“Life of Pi” vs “The Odyssey” Comparative Essay

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26 April 2016

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Life standed on the sea is very grueling and risky. Only a few are able to face the challenging tasks of such a situation using their wits and persistence. In the book Life Of Pi and the film The Odyssey, the journeys of the main characters are surprisingly parallel, considering the works were written over 20 centuries apart. Both of their journeys contain stages similar to the archetypal hero journey, including the Separation/Departure, Initiation and The Return. Although both Pi and Odysseus face extraordinary challenges, Pi’s character is more intriguing because through his first person narrative, the reader is drawn to his sensitive nature, his vulnerability and his unique personality while Odysseus is interesting because of the hero stereotype re represents.

In the Separation/Departure stage, both men are reluctant at first to start their journeys, but due to forces beyond their control, they depart for phenomenal adventures at sea. For instance, when Pi’s family reveals that they are moving to Canada, Pi is reluctant and does not want to leave. Pi shows his hesitation when he says “Why enter this jungle of foreignness where everything is new, strange, and difficult?” (Martel, 86). He was “thunderstruck” (Martel, 88) at the thought of moving by also saying “It was like Timbuktu, by definition a place permanently far away” (Martel, 88). Pi has created a familiar world of family, filled with religions, his mentors and peace, but is now crossing to an unknown territory far away.

Likewise, Odysseus did not want to leave for the Trojan War as he would be leaving his family. He is called to the battle just after his son Telemachus was born, and he is hesitant. Odysseus loves his family, even though he is seen as a typical brawny warrior. This shows that he wants to stay behind to care for his son and wife but nonetheless carried out his duty because he is a brave soldier at heart. The resemblance between those two here is that they both enjoyed life at home, but had to embark on their journeys due to political turmoil – For Pi it was Ghandi’s takeover of India that caused

his family to leave, and for Odysseus it is the declaration of the Trojan War. In the start of their journeys, Pi crosses the threshold when the Tsimtusm sinks, and this forces him to get on a raft to start his adventure at sea. This can be seen when Pi describes the sinking of the boat which “…made a sound like a monstrous metallic burp” (Martel, 107). Pi also expresses his terror when he says, “Tell me it’s a bad dream. Tell me it’s not real. Tell me I’m still in my bunk on the Tsimtusm and I’m tossing and turning and soon I’ll wake up from this nightmare” (Martel, 107). This shows the crossing of the threshold for Pi as he is the only human survivor who enters this unfamiliar place. This crossing from his familiar life to a much more dangerous one creates a struggle for him to return to his ordinary world. Similarly, for Odysseus, he crosses the threshold a few times and it starts after the Trojan War when he angers Poseidon. This is seen when he boasts that he defeated the Trojans by himself, thus angering Poseidon who makes him suffer. His arrogance creates a much more difficult journey home because Poseidon repeatedly sends him off course preventing his return home for many years.

Both character cross the threshold in different ways, It is forced upon Pi whereas Odysseus brought it on himself. This is considerably accurate since Pi is innocent and did nothing to incur his fate and the struggle that he had to endure. However Odysseus’s crossing of the threshold is because of his ego which he has to pay the price for boasting about himself winning the war. In short, both characters were reluctant to cross the threshold, but in Pi’s case his situation seems more devastating as he is still young and has to bear with the total loss of his family. Throughout their initiations, Pi and Odysseus must face many challenging trials on their road to survival and eventual reward. Pi’s main trials are the danger of the tiger and the overall risk of surviving from hunger, thirst and nature. With Richard Parker, Pi has to constantly find a way to train him, as he sometimes describes: “Let the trumpets blare. Let the drums roll. Let the show begin” (Martel, 182). This shows the importance of training to him. He will call himself “THE PI PATEL, INDO-CANADIAN, TRANS-PACIFIC, FLOATING  CIRCUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!” (Martel, 183).

Also in order to avoid starvation he must eat meat, as he recounts it for the first time by saying “It was a great discovery when I found that a fresh-tasting fluid could be sucked out not only from the eyes of larger fish but also from their vertebrae” (Martel, 235). He describes turtles as “…a bowl of hot soup – became my favourite dish” (Martel 235). These quotes show Pi’s effort to train the tiger and using his wits to outsmart him along with the discovery of using aquatic creatures for meat / food sources. Back to Odysseus, After being cursed by Poseidon his journey back home consists of nothing but horrific trials such as the Cyclops and Lotus eaters. For example after Odysseus sets sail Poseidon creates a fog causing them to meet a troublesome foe, by trapping them in the Cyclops’s cave. However Odysseus gets the Cyclop drunk and stabs him in the eye, allowing them to escape. This portrays his cunning bravery which saves most of his men and himself. One similarity for both character’s road of trials is that they are all bigger than life. None of their challenges are ordinary or even realistic. However Pi’s challenges are constant throughout the novel and there is no real relief or change of pace for him.

