Thursday, February 10, 2011

Life of Pi, First Set of Prompts

I want to thank all for the thoughtful responses on the blog and the rewarding discussions in class. I believe in letting your ideas drive class discussion and dictate the direction of our class, but in order for this to work, you have to be invested and engaged in your own learning. I can see that you are, and I appreciate that. It makes my job much easier. 

As we begin to discuss Life of Pi, please feel free to venture away from these prompts and write about other things that are important to you. I am under no illusions that what I want to talk about is necessarily important to you, so if what I ask is interesting to you, I'm glad. If it isn't, please write about something that is, and we'll talk about that. I only ask that we try to limit our comments to what we are reading that day, or have read before.

1. In the Author's Note, Martel tells a story about how he came to write Life of Pi. According to Martel, he first heard the story while in India, from a man named Francis Adirubasamy, and then later, in Canada, from Pi himself. Also, throughout the novel we are given italicized chapters from time to time. These take place years in the future and are in the voice of Yann Martel. Does having just finished The Things They Carried make you read these chapters, and the description of the book's origin, with skepticism, or are you willing to confront the new book on its own ground and believe Martel's story about how the book came about?

2. One thing that Martel is doing in this first section of the novel is setting you up for things that will happen later. You can't know this, of course. The details just seem like details. Lives of zoo creatures, descriptions of swimming pools, details about Pi's undergraduate thesis, the story of training his peers to call him Pi, a tiger ripping a goat apart--these things can seem random and even pointless. And yet, every book has to have what we might call a narrative engine, something that makes you want to keep turning pages. What does Martel do in this first part of the novel to keep you interested even when you are unsure where the book is going?

3. Much of this first part of the book yokes zoology and religion. In what ways is religion like a zoo? In what way is zoo life like religion? For example, look at the way zoos are described (and defended) in Chapter 4. How might these descriptions relate to an individual's religous beliefs? Or, alternatively, how might the strange and even violent acts of the animals in this section of the novel relate to elements of religion? 

4. Interpret Chapter 21, Chapter 22, or both. Your interpretation(s) will probably change as you read further, but what do you make of these chapters now? Martel has said that despite their brevity, these are some of the most important chapters in the novel. Pay particular attention to the phrases “dry, yeastless factuality” and “the better story.” 

5. At the end of Chapter 30, Martel meets Pi's wife. He had never seen signs of her before, but now he sees them all over the house and wonders how he could have missed them. "They were there all along, but I hadn't seen them because I wasn't looking for them," he says. Can this sentence extend beyond its context and be considered thematic? 

6. At the end of Chapter 36, Martel writes, "The story has a happy ending." Why tell the reader this so early in the book? Is this going to spoil your reading experience? Do you even believe it? Isn't it a bad idea to tell the reader about the ending? What do you think about this strategy? 

That's probably enough for now. Happy reading.

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