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Dual Consciousness in the Novel Life of Pi Essay

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Updated: Dec 4th, 2021


In the novel, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, the protagonist is found in a state where the realm of self-awareness and human consciousness fails to make the difference between reality and illusion. However, it is a mode of debate that whether if the chemical imbalances in the brain under extreme conditions makes illusions out of reality. For this, a complete understanding of self-consciousness and mental testing is needed in order to establish the illusions created by Pi Patel with the reconstruction of his own self-consciousness. All these components of self-consciousness created a parallel reality for Pi and that forded him to two different stories of the ship disaster and his survival. The first, and the predominant story, involve animals. This story can be termed as expression of illusion. The second story involves human characters, which is the reality. To understand this difference one must look into the parameters of self-consciousness of the human mind.

Description of Consciousness as a mental state

Consciousness has been described to be a mental state. It is a perception of a person’s self with others in his surroundings. Researchers have also concluded based on research survey and extensive medical research that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia have been caused due to chemical imbalances in the brain. Therefore, it is essential to determine whether all such factors such as the consciousness of a human being could also be explained by the same phenomenon. Consciousness is essentially, philosophically and metaphysically, a sense of self-awareness. Therefore, it is important to understand the basic bio chemical reactions that take place in the human brain and therefore try to relate it to conventional discoveries in neuroscience and ascertain whether bio chemical processes are the sole reason for self-consciousness.

Analysis of the dual existence of Pi

There is a significant belief that most of human consciousness has been because of such chemical reactions and the study of these reactions were in line with Darwin’s theory on natural selection and evolution. Additionally, most contemporary literature also supported the view. In the case of Pi, his mental imbalance and his illusions are clearly due to shock of his mother’s violent death and that was instrumental with long starvation and living under harsh conditions as a shipwreck. Thus, the position of his self-consciousness was highly challenged due to these physical incidents and that triggered the process of depiction of manifested imageries of animals in place of human being such as Zebra, tiger, orangutan, hyena etc. Mr. Okamoto, the maritime insurance investigator, points out, “both the zebra and the Taiwanese sailor broke a leg, did you notice?” (Martel, 2004) Mr. Okamoto further mentions, “And the hyena bit off the zebra’s legs just as the cook cut off the sailor’s.” (Martel, 2004) Mr. Okamoto then clarifies the entire connection between human beings in the second story and the animals in the first story. He indicates, “So the Taiwanese sailor is the Zebra, his mother is the orang-utan, the cook is…the hyena – which means he’s (Pi) the tiger!” (Martel, 2004)

Establishment of relation between Pi and Richard Parker

It is a well-established medical fact that most of the neural reactions, which leads to our basic senses such as the power of smell, touch, hearing, taste and seeing have all been the outcomes of bio chemical reactions in the body. Therefore, it is obvious that these factors, which essentially contribute to human consciousness, have been borne out of these reactions and therefore human consciousness in itself is borne out of chemical reactions. Studies conducted under the fields of neuropsychological and neuro science has helped in understanding the functioning of the human intelligence system and therefore human consciousness. This again establishes the fact of self-consciousness and the realm of reconstruction of self-consciousness. This was the reason why Pi manifested his alter ego as a tiger, Richard Parker, who became his constant advisory throughout the novel. (Martel, 2004) Mr. Okamoto rightly understood this context and established the reasoning that “The tiger killed the hyena – and the blind Frenchman- just as he killed the cook.” (Martel, 2004)

Understanding the realms of consciousness

However, consciousness of the mind is not limited to senses of touch, vision, smell etc. It also encompasses areas such as knowledge, memory, ego, sanity etc. it is the study of these areas, which are tougher. A study of human consciousness based on bio chemical reactions would face stiff challenges in proving these aspects. Therefore, the human consciousness has to be studied at many different levels. It is easy to understand how sensory organs work but different to understand how the reciprocator actions are caused. Therefore, the mind actually works at varied levels.

