Richard Parker, Animal Alter Ego:
An Examination of the Nature of Id in Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
Nurul Kamilah Mat Kamil
Mr. S. Wise
7th March 2011
As a device of the poetic imagination and rhetorical flourish, metaphors give as much colour and emphasise to a particular message; be it a social critique or even a psychological examination (Lakoff). Animals are widely used as metaphors in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, for example, Richard Parker; a full-grown Bengal tiger is used as a metaphor for the id of the protagonist, Piscine Molitor Patel, also known as Pi. The id is one of the three psychic zones in Sigmund Freud’s model of the subconscious mind. It is the dark, inaccessible part of human personality governed by the pleasure-principle and is oriented towards one's internal instincts and passions (“Id”). As the metaphor of the id, Richard Parker acts out in violence which eludes Pi’s own potential for violence. Pi also has to tame Richard Parker in order to coexist with a carnivorous beast in the same way as one would repress the dangerous inclinations of the id. Due to this, Richard Parker’s presence creates emotional tension within Pi. Thus, Richard Parker embodies Pi’s id as he has violent tendencies, is difficult to restrain and creates inner conflict within Pi.
Evidences of violence are illustrated in the killings of the hyena, blind Frenchman and the meerkats on the carnivorous island by Richard Parker. In Pi’s narrative of an alternate version of his survival story, the hyena was actually the cannibalistic cook who killed Pi’s mother and a Chinese sailor. Pi has admitted to killing the cook and says that, “A knife has a horrible dynamic power; once in motion, it’s hard to stop. I stabbed him repeatedly” (391). It proves that human beings do have an innate capacity for evil and destructiveness (Daniels). Other than that, Richard Parker also kills the blind Frenchman. Even before the killing, Pi has a delusional conversation with Richard Parker, suggesting vile menus like “brain souffle’” (309). Pi not only transgresses his vegetarian principles, but he also goes as far as using the dead Frenchman for his bait and chews on his meat. Cannibalism becomes a necessity in dire circumstances and is even recognized by even such a great authority such as the Catholic Church upon the conduct of life, which shows that a human being is mostly likely to resort to cannibalism as an animal would (“Donner”). At the same time, the human consumption of human flesh has also been a means to enforce social control (Goldman). When chancing upon an island, Richard Parker also kills a group of meerkats “that he did not even eat” and it was “beyond his [own] need” (339). In contrast to the situation when he killed the blind Frenchman, this is not an act out of necessity; rather it is due to the frustration of basic needs (Wollstein). Pi has been deprived of company and food, and this deprivation causes him to lash out in aggression, evident by Richard Parker whose “pent-up hunting instinct” (339) is unleashed by the sight of many preys. This suggests Pi’s mental state at that time. As a result, the aggression is actually the reaction to circumstances in which essential requirements of human nature are unfulfilled (Wollstein). All in all, all these evident killings by Richard Parker are an illustration of the violent tendencies of Pi’s id.
Due to the murderous nature of Richard Parker, he has to be restrained. However, it is done with much difficulty. If Pi has not set the boundaries on the lifeboat or establish that he is the alpha animal on board, Richard Parker could have easily made him his meal, as he was the biggest threat to Pi’s survival. Richard Parker is only concerned in satisfying his own basic needs and Pi could have been “[his] next goat” (124). The need to eat, to drink, to eliminate wastes, to avoid pain, and to gain sexual pleasure, Freud believed that aggression is also due to these basic biological drives (“Freudian”). This parallels the description of the destructive nature of id. The id seeks immediate gratification of these impulses (“Freudian”). If it were released, basic human nature would only lead to destruction. Therefore, there is a need to control human nature with the hypothetical super-ego (“Learning”). The super-ego is the total opposite of the id. It represents internalization of . . . the rules of society, and functions to reward and punish through a system of moral attitudes, conscience, and a sense of guilt (“Superego”). Pi’s inclination to religion provides him his moral compass and forms his superego. Although circumstance forces Pi outside of his religious norms and even go against some of his principals, he still expresses guilt and feels a need to control Richard Parker, his id. Pi realizes that he cannot get rid of Richard Parker, “I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realized this necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me” (206). In doing so, Pi’s attention is redirected from fearing Richard Parker to taming Richard Parker. For this to happen, another element of the human personality comes into play, the ego. The ego is the representative of the outer world to the id and is oriented towards perceptions in the real world (“Ego”). Pi as the ego satisfies within certain boundaries the needs of the id (Phaneuf). Pi has to provide Richard Parker’s only with consideration that he has the means to do so despite the fact that Richard Parker needs to be constantly fed the same way the id always demands immediate gratification, yet the ego has to sometimes defer gratification due to the lack of means to satisfy the id. Being the biggest threat that needs to be controlled due to its nature of demanding immediate gratification, Richard Parker is a strong embodiment of Pi’s id in the sense that he is difficult to be restrained.
