Throughout history the monomyth or the hero’s journey, elucidated by Joseph Campbell in his well known book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, has been used in variety forms of literature such as books, stories, poetry, plays, etc. From the time of the Ancient Greeks with the tale of Perseus to the modern time with the popular franchise Star Wars, It has always been prominent back in the old days but it is just as prominent if not more prominent today because of its usage in films and other media such as Life of Pi. In the novel Life of Pi written by Yann Martel, the protagonist proves himself to be a hero through the ordeals and suffering he goes through. Pi’s achievement of the heroic traits are conspicuous as he undergoes departure, initiation, and the return, which are the stages of the monomyth or commonly known as the hero’s journey.
Departure, which is the first stage of monomyth, a quandary transpires in the life of the hero and causes tension. Just then, something vital occurs, compelling the hero to confront the change. Pi resides in India with his family in a zoo, where he believes to him “it was a paradise on earth” (Martel 9) and was perfectly content with “the life of a prince” (Martel 9) that he lived. He loved the opulence of being enclosed by what he calls one of the most alluring places in the world. Before he sets out on his journey, he embraces the spiritual guide he meets through the three religions of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.
Similar to any other type of hero, Pi sets out on his journey, leaving his ordinary world of India and heading to the uncertain land of Canada.The calling of Pi’s adventure begins in 1970s when India’s political system was in chaos. Pi’s father made the decision to leave India and make their way to Canada because of his fear of India’s breakdown under the ruthlessness leadership of Indira Gandhi. Pi’s father “announced to Ravi and Pi one evening during dinner” (Martel 46). Upon hearing the news, they “were thunderstruck” (Martel 46). Pi started comparing Canada to Andhra Pradesh and even though it was “just north of them” (Martel 46), they still considered it “alien” (Martel, 46) territory by Pi and his family. The quest of a hero always begins when the hero is called away from his ordinary world to a foreign destination.
Pi’s hesitant attitude towards this is typical as he cannot leave his ordinary world behind so easily, but it is only temporary. Despite Pi wanting to live his regular, luxurious life in India, he enthusiastically ends up leaving for Canada. He is like Perseus, the mythological hero, who answers the call of adventure with a positive attitude. The three religions he chooses to embrace provides him with the strength to overcome the trials and ordeals he will face in the land of the unknown “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure who provides the adventurer with amulets against dragon forces he is about to pass” (Campbell 63). Through Pi’s own experience of living a ordinary, luxurious life before his calling of adventure that he is hesitant about, he exhibits the common archetypal traits of a typical hero in the first stage of the hero’s journey.
During the second stage of the hero’s journey, initiation, the typical hero is heavily put to the test facing the danger of potential death and come face to face with his fear. The hero has to transfer himself from his ordinary, known world to the unknown world where he encounters danger. Pi goes through such trials and tribulations when he is stranded out on the Pacific Ocean, hurting both mentally and physically. After living through the petrifying ship crash of the Tsimtsum, Pi is forced to survive on a lifeboat with a tiger named, Richard Parker while fighting the harsh elements of the ocean and marks the beginning of the hero’s initiation, the road of trials. Pi seemed completely destroyed as he believed ” Every single thing he valued has been destroyed” (Martel 56), including the “extended family-birds, beasts and reptiles” (Martel 56) that he adores so much. He is even questioning the vastness of the net even though there are only a little amount fish to catch (Martel 56).
At this point in Pi’s journey, his life is seemingly demolished with everything he cares deeply about being snatched away from him, even his extended family. This unfortunate situation seems to be destroying Pi’s faith in his beloved god as he is hurting, watching everything he cares about drown to the depths of the ocean. Similar to any typical hero, Pi must conquer the ordeals to commence the stage of initiation.When the typical hero accomplishes his quest, the norm of the hero’s journey requires the hero to “begin the labor of bringing” (Campbell, 167) the boon back ” to the kingdom of humanity” (Campbell, 167), but that responsibility has been often denied. Without surprise, the heroes take residence in some land that is sacred and completely forget the task of return. The refusal of return is connected with the hero’s temptation rather than his laziness.
The temptation overpowers the hero suddenly, luring the hero away from the righteous path of his return home. It symbolizes the human tendency to obtain happiness by avoiding the conflict and danger.The island that Pi encounters towards the finish of his journey depicts this trial. Pi is provided with water and food, the essential needs for survival. The thought of comforts attracted him to the island to survive there rather than out on the ocean: “Nothing, I thought, could ever push me to return to the lifeboat and to the suffering and deprivation I had endured–nothing! What reason could I have to leave the island? Were my physical needs not met there? Was there not more freshwater than I could drink in all my lifetime? The thought of leaving the island had not crossed my mind once I visited the island” (Martel 353).
Regardless of the temporary physical comforts the island provided, Pi discovered the remains of another survivor on the island: a tooth of a human cloaked in a coating of leaves. He left the island instantly running back to the lifeboat, prepared to face the horrors of the ocean rather than awaiting death on the misleading island: “I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island” (Martel 357). This island represents the sacred island that Pi is allured by because of the comforts it seemingly provides. Pi refuses the return but after seeing the island for its true nature, he embarks on the righteous path to home.
After spending 227 days at sea, Pi had to be hospitalized to ensure he didn’t lose his life after washing up on the Mexican shore: “The doctors and nurses at the hospital in Mexico were incredibly kind to me. And the patients, too. Victims of cancer or car accidents, once they heard my story, they hobbled and wheeled over to see me, they and their families, though none of them spoke English and I spoke no Spanish.” (Martel 7). The hospitalization of Pi portrays one of the stages of the return, the rescue from without. Despite accomplishing the nearly impossible by surviving on a lifeboat with a tiger for 227 days, Pi is in need of help from the locals to get him to a hospital where he heals as he takes his first step of entering common everyday life after so long.
After Pi’s long suffering journey, at some point in the future Pi attends the University of Toronto, studying for a double major in religion and zoology which is something that he shines at. It makes him the master of the two worlds, and implying his return to the ordinary world: “I was very good student, if I may say so myself. I was tops at St.Michael’s College four years in a row.
I got every possible student award from the Department of Zoology. If I got none from the Department of Religious Studies, it is simply because there are no student awards in this department (the rewards of religious study are not in mortal hands, we all know that).” (Martel 5).
This displays the conclusion of Pi’s long quest as being the master of the two worlds is the last step of the final stage of the hero’s journey and because of his two worlds Pi seems to have gotten away from his suffering. As Pi is forced to accept the help of the rest of the world, before finally becoming the master of his own two worlds, he displays the typical archetypal traits of a hero that is following the monomyth.