Just my thoughts
by Aditya Hingne

When the Iceberg Falls Apart

If humans were given the choice between two stories, which ones would be picked? In this instance, a story isn't something told before bedtime. A story is being used as a perception of life. The definition of a good story depends on person to person, but one novel claims otherwise. Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi is about a young man, Pi Patel, and his family who are immigrating to Canada via ship. A devastating shipwreck Pi stranded at sea with various animals, including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. This paper breaks down the novel using psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic criticism consists of the iceberg model which consists of five elements; consciousness, unconsciousness, id, superego, and ego. The id is a human's inner survival instincts and innate desires which are suppressed in the unconsciousness. The superego consists of one's morality and values always present in the consciousness. Lastly, the ego balances the other two, and places parts of itself in both the consciousness and unconsciousness. Life of Pi exposes the interactions between the id, ego, and superego in relation through the broader concept of storytelling, to depict the compelling use of psychotherapy.

As a response to the knowledge that one might die, Pi's id overrides his superego, and gradually his ego, until the novel exposes the way the mind is unable to control how information is processed and acted upon. When Pi finally takes notice of the boat, he remarks "It seemed orange - such nice Hindu color - is the color of survival because the whole inside of the boat and the tarpaulin and the life jackets and the lifebuoy and the oars and most every other significant object aboard was orange" (Martel 328). If orange is meant to symbolize survival, then so would the orange Richard Parker. In the case of Freudian psychology, Richard Parker would be a representation of the id. The tiger jumping from its hidden location in the boat and taking control parallels the id being unleashed from the unconsciousness. Pi would then be a symbol for the superego, since both their lack of action emphasizes the power of the id and how it will do whatever it takes to survive. The superego will resist but it will soon accept its circumstances. Thus, the irony when Pi says "It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same one who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness" (Martel 378) makes perfect sense. Despite being conflicting in nature, the id and superego are part of the same iceberg and at a certain point, such as imminent death, the superego will allow the id to do what it must accomplish in order to survive. As a result, Richard Parker begins to release prusten around Pi. "Prusten is the quietest of tiger calls, a puff through the nose to express friendliness and harmless intentions" (Martel 380). Prusten is a sense of understanding between the id and superego, which the superego will later use. The same should not be said for the ego. With the id tipping the power dynamic of the iceberg, the ego is not maintaining balance. It will resist the id from taking over. The various tests that Pi attempts to tame Richard Parker are similar to the various tests the ego will do in an attempt to tame the id. The tone shift in the chapter is critical in understanding the personalities of the id and superego. The beginning is quite serious, like the id, while the later taming sequences are more humorous. We see shifts in the tone from the previous quote about Richard Parker calming Pi down to quotes like "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, without further ado, it is my pleasure and honour to present to you: THE PI PATEL, INDO-CANADIAN, TRANSPACIFIC, FLOATING, CIRCUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! C! TREEEEEE!" (Martel 383-384). Despite this Pi's final plane is "Plan Number Seven: Keep Him Alive" (Martel 384) proving how the superego will accept the reality of the situation.

