the tiger within

photo from this website.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so if you haven’t seen or read Life of Pi, maybe you should wait to read this until you have. It might not make sense anyway without knowing the story.

I haven’t read the book, only seen the movie, but am moved to write about the allegorical and “real” stories of what happens to Pi, and what it means to me. Mainly about the tiger, Richard Parker.

My first instinct is to believe this whole story with the animals in the life boat is true. Richard Parker, that glorious Bengal tiger, reminds me of my own orange tabby cat, Henry. He was so wild at first, having been abandoned by his mother at too young an age, he did not even know how to properly be a cat. I had to teach him this, as well as how to love and be loved. He attacked me, bit me, behaved in a way I did not understand. But now he loves more than I have ever seen a cat love.

My mom and I talked about the movie today, and she brought to light some deeper ideas for me. That the whole story of the animals in the small boat with Pi, which quickly becomes just him and the tiger, is an allegory for what really happened after the ship sank– a way for Pi to tell the story and to think about it that is perhaps easier to deal with than the facts. A way of telling what happened that is not dissimilar to religious stories. Did Noah really build an arc? Does it matter? When discussing the truth in fiction I usually bend towards “Does it matter?” Stories, no matter how “factual,” are all True. That’s the reason we write anyway, to dig at that truth.

Tonight I am struck by another level in the tale of Pi and Richard Parker. It’s possible that this tiger is a representation of a part of Pi himself, a deep part, one that is capable of killing– both for food and other humans. This shy, skinny, vegetarian boy does not seem like someone who would kill or even harm another living thing. When he stands with a knife, threatening the hyena (who might be representing the Chef from the ship), he cries out, and Richard Parker the tiger jumps (seemingly out of nowhere) onto the hyena and kills him. Could this be Pi calling upon a beast within himself that can kill another man in order to survive?

I wrote this in an email to my mom tonight: i feel as though, in training the tiger, Pi is training and communicating with the animal inside himself– the part of him capable of killing, which he doesn’t understand. we each have that inside us, and in facing the most fearful times in our lives, the most challenging, we are given the opportunity to communicate with that tiger, to use it to survive. when we call upon that deep thing we don’t know we have, i think that is richard parker. what do you think about that?