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The quintessence of the shadow self

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“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodies in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it form an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions”(Carl Jung, 131). The quintessence of the shadow self is the hidden, bestial part of a human being that a person represses and is forced into the unconscious by hs/her ego. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the protagonist, Pi is stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an indomitable Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Pi’s pilgrimage on the lifeboat is a portrayal of Pi coming to realization of his shadow self, Richard Parker.

Incipiently, Pi is subdued with dread, despair, and confusion, but later comes to appreciate the tiger once he acknowledges that Richard Parker is crucial for his survival and maintaining hope. Pi’s experience teaches readers that only when we accept our split identity will one be able to “develop a relationship of mutual dependency, do not kill the enemy but use the enemy for one’s own mutual advantage” (Dr. Jennifer Minter). However, one must learn how to “tame” it so that it doesn’t take dominance for the more one refutes his/her shadow, the more it weighs him/her down. Thence, Pi’s quandary is utterly strenuous for his sympathetic, gentle, fruitarian personna, consequently, Pi would not have remained alive without his shadow self, projected as Richard Parker.

When Pi is thrown overboard into a lifeboat by the crew members on the ship, Pi is overwhelmed with panic. As soon as he sees Richard Parker treading in the water, he doesn’t see him as a tiger, but rather as someone who is is the same situation as himself and needs assistance. Pi acknowledges his shadow self and supports Richard Parker approach the boat. Instantaneously, he comes to reality and remorses his decision in saving the tiger and launches an oar at him hoping he could get rid of Richard Parker. Pi’s endeavor exemplifies his confusion and denial when he first comes face to face with his shadow self. After apprehending that the tiger represents his sinful side, he doesn’t want to accept it but soon does which is represented by the tiger eventually appearing on the boat. Richard Parker “hiding” under the tarpaulin implies that Pi still doesn’t want to agree with his shadow self and that it is “hiding” at the back of his mind. Anyhow, when Pi embraces his shadow self, he is saved from the hyena which Richard Parker kills and finally appears from under his hiding spot. Mutual dependency is portrayed as when Pi finally lets his shadow self take over, he is awarded with a chance to live. Richard Parker helps Pi to survive physically by keeping him busy and providing him with “necessary distractions” (Dr. Jennifer Minter).

On the boat, Pi has to constantly be aware and on the lookout for Richard Parker, so the tiger doesn’t come near him. Pi also has to make sure that there is a sufficient amount of food and water for Richard Parker if he wants to co-exist with him on the lifeboat and make sure that Richard Parker doesn’t get hungry for Pi. Not only does Richard Parker keep Pi physically occupied, likewise he keeps him psychologically occupied. Richard Parker diverts Pi’s mind from pondering about the recent loss of his family and if is he ever going to be saved. The tiger also distract Pi from contemplating of his physical deprivation. Pi’s shadow self teaches Pi that “he must rely on himself for survival: he cannot depend upon being rescued by another: this forces him to be resilient and resourceful” (Dr. Jennifer Minter). This is true, chiefly after the tank did not catch sight of him and passes. At that moment, he fathoms that without Richard Parker, he wouldn’t be able to keep his faith. “If I didn’t have you now, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I would make it” (Martel, 262).

A zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, a tiger, and a human is rather a very peculiar crew to be abandoned together. The majority chances of the human or any of the other animals outliving the tiger is on the low end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, Pi is able to preserve an continuous relationship and a boundary line with Richard Parker so that he can survive numerous days at sea alongside him. When Pi and Richard Parker are the only ones left on the lifeboat, Pi idealizes with schemes to live without fear from Richard Parker even going to the extent of possibly killing him or making him starve to death. Pi’s final resolution is to “tame” Richard Parker by inaugurating himself as superior and reinforcing the “alpha-omega relationship” (Martel, 185).

