Thesis Fest #9: Pi’s experimentation with story

Life of Pi is not a generic story, and Pi is not a generic individual. Pi goes above and beyond what McAdams would deem “taking control of one’s narrative identity.” He imbues his story not only with characters, plot, and setting but also with archetypes, myth, allegory, and symbolism. Pi is definitely the author of his story, but he is also something more–he is, in some cases, quite literally creating his own reality.

Several times throughout the first section, Pi hints at his more fluid type of storytelling. Myth and reality are going to be blurred, Pi warns his readers. For instance, at the end of Chapter 20, Pi describes an experience he had where he saw the Virgin Mary. He situates the experience long-after the main plot of his story, distancing it from the main story’s mythical qualities and implying that reality-making is something that the adult Pi continues to do. What is unique about Pi’s account of this religious moment is not that it is unrealistic. This moment is unique because Pi recognizes it’s unrealistic nature without weakening his belief in it. He says, “When I say I saw her, I don’t quite mean it literally, though she did have body and colour. I felt I saw her, a vision beyond a vision” (63). By saying this, Pi makes the occurrence less concrete (he didn’t actually see her) while attaching to it a heavier kind of reality (it was “a vision beyond a vision”).

This play between the duality of reality and myth occurs again only a page later. Pi spends a short chapter explaining a difference between atheists and agnostics. For Pi, the atheist still has a chance at religious salvation. When presented with God at death, the atheist believes because s/he has not been so much skeptical as s/he has been committed. The agnostic, by contrast, remains skeptical till the very end and is thereby unable to ever have faith. Pi articulates this problem by saying that agnostics “lack imagination and miss the better story” (64). The “better story” for Pi can only be achieved through imagination, a function not normally associated with reality and science. It is almost as if Pi recalibrates meaning-making around myth and imagination rather than truth and reality. The result is striking.

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