Although the id took power from the superego at first, Pi's superego slowly starts to act more like his id in the consciousness so that the id is no longer needed, and this allows the superego to remain morally good but still survive. Soon Pi began to think about his predicament and realized "There was not a shadow of doubt about the matter: to leave the lifeboat meant certain death. But what was staying aboard?" (Martel 346), with the lifeboat being his own id. With the id in control, the superego is unable to perform its functions of keeping its morals intact. When Pi breaks down after killing his first sentient being, and claims that he is "as guilty as Cain" (Martel 421), his mind begins to realize that having the id in control would kill Pi, even if he needs it. Luckily Avinash de Sousa explains why the superego relationship with the id is so special. "Freud gave consciousness the quality and capacity to transform experienced activity into unconscious states, similar to how different forms of energy are interchanged in physics. It could also play a part in inhibiting and restricting certain thoughts from becoming conscious. It also served the purpose of transforming quantities of unconscious excitation into qualitative experiences of pleasure and unpleasure" (de Sousa). This could also mean that for select occasions the superego could begin acting like the id. This would not mean that the superego would turn into the id, but rather it would perform the duties of both. Toward the end of the novel, Pi takes notice of how the color of the boat changes and says, "What was orange became whitish orange" (Martel 552). White is meant to be the color of purity, an aspect that the superego always fights to keep intact. Though the orange still remains. This is meant to explain two things. The first is that the id is still very much present in the consciousness, but it is more dormant. The second is the fact that the superego is now beginning to adapt to the id's traits and will begin to perform its duties as well. That is why there is an evidently stark contrast between the tone when Pi kills his first fish and when Pi kills the turtle in the latter part of the book. There he makes points such as "Green sea turtles gave more meat than hawksbills, and their belly shells were thinner. But they tended to be bigger than hawksbills, often too big to lift out of the water for the weakened castaway that I became" (Martel 449). The tone went from gloomy to almost technical. Despite Pi's strong values which he still holds, he has descended so far down that the idea of eating the animals has risen from his unconsciousness to the point where it has become second nature. These instincts exist inside each human in order to help us survive, but in actuality, humans repress these instincts because normally we don't need them. For some people like Pi, the superego is too powerful. If the id were to ever come into full power, it could completely destroy the mind.

Due to the imbalance between the id and the superego, Pi's ego is unable to complete its duty of balancing his impulses in regards to understanding the mind's needs in relation to the situation, further depicting the consequences of having a static ego. At the beginning of the story, it is probably accurate to say that Pi's superego is the most dominant personality. When this happens, the person is far too moralistic, and would always turn himself or herself away from anything he or she deems wrong. In this story that did not matter, because Pi's ego was able to keep his superego in check. However, Martel creates the story so that over time, we get a sense that Pi is becoming weaker. This is because his ego no longer has any grasp over Pi's impulses. The id, and later the superego which begins acting like the id, come into power, and this makes Pi wilder. The ego is still part of this iceberg, thus is still aware of what is happening, and this is destroying Pi. Kendra Cherry explains that if the ego was in control "An individual with this type of personality might be so tied to reality, rules, and appropriateness that they are unable to engage in any type of spontaneous or unexpected behavior. This individual may seem very concrete and rigid, incapable of accepting change and lacking an internal sense of right from wrong" (Cherry). Too much of the ego is clearly the bad thing, but now it is necessary to consider what would happen if the ego wasn't there. There would be too many spontaneous decisions, and there would be no regard to the outcomes of those decisions or any clear reasoning that would help to deal with those outcomes. If the individual was too concrete, they would unable to process their situations. The reason why most humans do not have to face this problem is that their ego was always there to complete these tasks. It would be disastrous for the ego to remain static. When Pi is talking to the Japanese inspectors at the end of the novel, he exclaims in an outburst "I applied reason at every moment. The reason is excellent for getting food, clothing, and shelter. The 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 672). Pi isn't actually trying to talk to the inspectors, but rather to his own ego and try to console it. The comedy at the scene with the Japanese inspectors is one of the most important moments of the film. Pi obsessing over their food is how he is able to control himself. Now that he has a constant supply of food Pi is reminding his ego that his instincts are no longer needed. Thus hiding all of the cookies under the bedsheets are symbolic of repressing instincts into the unconsciousness once again. Pi is begging the ego to take control once again because the ego is the part of our mind that allows us to move forward in life.

