A defense mechanism is an unconscious process, as denial, that protects an individual from unacceptable or painful ideas or impulses. Defense mechanisms often come into use when one is in intense or insurmountable amounts of stress. Yann Martel, in his novel Life of Pi, uses parallels between animal and human characteristics within two stories – each of the same remarkable journey – where the reader is left to question which story is true. Martel’s anthropomorphic novel marvelously projects the characteristics of people into animals as a way for the main character, Pi, to deal with the harsh realities of his 277-day journey aboard a lifeboat.
Pi details the story of how he survived a shipwreck in which he and his family were traveling with animals from his father’s previously owned zoo. This epic tale of survival takes place primarily on a lifeboat, accompanied with four animals; a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan named Orange Juice, and a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Within this story, the hyena kills the broken-legged zebra and the orangutan before being killed by the Bengal tiger. In this point of the story, Martel leaves readers with only two characters aboard the boat: a desperate 16-year-old boy and an enormous Bengal Tiger.
When listeners are denial that a 16-year-old boy could survive 277 days in the middle of the sea with only a tiger and a lifeboat, Pi recounts a different story. In Martel’s second part of the story, there are no animals. This version has no Orange Juice and no 450-pound Richard Parker. Instead, Pi offers a story with a cook, a Buddhist sailor with a broken leg, his mother, and himself aboard a lifeboat. As the four humans come short of food, an...
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...nt of me on his way to the right. He didn’t look at me….Then Richard Parker, companion of my torment, awful, fierce thing that kept me alive, moved forward and disappeared forever from my life.” (Martel) Martel’s parallels as a defense mechanism are shown here as Pi releases the tiger inside of him, as he no longer needs to commit animalistic acts to survive.
“Without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” (Martel 164). The Royal Bengal Tiger saved Pi in more ways than one. Richard Parker symbolized hope, served as a companion, and projected the wild beast inside of Pi that he never knew he had. Martel uses the tiger, along with several other animal parallels, to transform Pi into a defensive, independent, and willful fighter for his own life, to which Pi must believe over the harsh realities that took place on journey aboard the lifeboat.
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