Understanding the realms of consciousness in case of Pi and Richard Parker

It is however proven that the chemicals present in the body react due to various stimuli such as electrical signals, which are transmitted by the sensory nerves. There can therefore be various similar stimuli which are still not known and yet to be discovered. There are various aspects of consciousness, which manifests itself physically, but there are some like memory or thoughts, which does not always manifest it. Explaining these aspects are the toughest. Various research organizations have been studying cognitive sciences and researchers have been using such knowledge to apply to development of artificial intelligence in machines. Even as inroads are being made into understanding the mind in a more “scientific manner”, the scope of the study remains immense. The difficulties that researchers face in answering such abstract aspects of human consciousness are indeed tough. Thus, it justifies that fact that harsh sea conditions, constant hunger forced the chemical imbalance within Pi, and he reconstructed his self-consciousness as the tiger, Richard Parker. (Martel, 2004) This is why, when the crisis related to Pi’s survival was over and he was rescued by locals, he promptly discarded his alter self, the tiger. Pi states, “I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank for saving my life. And now go where you must.” (Martel, 2004)

Different views of consciousness in relation to Pi and Richard Parker

The realm of consciousness has different views. The ancients Greeks best describe the relation between the mind and the body when they mentioned that a sound mind is only possible in a sound body. As a result, it can be stated that the basic setup of a healthy mind is situated in the domain of a healthy body. Thus, there is a direct relation between the mind and the body. The body provides the mind the needed nutrition and energy to work efficiently. On the other hand, the mind controls the body and helps it to remain healthy by maintaining healthy characteristics. However, from the point of view of biology the nature of a human is chiefly dependent on the genes and all the aspects of the concept of physical, mental and the mind/body feature of the human nature is dependent of that principal. Biology seeks the justification in the aspect of genetics and states that every individual and human nature if the result of a formulation constructed well within the genetic codes of the double helix and the body just follows these codes as the human nature is build on these directions. Thus according to biology the central nervous system controls the basic parameters of the mind. This again proves the notion of chemical imbalance within Pi and this was the prime reason behind his reconstruction of his self-consciousness as Richard Parker, the tiger. This reconstruction was a need manifestation of his self as his basic timid and pious self was unable to bear the harsh conditions of the survival strategies employed during the castaway experiences. However, once Pi regained his foothold on the beaches of civilization, it became necessary to discard the tiger, as he was not fit for civil life. Pi tells Richard Parker, “Watch out for man. He is not your friend…So farewell Richard Parker, Farewell. God be with you.” (Martel, 2004)

Scientific evaluation of Pi’s constructed illusion

However, the characteristic of psychology also enumerates the variables of the human mind on the same principals of biology but add in the influence of immediate environment and virtually subtracts the elements of central nervous system. According to psychology, the human nature of the mind features are generated by the direct influence of the environment around the individual and any instigation by the environment is processed by the mind without the intervention of the central nervous system and the result of reaction of the human nature is delivered accordingly. Thus, it can well be stated that the mind can be free from the parameters of the CNS. So, the elements of reconstruction of Pi’s self-consciousness finds another possible ground and this is also due to chemical imbalance though the reason behind this imbalance was mostly psychological in nature. It had been established in the text that Pi comes from a pious Hindu family who follow strict code of non-violence and maintain vegetarian diet. He followed a life of well-defined boundaries as a good pious Hindu boy. It is as if the life that Pi describes as “you have known the confined freedom of zoo most of your life”. (Martel, 2004) The course of action demanded Pi to be violent at times and have animal flesh and this caused a deep change in his metabolism that ultimately appeared to him as a destructive shocking force and changes his mental chemical balance.


Thus, in conclusion, it can be ascertained that the incidents that took place in the novel ‘Life of Pi’ formulated and manifested an additional mode of self-consciousness that lead him to construct a world with flesh eating pool and meerkats. He developed an alter ego through acute consciousness the existence of Richard Parker the Tiger as alter ego of himself and the series of animals that were fundamentally formulated on real human beings like his mother, the cook and the sailor. Thus, it could be well established that in case of Pi the realm of self-awareness and human consciousness fails to make the difference between reality and illusion due to mental chemical imbalance and the psychological influence of an unreal world caused due to adverse situation faced by him.


Martel, Yann; Life of Pi; Penguin Books. (2004).

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