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“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

“Life of Pi” is one of the most famous books written by Yann Martel. This novel may be viewed as an allegory that vividly depicts human society and the complexity of relations of an individual and society. It is necessary to underline that throughout the entire book the main character Pi suffers from solitude and miscomprehension. In fact, he rest alone wherever he is, whether it is a densely populated city or a deserted island. In such a way, the author apparently attempts to depict the theme of the solitude of an individual in society and the unsurpassable barriers that exist between an individual and society.
First of all, it should be pointed out that the novel consists of three major parts where the reader can trace the evolution of the main character from a naive boy to a disenchanted individual who lost any hope and faith in humanism and human society to the extent that he more readily attributed animal characteristics to human beings than vice versa.
In the first part of the book the author uses flash backs to convey the story of Pi’s childhood. It should be pointed out that the boy did his best to get socialized and be accepted by the society. It is worthy of noting that tends to traditional humanistic values and attempt to find really positive implications in human society. This is probably why, being a boy, he cannot choose the religion which he prefers the most or which is closer to his own vision of the world. As a result, he equally sticks to Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
At this point, it is important to underline that it is probably the first time in his life Pi faces the necessity to make an uneasy choice since human society cannot accept such poly-religious attitude to the human life and surrounding world. In such a way, the society tends to impose certain boundaries on Pi not only in physical terms but in spiritual as well. It should be said that such diversity in his religious and philosophical views are unwelcome in society. No wonder that his own father skeptically remarks that “he seems to be attracting religions the way the dog attracts fleas”. Thus, it is obvious that if his own father cannot accept his views than the society will not for sure and, in actuality, the boy, being different from others, turns to be in a kind of isolation from the society. He is not accepted by peers who are mocking at his name and it seems as if Pi spends more time with animals in the zoo than with people.
In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the author skillfully depicts an allegoric image of a zoo which rather resembles human society. It should be said that from the early childhood the boy is taught about the predatory nature of animals living in the zoo who are extremely violent if they are not controlled or bound by some limits. It seems as if the author compares animal and human nature and sees no substantial difference. In fact, he directly compares animals to humans when he compares the zoo to the hotel: “In many ways, running a zoo is a hotelkeeper’s worst nightmare. Consider: the guests never leave their rooms; they expect not only lodging but full board; they receive a constant flow of visitors, some of whom are noisy and unruly” (Martel).
In fact, the main character turns to be a strange dreamy boy who is more interested in reading books than in communication with his peers and other people. He seems to be alien in a hostile world who, in spite of his early age, has already learned that “the main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but a small clearing of each heart” (Martel). Naturally, the boy with such strange views cannot be accepted in the society, though, in actuality, Pie turns to be able to understand the predatory essence of human beings and their social relationships where humanistic ideals are only declarative while, in the real life, the world of humans is full of evil.
Symbolically, it is the skeptical father of the boy who eventually realizes that the life in India is unbearable for him and his family and that the pressure of the Indian society forces him to leave his motherland. At the same time, it seems as if he has not yet fully understood the truth his sun has already known, notably, that human society can hardly be different in another country since human nature is unchangeable.
At this point the second and probably the most substantial part of the book begins. The main characters set into the journey to the new country but in the result of the disaster all people aboard have died and he is the only human survivor along with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a huge Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. They share the same lifeboat and this strange community seems to be an allegoric depiction of human society where the stronger kills the weaker. At the same time, it is important to underline that such relationships inevitably affects even such a humanistic and independent individual as Pi. It seems to be quite symbolic that, being initially a vegetarian, the boy transforms in a being that readily devours anything even remotely edible: “a chopped-up mixture of heart, lungs, liver, flesh and cleaned-up intestines sprinkled with fish parts, the whole soaked in a yolk-and-serum gravy, made an unsurpassable, finger-licking thali” (Martel). Eventually, all animals but the tiger are eaten and, the tiger as the strongest and the most powerful survives and threatens to the life of the boy. It is obvious that the tiger, which is traditionally considered to be the king of all animals in India, symbolizes the ruling classes of human society which subordinate the rest of society to their own will and force them serve to their interests. This exactly what happened to Pi who was forced to feed the predator, and take care about his health which was the guarantee of his own survival. It is necessary to underline that the boy does not like such a society and he tens to avoid it and this is why he attempts to separate himself from the tiger not only for the sake of survival but simply because he cannot bear the predatory nature of the animal which symbolizes the ruling classes of human society. In such a way, the author allegorically demonstrates that despite a close link and interdependence of an individual and the tiger, symbolizing the ruling part of society, they still tend to create barriers, otherwise, their neighborhood will be destructive.
