Life of Pi is a fantastical adventure story that focuses on themes of spirituality, truth, nature, and growth. Though he faces great adversity, the novel's narrator, Pi, is determined to survive, following a catastrophic shipwreck that leaves him stranded on a lifeboat with only a tiger for company. Ultimately, students are forced to question the events of the novel and confront the issue of conflicting realities. Within the classroom, students may be drawn to the ending of the novel. Pi's shocking revelation invites debate regarding the truthfulness of the story and what actually happens following the shipwreck. This may lead to discussion regarding alternative psychological explanations for the story, such as coping mechanisms. When teaching Life of Pi, it is important to examine how the narrator's spirituality and faith manifest themselves throughout the novel. Pi is a very religious character, so students should discuss how his spirituality plays a part in his identity and the ultimate outcome of the novel. Students can also connect Pi's faith to other prominent themes, including its relationship to the natural world, thus helping them understand Pi's motivation.

1. Summarize Life of Pi

When Pi Patel promises to tell "a story that would make you believe in God," he begins describing a fantastical tale that occurred when he was sixteen years old. After closing their zoo in India, Pi's family embarks on a boat to Canada, where they intend to make their new home. Their plans are quickly ruined when a storm sinks their ship, leaving Pi stranded on a lifeboat with only a tiger named Richard Parker for company. Pi is determined to survive, despite this dire situation, so he relies on his strong sense of spirituality, which is a combination of Hindu, Christian, and Islamic faiths. Throughout the novel, the story of Pi's adventure serves as a lens through which readers can view Pi's spiritual, psychological, and personal growth.

Content Warning: This novel contains violent content, including references to cannibalism and the killing of people and animals.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Life of Pi:

  • Discuss Pi's unique interpretation of religion and how his faith affects him throughout the novel.
  • Explain how the novel functions as an allegory.
  • Analyze the ending of the novel and how it contributes to the idea of Pi being an unreliable narrator.
  • Describe the depiction of animals in the book and how it contributes to understanding their relationship to the human characters.
  • Discuss the role nature plays over the course of the novel and how it intersects with Pi's personal growth.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Length: 348 pages
  • Publication Date: 2001
  • Lexile Measure: 830
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10
  • Man Booker Prize for Fiction (2002)
  • Boeke Prize (2003)
  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Best Adult Fiction (2001-2003)

Literary Elements

  • Allegory
  • Allusion
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Foreshadowing
  • Frame Narrative
  • Personification
  • Symbolism
  • Unreliable Narrator

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Spirituality/Faith — Pi's spirituality is an integral part of his character, and it helps him survive a terrible trauma.
  • Growth — The novel explores the idea that growth—be it spiritual, emotional, or mental—can occur through adversity.
  • Nature — The characters in the novel feel a deep spirituality and use it to enhance their connection to the natural world.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Spirituality/Faith

Theme of Growth

Theme of Nature

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The shocking conclusion of the novel
  • The imaginative and magical sense of fantasy
  • The thrill of an adventure story with the insight of philosophical and spiritual ideas

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Understanding the broader connections between reason and faith
  • Interpreting the symbolic meaning within the novel

9. Order Life of Pi Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Life of Pi Paperback Student Edition
Life of Pi Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Life of Pi AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Life of Pi Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Life of Pi Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Life of Pi Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Life of Pi Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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