Pi's mind utilized imagination to create a story that can protect its ego from the aftermath of what the id and ego must do in order to survive, in an attempt to establish the essentiality of storytelling. Rebecca Duncan said, "Beyond lending credibility in a traditional sense, Pi's narrative strategies illustrate the potential of the concept of Nachtraglichkeit to investigate the fluid identity and perceptions of the postmodern survivor" (Duncan 272). Most humans stacks layers of information on each other, and they are unable to get a clear perception of their world. Martel uses religious motifs to explain how Pi is different from other people. Early on Pi takes notice of the area surrounding the town he is in, and says "The hill on the right, across the river from the hotel, had a Hindu temple high on its side; the hill in the middle, further away, held up a mosque, while the hill on the left was crowned with a Christian church" (Martel 136). The idea of Pi following three religions, or three different stories, was used to explain that Pi has the ability to lay stacks of information side by side. This way he has the ability to view different perceptions of life at the same time. As a result, Pi owns a strong imagination, which he uses to create his own story. He chooses to create the fictional story with all the animals, which the audience learns at the end is perfectly parallel to the second story he tells the Japanese inspectors. Pi even says "the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless faculty, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, 'Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,' and, to the very end lack imagination and miss the better story" (Martel 164) which is meant to explain the dangers of believing in no story. Not only will the yeastless version waste everybody's time, it does not have the capacity to give someone their sense of life. Greg Wilson claims "In many ways, Yann Martel's Life of Pi is a blend of two seemingly contradictory metafictional breeds, both of which ultimately address the notions of truth and reality in storytelling" (Wilson 201). Martel is claiming that Pi has the greatest possible human mind. Through whichever angle or lens Pi wishes to perceive life, his mind can do it because it can balance the perfect picture of reality and fiction. Pi recalls a moment with his professors and a zebra where "Mr. Kumar said, 'Equus burchelli boehmi.' Mr. Kumar said, 'Allahu akbar.' I said, 'It's very pretty'" (Martel 146). Like most of the people around Pi, society normally typically forces everyone to view it through a single lens, believing it is not normal to place different kinds of information side by side. Life of Pi proves that each human has the ability to see through multiple angles and follow each one side by side, without consequences.

In choosing to believe in the other story, the Pi's mind is able to undergo psychotherapy which allows the id, ego, and superego to return to the usual states. Rebecca Duncan states "Through fictional strategies, Martel engages with, yet radically reshapes, the survivor narrative, using metafictional and self reflexive dimensions to suggest that a survivor must not only survive the crisis but also come to terms with the consequences of having survived" (Duncan 268). This ends up creating one of the significant moments of the novel; Pi's question of "'So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't answer the question either way, which story do you prefer?'" (Martel 706). Pi still isn't really speaking to the officers, but himself. Pi's ego now has now been given choice. The counterpart to the story with the animals is the utterly terrifying story with the humans. That version is the true story, and no ego can disregard the reality. However, the story with the animals is fake but greatly overlaps with the true story. The fictional story can protect Pi for the rest of his life, if his ego chooses that version. Elizabeth Palmberg concludes "By the end, Pi's belief in God and love has been honed down to a stark, unhopeful, desperate need for God and love - or for storytelling, which Martel seems to regard as the same thing" (Palmberg 206). The novel was framed with the idea that Pi would be retelling his stories to an author, who has been widely speculated to be based on Yann Martel himself. Spreading the strength of storytelling was Martel's main goal throughout the novel. For any person, the trauma is told through a story in order to begin the psychotherapy that will calm the ego down. This psychotherapy is a choice. One choice can shred someone to pieces, and the other can allow people to pick themselves up once more. All this power is held through a choice of two stories. It is a concept that is used universally, can be implemented in ways that even save lives.

Life of Pi tells a story about stories as a Freudian work of the id, ego, and superego in psychotherapy. In a life-threatening moment, the relationship of the id, ego, and superego can save and destroy someone. Stories are the cure that can bring that person back. They are so simple, yet Life of Pi uses their simplicity to its advantage. Martel advocates that there's nothing more powerful than a story. Stories guide people and take them on journeys of emotions. They can also be the most potent defense mechanism. Whichever story that one picks to define their life will expose them to many dangers, and protect them from many evils as well.

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