On the other hand, despite the natural fear of the tiger, Pi still is a human and, thus, a social being. Consequently, he needs society and this is probably why he regrets when the tiger has gone and this event overshadows his rescue. At the same time, the author manages perfectly depict the extent to which an individual may be misunderstood by a hypocritical society. The boy has to invent two variants of the story since people are unwilling to believe that he survived along with animals, but when he replaced animals with human beings, which was a direct comparison of human society and the animal world, people more readily believes in the original story of the boy.
In such a way, the main character fully realizes the extent to which the society is hostile to himself and he is actually alien in this world of humans which he would readily abandon and, instead, he would rather prefer an interesting book without end to the hostile and predatory human society whose rules he cannot accept and neither the society can accept his humanistic ideals.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. New York: Random House, 2002.

“Reading in the Dark” by Seamus Deane

Seamus Deane is considered to be an Irish writer that continues traditions of his predecessors. In this respect, his novel “Reading in the Dark” seems to be particularly noteworthy because the author skillfully depicts the narrator growing up and revealing the secrets of his family. In fact, the novel represents quite a kind of combination where the events of the personal life of the main characters are closely interlinked with the historical events. It should be said that the author depicts quite a turbulent period in the life of the main character and his country. At the same time, it is really interesting to trace how the personality of the narrator is shaped in the course of the novel under the impact of his surrounding and the new facts he learns about his family’s past. On the other hand, the narrator seems to be not just a thoughtless recipient of the external influences but he is rather an individual that tends to find his own way in life and attempts to have his own point of view on every event and every issue of the present as well as the past.
First of all, it should be said that the novel is build as a narration of the boy who steadily grows up and learns more and more about his own family and its past. In the mean time, his own views are shaped and he attempts to evaluate all the facts he learns as his relatives are not simply unwillingly they strongly oppose to his desire to learn more about his family and its past. This is why there exist a serious distance between the narrator and other characters. For instance, it is quite a symbolic episode when the narrator recalls the episode from his early childhood when readers actually first meet his mother who is on the landing in their house. When the boy is on the tenth stair-step going up and says: “I could have touched her” but his mother stops him saying: “Don’t move… There’s something there between us. A shadow. Don’t move” (Deane). It should be said that this conversation is really important because it perfectly characterizes the relationship between the boy and his mother as well as other relatives. In fact, the invisible shadow always exists between the narrator and his relatives. This is a kind of unsurpassable barrier between him and his social environment.
At the same time, it is only on reading a substantial part of the book a reader can understand that this invisible barrier is closely related to the past of the family and the secrets the narrator’s relatives attempt to hide from him using all possible means. It should be said that each part of the book starting from ‘Father’ through ‘Mother’ to ‘Crazy Joe’ gradually reveals the secrets of the family the boy so eagerly wants to disguise. It is also quite important to underline that such a revealing of the family secret occur very slowly but in the course of time as the boy grows older and as he communicates more and more he learns more facts concerning the past.
In this respect, it is worth of mention that in the part entitled ‘Father’ the boy learns the least and he actually is unable to learn a lot because he cannot simply understand and know what exactly is going on around him. Nevertheless, he keeps struggling with the opposition of his family and all the relatives. it should be pointed out that such unwillingness from the part of the relatives to reveal the family secrets create quite a gloomy, pressing ambiance of the book and it is even quite difficult to adequately perceive all the slightest details and nuances the narrator constantly catches while communicating with his relatives or noticing all details, even insignificant ones, in their conversations and behavior.