Pi foresees this process: “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 him and me” (Martel, 181). Pi must maintain an ordeal of psychological superiority over Richard Parker so he instills a sense of fear in him. He creates the “Pi Patel, Indo-Canadian, Trans-Pacific, Floating Circus,” in order for Pi to train and subdue the fatal Richard Parker and become his master. This circus symbolism allows Pi to overcome his fear of superior forces and enlightens him to deal with adversity. When Pi stands up to his split identity he becomes assertive and established authority even though the enemy is much more powerful. In the book, Pi describes how a ringmaster would use a whip as a roaring noise to terrify the lion and hence achieve superiority. He uses the same technique by using a whistle he finds and this becomes the “symbol of the circus master’s dominance” (Dr. Jennifer Minter). Although, to find the supply kit on the lifeboat, Pi had to initially search the lifeboat, obviously coming closer to the tiger. When he first stood face to face with the tiger, this is when he first accepts his shadow self. As a reward, he is given the whistle. This relates back to the idea of mutual dependency since when Pi decides not to evade the tiger anymore, he finds the supply kit consisting of food, water, life jackets, wool blankets and more which was significant to his survival and he uses them to his benefit. Pi’s mastery betokens Pi’s submission to his shadow self, providing him with an opportunity of optimism and survival. It is also a metaphorical depiction of the solemnity and significance to “tame” the tiger within oneself. This symbolically advocates Pi exerting supremacy and power over his brutality and savageness, representing a will to survive.

“The tiger spirit symbolizes primal instincts, unpredictability and the ability to trust yourself. By affinity with this spirit animal, you may enjoy dealing with your life matters spontaneously, trusting your intuition and acting fast when needed” (Elena Harris). In Life of Pi, Pi acts rationally but later resorts to a level of savagery by giving in to his shadow self. One example is when Pi, a lifelong vegetarian and pacifist resents and cries out loud when he seizes a fish and breaks its neck with his bare hands. He also manages to arrest a three-foot-long dorado where Pi establishes his superiority once again and names the fish for himself by standing Richard Parker down. Another circumstance on the lifeboat is when Pi utilises his urine to present his territorial area by acting surreptitious. He begins to impersonate his animalistic self which is a method of safeguarding himself. Acting like Richard Parker helps Pi in adapting to the behaviour and developing a connection with his ferocious comrade and this keeps him relatively protected. Furthermore, when Pi and Richard Parker arrive at an island completely covered with algae, Pi believes that they have entered upon a “Paradise.”

Formerly, he presumes that he can stay on this island forever as there is plenty of food and fresh water. He notices though that when it turns to night time, Richard Parker runs back to the lifeboat and come back on the island only in the daylight. This was Pi’s first indication that there was something wrong with the “Paradise” he has just discovered. He soon uncovers that the island is carnivorous and he escapes the island with Richard Parker. This links back to primal instincts for Richard Parker allow Pi to have courage and make his own decisions, hence, bolting off the island as soon as possible before it devours him. Additionally, just as Pi has a shadow self, the island has an evil perspective to it at this symbolizes that not everything that seems virtuous is in fact ethical, however, good and evil must balance each other out so that there is a sense of order. The beauty of the island in the daytime attracts prey for the island to consume at night.

In Life of Pi, one can witness a dual nature. Richard Parker, a tiger who represents an “evil” impulse and Pi, a human who represents a “good” impulse can be understood figuratively as humanity. Richard Parker is not only a manifestation of Pi’s fears but also of Pi’s strengths. It is a power Pi didn’t sense that he acquired until he had to dispense it. When he finally welcomes his shadow self, his life is saved from the hyena and later on when he decides to face his split identity, he obtains a safety supply kit. Pi turns his fear into authority when he “tames” Richard Parker and in an ulterior meaning, the tiger become Pi’s revised personality. Further on, Richard Parker keeps Pi physically and psychologically engaged, hence, Pi does not die of boredom and loss of hope.

He constantly is in search for food and water and on the edge of saving himself and the tiger from physical deprivation. Finally, they form a love and hate, an ambivalent relationship where Pi masters his fear and learns to accept his reliance for his enemy. Pi loses his vegetarianism and even marks his territory with his urine matching the characteristics of a tiger. Vigilantly and apprehensively does Pi remain in order to shield himself and endure his plight. We must recognize that this “shadow self” is key to our survival, however, it is indeed incompatible to our emotional and intellectual necessities to comprehend the meanings of life, love, good and evil. Can we really train this life force? is an unanswered question that we may never know the answer to.

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