I love the novel, Life of Pi. I will admit though, that when I first read it, I couldn’t understand all the hubbub. It seemed like the first part of the novel was boring compared to Pi’s ordeal at sea. But then, I saw the movie, and I was blown away by the cinematography. This prompted me to reread the novel. I must have been blind when I first read it, because, during the second reading, I was enchanted by Martel’s writing style. I’ve read the novel about 6 times now, and each time I reread it, I find some other little subtle morsel to ponder. How does Martel do it? Think of the novel as a tapestry. Martel weaves together bits and pieces of seemingly unrelated details. It’s like he leaves a dangling piece of yarn, and about 100 pages later, he picks it up again to reveal more of the tapestry.
I know that many students read this novel in middle school. I can understand why. The reading level is not that complex, but the content is much better suited to the high school level, in my opinion. There are multifaceted themes such as religion, philosophy, psychology, and many more. This is why Life of Pi is assigned reading for my seniors. Before we start reading, I tell them that this novel features frame narratives–stories within a story. They know that there are two authors–Martel, the real author, and then a fictional author. I also draw their attention to chapters 21 and 22 quite frequently because Martel has said these chapters are the key to understanding this novel.
It is a thrill once we read the end of the novel, and the students have to choose “the better story” for themselves. Do they go the way of the atheist and make the leap of faith, or will they be like the agnostic and choose the “dry, yeastless facts.” I love seeing their reaction when they realize that each of the animals symbolizes one of the characters in the novel, including the tiger, Richard Parker, who symbolizes Pi’s alter-ego.
As part of our study of this novel, I draw the students’ attention to Martel’s writing style. Some of the most beautiful imagery is p. 215-217. This is the section that begins, “There were many skies. The sky was invaded by great white clouds, flat on the bottom but round and billowy on top.” I point out that there are 5 main ideas or motifs on these pages.
- The sea
- Life on the sea/life as a castaway
- The sky
- Circles and geometry
The students are tasked with creating a poster and essay which encompasses all the imagery and meaning in these motifs. I will soon be creating a Teachers Pay Teachers product detailing this assignment. Stay tuned!
In the mean time, enjoy viewing these photos of their work.