In fact, the boy just faces an invisible barrier that separates him not only from his family past but also from all his relatives who know the story of his family. Nonetheless, the boy demonstrates his personal power and ability to overcome the existing barriers imposed by his relative but, in actuality, he rather deals not with a clear set of detail. In stark contrast, the narrator is rather forced to deal with parts of a puzzle than with a clear facts and evidences from the past of his family. On paying attention to each word, hint, gesture, the boy eventually manages to gather the entire picture of the past of his family and reveal major secrets but it is necessary to underline that he does it not due to the help of his relatives but rather against their will.
In such a situation, it is quite symbolic that the more information he receives from the person who seems to be less capable to convey any really noteworthy information, i.e. Crazy Joe. In fact, it is Crazy Joe who occasionally slips the details which an attentive boy easily catches up and which help him to create the clear picture of the past on the basis of information he has already collected from other relatives.
At the same time, it should be said that such a permanent opposition between the boy’s desire to learn more about his family secrets and the unwillingness of his relatives to reveal them affected dramatically his personality and behavior. The boy gets used to think and rethink all the information he learns from his environment. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that, even while reading a book, he keeps to train his mind and imagination as he lies under the cover and thinks about the story he has just read talking to the characters as he says: “I’d lie there, the book still open, re-imagining all I had read, the various ways the plot might unravel, the novel opening into endless possibilities in the dark” (Deane). Symbolically, this is the way he actually has to collect and unravel the book of his own family history.
As a result, the boy became quite different from his peers that was particularly obvious in school. It is worthy of mention the fact that, unlike his peers, he wrote a precocious essay “full of long and strange words I had found in the dictionary” (Deane), while his peers wrote in a trivial manner about simple things they regularly saw in their everyday life.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Seamus Deane wrote quite noteworthy novel “Reading in the Dark” which depicted the formation of the personality of the main character in quite unusual circumstances that naturally affected his environment. In this respect, that the title is a perfect match to the description of the formation of the main character because his growing up resembles the reading in the dark when he has to learn all the secrets of his family inconspicuously, hiding from his relatives who oppose to his intentions as much as they can. As a result, such strange relationship characterized by the existence of an unsurpassable gap, or distance, between the boy and his relatives and the permanent search of truth resulted in the development of such treats of character as suspiciousness, high level of attention, tend to analyze all the information the boy receives, and disbelief to what people surrounding the narrator said. As a result, it is possible to estimate that, willingly or not, the relatives practically defined the personality of the narrator but they had not managed to tame the boy’s desire to find the truth.

Deane, Seamus. Reading in the Dark. London: Routledge, 2004.

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Basically, the novel “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro depicts an unusual story of an individual who finds himself in quite a strange situation when all his ideals and beliefs are actually ruined and his entire life seems to be wasted. Nevertheless, this novel has a number of really disturbing themes and problems that the author attempts to solve. In this respect, it should be said that the author skillfully depicts the opposition or, to put it more precisely, the interaction of society and individual in which the latter turns to be in a disadvantageous position because the main character is practically unable to resist to the social influences from outside and his entire life was defined by the impact of society and existing biases and stereotypes. Nevertheless, the author manages to demonstrate the rebellious nature of human beings.
On analyzing the novel, it is primarily necessary to point out that the main character Stevens dedicates his entire life to the loyal service of the Lord Darlington. It is should be said that the service to his master was the main goal and sense of the life of the main character. In actuality, he has no alternative to the way he has chosen but, frankly speaking, he did not even look for alternatives. Stevens, being a butler, does not really attempt to change his life. It seems as if he is totally satisfied with his lifestyle.
However, an attentive reader can easily notice that the main character is not free in his life choices. In stark contrast, his entire life was defined by the society, by the existing stereotypes and it is even possible to estimate that all important decisions he makes in his life are made under the impact of outer forces, notably society. In fact, his devotedness to the Lord Darlington is extremely exaggerated and absolutely unreasonable. Stevens has practically lost his own personality scarifying his life to his master and neglecting his own needs and interests. At the same time, it is necessary to point out that it is not his own choice but it is rather the social pressure that forces him make such a choice.
