sullen: “My thoughts swung wildly. I was either fixed on practical details of immediate survival or transfixed by pain, weeping silently, my mouth open and my hands at my head.” (Martel 58). This marked the beginning of Pi’s tragic journey. He debates whether to focus on his survival in his new circumstances at sea, or to grieve his loss. He’s distraught at his family’s death and feels overwhelmed with pain, and which made him “[weep] silently”. The sudden loss of his family left him isolated from any form of human interaction, affection, or communication. Pi is still affected by this loss once he returns to land where he recounts the morbid death of his family when he retells his story. Therefore, the loss of his family sets the mournful tone of the plot and progresses into more hardships for Pi. 

Later on, when Pi ran out of his food supply from the survival kit of the lifeboat, he was so ravenous that he ate meat. Drops of guilt and shame streamed from his eyes when he killed a flying fish; for Pi was a pacifist and born a vegetarian. The fish flopped into the lifeboat and Pi managed, yet struggled, to break the fish’s neck because, “Tears [were] flowing down [his] cheeks, [but he] egged [himself] on until [he] heard a cracking sound and [he] no longer felt any life fighting in [his] hands” (Martel 98). This scene depicts one of Pi’s most distressing moments. The necessity to survive manipulated Pi into violating his moral code and conforming to barbaric behaviors such as killing. He repented his first kill, but as his kills progressed, his sympathy slackened. On one occasion, he caught a dorado and maliciously beat it on the head until it died: “Killing it was no problem… I took the hatchet in both my hands and vigorously beat the fish on the head with the hammerhead” (Martel 99). An individual who formerly believed that slaying and devouring was repugnant, now acted otherwise. Pi’s moral prospects had vanished and his persona was replaced by a starving menace; almost eager to kill for him and Richard Parker’s next meal. Adversities and hardships, such as lack of food, encouraged Pi to break out of his shell of goodness, in which he became more preoccupied with survival than righteousness. He was previously a pure soul, but this journey corrupted his innocence which contributes to the story’s poignancy.

Eventually, when Pi returned to civilized land, his journey had an unexpected finish. When he and Richard Parker washed up on a shore in Mexico, his striped companion does the unthinkable and advanced into the wilderness without a proper conclusion to their relationship. Richard Parker jumped off of the lifeboat and dashed past the shoreline where Pi’s, “companion of [his] torment, awful, fierce thing that kept [him] alive, moved forward and disappeared forever from [his] life” (Martel 155). Not only was his entire family gone, Pi’s thin sliver of hope, the one who accompanied him through his painful odyssey, had left on atrocious terms. The 13-foot-long bengal neglected to even relay an act, expression, or sound to terminate their companionship, but rather proceeded to head straight into the jungle impassively. After that impromptu ending, Pi felt so defeated that, “ [he] wept like a child… because Richard Parker had left [him] so unceremoniously” (Martel 155). After all Pi’s hardships on his journey, with this earth-shattering loss of a friend, he surrendered to all his despair by “[weeping] like a child”. Richard Parker was all he had left, and it was unbearable for Pi to be without him. This scene of loss marked the end of Pi’s voyage which is a major attribution to the story’s tragic closure. 

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi does not border along the lines of a happy ending. Pi’s plethora of difficulties like a near death experience or contradicting his morals says otherwise of the tone of this story’s closure. While Pi may have survived to retell his story, the extent he endured to persist through it was by no means easy, and even excruciatingly burdensome. Some frankly believe Pi learned and improved from this voyage, when in actuality, he was scarred by it. Just because a goal is reached, in this case it’s Pi’s survival, the ways or means to reach that aspiration can be more impactful on a person than the actual reward is.

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