Thesis Fest #11: Richard Parker and Pi’s Agency

The first turning point on the raft is much like Pi’s turning point in the first part of the novel. Just as he goes from a passive observer in the classrooms that bastardized his name to an active participant who demands a rebaptism, so does he move from a silent occupant of the raft to the hero of it. When the hyena kills the orangutan, Pi decides it is time to kill the hyena. This decision is notable for the confidence with which Pi executes it. There is no inner dialogue about the merits or possible outcomes of such a decision. It is treated as a fact of nature. Pi’s attack of the hyena is inextricably linked to the hyena’s attack of the orangutan: “It [the fatally wounded orangutan] was a sight horrible to the eyes and killing to the spirit. Just before throwing myself upon the hyena…” (132). This is the only discussion of the attack we get because it never actually happens. Instead, Pi is stopped by the realization that Richard Parker is still on the boat. Richard Parker, then, becomes tied to Pi’s agency. Pi’s first real act of survival on the lifeboat is halted by Richard Parker.

This pattern is repeated throughout the second part of the novel. When Pi realizes that he has a powerful will to leave, for instance, Richard Parker is there: “Richard Parker started growling that very instant, as if he had been waiting for me to become a worthy opponent” (148).  As Richard Parker prepares to kill the hyena, Pi prepares a mini-raft so that he can get off the lifeboat and presumably to safety. These two actions are linked together. The narration switches back and forth from Pi’s tasks to Richard Parker’s posturing. Just as Pi is about to finish the raft (he “only had to hitch the other end of the rope to the raft”), Richard Parker attacks the hyena (150). Thus, Pi and Richard Parker work at parallel tasks that ultimately ensure Pi’s survival.

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