In fact, the main character turns to be the victim of the stereotypes and prejudices that exist in the society. He perceives his role in society as it is without any reflections whether such a state of things is justified or not. He perceives that his low social position pointblank and is unable to change it somehow. Under the impact of the existing stereotypes and biases he is practically convinced that it is his destiny and his major goal of his life to serve to his master only because he is just a butler while his master is the Lord, a respectable person whose views and ideas are unarguable and who is always right just because he occupies the high social position, he is believed intelligent and virtuous.
In this respect, it should be said that the main character apparently idealized Lord Darlington but he did it, to a certain extent, unconsciously being deceived by the public image and public opinion of this person. In such a way, it is possible to speak about the weakness of the main character, about his inability to make an independent judgment and view his master and the surrounding world objectively.
However, the author emphasize that he is not alone in his weakness or inability to be independent of external social impact and free of biases. It is worthy of mention that Miss Kenton, a woman whom the main character really loves, also is dramatically influenced by the society and cannot be independent but rather prefers to obey to the circumstances and just go straight forward avoiding radical turns on her life way.
In actuality, the situation is quite strange since both Stevens and Miss Kent love each other though they do not demonstrate openly, especially this is the characteristic of Miss Kent. Instead, both characters prefer to keep their love, their feelings in secret and obey to their destiny which, in actuality, is shaped by their social environment. Obviously, both characters scarify their happiness and their life for the sake of socially accepted norms of behavior, ideals, and stereotypes. It is evident that both characters have lost their lives for serving to chimeras imposed by society. Their ideals, even though they may be not totally wrong, are not the ideals of their own. As a result, they live the life that is not the life of their own.
Strangely enough, it takes them twenty years to understand what a mistake they have done. At the same, it is really important that they arrive to the realization of this fact. Obviously, Miss Kenn fully realized her mistake and she probably regrets that she has not managed to share her love with Stevens and she is totally disappointed in her marriage. This is why in the most difficult period in her life she appeals to probably the only person she loved in her life and Stevens was probably the only one, who really loved her too. In such a way, after so many years of marriage she realizes her mistake and the extent to which she was dependent on society. At the same time, her insight and appeal to Stevens forced the latter to reevaluate his entire life too. Naturally, he arrives to the same conclusion as his beloved. He also turns to be disenchanted and desperate about the life he leads or, to put it more precisely, about the outcome of his entire life.
Symbolically, the author compares the life of the main character with the day. Stevens realizes that his life approaches to its natural end and that the evening is close. In such a situation, it seems to be particularly tragic that he finally realizes the extent to which he was deceived by the society. His devotedness and loyal service to the Lord Darlington was actually useless because Stevens finally realizes that his master is worthy of nothing. Moreover, he is totally disappointed in Lord Darlington because only at the end of his life he is able to see that his master is far from perfect. In such a situation, his breakdown at the end of the book is quite natural when he realizes that his master, whom he dedicated his entire life, is just a moral degenerate who blindly follows fascists, Nazi and anti-Semite leaders.
Unfortunately, the main character understands his mistakes but it seems to be too late to change anything because he has been following social impacts all his life and, at the present moment, it seems to be impossible to change anything. Nevertheless, the author believes that his character is able to change his life for better and he can tear the social bounds that tied his personality, his own identity. In such a context, the final breakdown of the main character resembles a kind of rebellion against the society and its norms imposed to Stevens as well as to Miss Kenn, and probably many other people.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that Kazuo Ishiguro manages to depict the character who, being at the dawn of his life, realizes that he was constantly misleading by wrong stereotypes, ideas and beliefs, imposed by society, which, in actuality, were not created by his own mind but rather borrowed from the social environment without any critical evaluation. At the same time, the author demonstrates that the main character is not totally hopeless, instead there remains the evening to live.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. New York: New Publishers, 2004.


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