The Life of Pi is one of the prominent works written by Y. Martel, which reveals the evolution of views of the main character and his transformations in the course of his adventures. At the same time, it is not only the adventures of the main character that make the story extremely interesting to read but also the style and form the author uses to convey his story to the audience. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that Y. Martel uses the non-linear form to present The Life of Pi to the audience. The choice of such a form helps the author to focus the attention of the audience on specific episodes from the life of the narrator and, therefore, convey exactly the ideas the author wants to stress in his book. On the other hand, the use of the non-linear form keeps the audience in suspense and certain tension because the winding up of the story is always postponed to the end of the book and every new episode, every new flashback the narrator conveys uncovers a new side of his personality and his life. In such a way, the non-linear form used by Y. Martel in his Life of Pi is used intentionally to keep the audience focused on the story and its key ideas and the non-linear form helps to convey key ideas accurately emphasizing them and attracting the attention of the audience to them.
The entire book represents the ongoing search of the author of his self, his place in the world, and uncovers the process of his personal development and formation of his views. In this regard, the author uses the non-linear form to depict the shifts in views of the narrator on different religions. One of the first and most influential religions the narrator has proved to be vulnerable to was Islam:
I left town and on my way back, at a point where the land was high and I could see the sea to my left and down the road a long ways, I suddenly felt I was in heaven. The spot was no different from when I had passed it not long before, but my way of seeing it had changed. The feeling, a paradoxical mix of pulsing energy and profound peace, was intense and blissful. Whereas before the road, the sea, the trees, the air, the sun all spoke differently to me, now they spoke one language of unity. Tree took account of road, which was aware of air, which was mindful of sea, which shared things with sun. Every element lived in harmonious relation with its neighbor, and all was kith and kin. I knelt a mortal; I rose an immortal. I felt like the center of a small circle coinciding with the center of a much larger one. Atman had met Allah. (Martel, 62).
The narrator attempts to show that his interest in Islam was determined by his internal inclinations and searches of understanding his self. At the same time, the narrator never stops in his exploration of the world and religion is just one of the manifestations of secrets of the world. The narrator keeps exploring his self and the surrounding world. The author uses flashbacks to show how fast an individual can shift from one religion to another. For instance, on conveying his views on Islam and his respect to this religion, the narrator suddenly shifts to Judaism. His older brother, Ravi, provides a different perspective on it all, suggesting he might try to become a Jew too. “At the rate you’re going, if you go to temple on Thursday, mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday, you only need to convert to three more religions to be on holiday for the rest of your life.” (Martel, 67). However, the uncovering of Judaism does not stop the narrator in his searches of the truth of life and his self that leads him to Buddhism as well as other religious teachings. His searches and discoveries of different religions and philosophies lead him to often unexpected thoughts. As Buddha said, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” (Martel 101). Everything we need to survive — and not just survive, but thrive and prosper and grow — has already been given to us, if we will but realize it. In the words of a Chinese poem, “Lightning flashes, sparks shower, in one blink of your eyes, you have missed seeing.” (Martel, 103). The non-linear form used by Martel in his novel reveals the full extent to which human views, beliefs and faith can change. What is more important, the non-linear form helps to show that people can change their beliefs fast and these changes may be so profound that they can just reject the beliefs they once used to have and which they used to believe to be the true and only true beliefs.
As Pi says in the diary of his long months at sea: “It is pointless to say that this night or that night was the worst in my life. I’ve had so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion” (Martel, 173). In such a way, the author shows that the human life and human beliefs, if they are viewed from the retrospective position, become so changeable and unsteady as the sea. At the same time, the author uses the comparison of the seas to the human life:
There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent. (Martel, 239)
The changeability is one of the key but integral elements of human life that makes it similar to the sea and the author uses successfully flashbacks and the non-linear form to convey this idea to the audience. Remarkably, the audience perceives this idea at the subconscious level because average readers do not always perceive the impact of flashbacks and the non-linear form on the perception of the novel. Instead, they just read and see how unsteady a person may be as is the narrator of the novel.
At the same time, the author attempts to bring in an element of stability in his novel, which is the reason. The importance of reason for the narrator and its role in human life can be clearly traced in his novel:
I applied my reason at every moment. Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater. (Martel, 330-331)
In fact, the reason turns out to be the only element that kept together all the pieces of information Martel intentionally divided and mixed up in his novel and depicted in the non-linear form. The author shows that it is only due to the reason the narrator has managed to arrange all his adventures and discoveries and convey them clearly to the audience. Otherwise, without the reason, the entire story would be just a mess, which people could hardly comprehend. On the other hand, the audience perceives the novel adequately again due to the reason because readers can perceive the non-linear form of the novel and understand it properly as the author intended them to.
However, the author attempts to stress that there is something beyond the reason:
I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality. (Martel, 336).
In such a way, the author shows that there is still something more significant that mere reason and that was what the narrator has searching for in the course of the entire book, which he searched in religion and in philosophy. In this regard, the author shows that he attempts to challenge the audience with his non-linear form. In contrast to expectations of the audience, which wants a flat and immobile story, he suggests readers a very diverse, changing, mobile, and unexpected story which unfolds in flashbacks and the author jumps from one idea to another as if he is travelling fast through the sea of his life.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the development of the non-linear form of The Life of Pi intends to convey the original message of Y. Martel to the audience. In fact, the author attempts to show the adventures of the main character and his searches from a different angle. He does not want to use the conventional linear form because he writes about non-conventional things. He shows the personal development and discovery of the narrator’s self as well as his discovery of the surrounding world, different religions and philosophies till he arrives to his understanding of life. In this regard, Y. Martel uses the non-linear form of the narration, which helps the author to draw the attention of the audience to key ideas, which he wants to convey in his novel. In such a way, the author uses the non-linear form to show how changeable human beliefs and views can be and how changeable human life is. In this respect, the non-linear form helps him to stress his ideas.
Busbey, B. (2003). Character Parts: Who’s Really Who in CanLit. Toronto: Knopf
Martel, Y. (2001). The Life of Pi. Toronto: Knopf.
McMurtrie, John (October 2005). “French Director Swept Away by “The Life of Pi’” San Francisco Chronicle.