On the other hand Odysseus’s bizarre challenges are constantly changing and creates an episodic storyline. Also he stands with many of his crew and watches them die during some of those trials while Pi faces his challenges alone. Many months later, after Pi survive on the sea for 227 days he is rewarded a chance for recovery at an algae island before the final lap of his journey. When he sees the heavenly island at first, he expresses that when he “…take in green, after so much blue, was like music to my eyes” (Martel, 285). Also when he eats the green vegetation he comments “saliva forcefully oozed through… “I tore at the algae around me” (Martel, 288). After surviving on the sea for so long, he is finally given fresh food and water, allowing him to stay alive until he reaches mainland. Odysseus also receives a break when he drifts along to Calypso’s island, after all the terrors he endures. There he is taken care of by a beautiful woman named Calypso and she gives Odysseus the rest and treatment he needs.

This shows that by overcoming all the challenges thrown at him, he is rewarded a chance to take a break, even though Calypso intended to keep him there forever. The similarity here between the two is that both rewards offer some kind of recovery, allowing them to take a breather before arriving at their destination. Yet Pi’s reward is generally smaller / less satisfying compared to Odysseus because Odysseus still knows his family is back home while Pi still has to bear the loss of everything. All in all, while Pi had a sustained and prolonged struggle with the tiger and starvation, Odysseus’s road of trials is more varied and exciting to watch. Both heros did, however, get a rest near the end. When a hero is close to being home, though grateful for being alive, their return usually contains one final task that he/she needs to complete. Pi crosses the return threshold when he is found on the shore of Mexico and while being helped by the local people, he tinges with the sadness of the loss of his tiger. He states that he is rescued when “…a member of my own species found me” (Martel, 316).

Expressing his release from hell, he also says “I wept like a child” (Martel, 316). So although relieved to be cared for, he is still grieving the loss of his family and Richard Parker. For Odysseus’ crossing of the threshold it occurs when he arrives home by boat, happily, with Athena changing his appearance to help him. He is seen happy when reunited with his old friend (the goatkeeper) and his son Telemachus. However he finds out he has one more obstacle to face in order to achieve happiness. Though he is cheerful to be home, his happiness is a bit diminished when wondering if his wife had kept their promise. He becomes quite angry angry and fired up with what he sees back in the village, certainly not the peaceful reunion he had hoped for with his wife. There is not much similarity between their crossing of the return threshold except that they both return on land, but Pi is very ill and fatigued while Odysseus seem not. Nonetheless Odysseus still has his family, while Pi’s is certainly dead. Also Odysseus has another challenge to face at home while Pi has no physical challenge but must now rebuild his entire life from scratch. After being saved, Pi’s last small obstacle is in the hospital when interrogated by investigators from the sunken ship.

As Pi  describes his story, they challenges his tale by saying “Mr. Patel, we don’t believe in your story” (Martel, 324). They also says “It doesn’t hold up” (Martel, 324). Finally Pi says, “I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you” (Martel, 336). Because his adventure is so bizarre, these men did not really accept it. But since he had very vivid imagination, he makes up a completely new version of the journey to say to them and makes everyone satisfied. Back to Odysseus, when he arrives back at his homeland Ithika, he finds one more task which he directly confronts in disguise. When he reaches back to his village, there is many men causing chaos fighting to win over his wife.

There is a contest to determine the future husband and he joins to end the madness. Odysseus has to engage in yet another battle, first by completing the contest by stringing his bow and shoots an arrow with it into the twelve lined up rings perfectly. Then he transforms back into his normal self and kills all the suitors, ending the drama. Compareing both of their magic flight, it is a much tougher task for Odysseus as it is Physically more demanding. Pi’s last challenge is minor and it causes us to wonder the validity of his entire journey. However he is still quite physically and mentally drained. Therefore, while Odysseus showed his physical ability once again Pi is obviously suffering in a more profound way filled with grief and future uncertainty.

These two characters both showed strong characteristics to complete their journeys, and while they shared similar stages there is more sympathy towards Pi due to his loss of innocence. By examining the Separation, Initiation, and Departures, they all include important stages for the hero to move on. The general process seems to be that the hero leaves his home to a new unfamiliar place, gains experience / skill, and returns home with boon or new knowledge. With these said, though Pi and Odysseus’ adventures shared similar plots, it is important to note that Pi is a single person surviving on the raft, with no other companions other than the Royal Bengal tiger. On the other hand Odysseus has his crew throughout some of his journey. It can be argued that Pi had a tougher time at the sea, but to be fair Pi is only 16, whereas Odysseus is an adult stranded out wild for many years. His exploits were exciting and entertaining but his personality had no depth. Pi is much more vulnerable and he elicits our pity. Because he is so clever, poetic and even humorous at time, he is more appealing to us throughout the extraordinary challenges.

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StudyScroll. (2016). “Life of Pi” vs “The Odyssey” Comparative Essay. [Online]. Available at: https://studyscroll.com/life-of-pi-vs-the-odyssey-comparative-essay-essay [Accessed: 4-Jun-2023]

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