“I was thirty or so feet from the lifeboat, the distance that about rightly balanced my two fears: being too close to Richard Parker and being too far from the lifeboat” (195). Conflicts arise as the id, ego and superego compete over dominion, yet one cannot make do without the other, so is the case with Pi and Richard Parker. Richard Parker has always been a source of conflict for Pi as Pi fights an internal battle to gain control over Richard Parker, yet he is afraid of him. At the same time, his worst fear also becomes a dear companion throughout the ordeal and he feels mixed emotions when Richard Parker leaves him without saying goodbye. “It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, and dare I say even wholeness” (204). If in order to satisfy the id, the individual transgresses the superego’s laid down moral sanction, this will cause an inner conflict within the constituent parts of the mind, [inclusive of id and ego] (Thornton). At times, Pi has to rely to his id to give him the drive to fight for life, while at certain times, the superego or ego acts to control the id. “Richard Parker was such a magnetic pole of life” (122). Richard Parker plays an important role in his survival as he gives Pi the spirit to keep on living. The influence of an individual's needs and desires both have a strong impact on the direction of their behavior (Rabideau). However, as Pi washed up the shore of Mexico, Richard Parker leaves Pi. Pi’s return to civilisation shows Pi’s return to order and civilisation, the superego’s stronghold. The super-ego creates within the subject boundaries and therefore a sense of the territory of the self, it enforces the external by linking it to a more or less naturalised sense of identification and, finally, it polices the relationship and attitudes of the subject in relation to the external reality which is now moralised as ‘civilisation’ (Tester). Pi testifies “I couldn’t have done it without you” (361), and still misses Richard Parker even in years to come as he relates his story to the author. Being alone could be very painful; a time of utter despair, which is why Pi needed Richard Parker with him (Rokach). He would have gone insane if he were on his own. When marooned, the superego has a smaller voice as opposed to the id. Among the conflicts that challenges Pi’s principles is the killing of animals for food. He feels guilt at first when killing a fish, but as he progresses, he no longer feels the guilt as it becomes a necessity for him to kill. Pi is most intimate with Richard Parker during his time of near death. He goes blind and has a conversation with Richard Parker. At this time, his superego is the weakest and Pi “lost all fear of death, and [he] resolved to die.” (305). One of the innate desires of id is the instinct of death. Every person has an unconscious wish to die (Boeree). Death is a means of escape to the hardships of life, an end to sufferings. Sometimes this desire for peace, for escape from stimulation is directed away from the self and is released in the form of aggression, cruelty, murder, and destructiveness (Boeree). All in all, despite fearing Richard Parker, Pi seeks to control Richard Parker, who ends up being a dear companion to him at times of dire circumstances. This, in turn, causes Pi to have mixed feelings about Richard Parker. Ultimately, as Pi’s id, Richard Parker is an inseparable entity from Pi’s self.
In conclusion, the embodiment of Pi’s id by Richard Parker is most apt as Richard Parker displays violent motives, is difficult to restrain and creates inner conflict within Pi. Despite those qualities in Richard Parker, he has somewhat enabled Pi to survive as the tenacity and the drives of the id pushes one to keep fighting for his life. The id is the “madness that moves [people] in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving” (51). Although one is compelled to find means of fulfilling the demands of the id, at the same time, he has to control the id to ensure that it will not be his destruction. The id also gives one a purpose and a drive to keep on living. All in all, the id is not merely a negative side to the human nature; it is a life force that keeps one going.
Word count: 1749
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