The first time Yann Martel mentions the tiger is in the zoo. Pi’s father wants his children to realize how dangerous the tiger may be, he tries to teach his children a lesson in survival. He shows the children a tiger while devouring a goat, which makes Pi scared enough. As the book says”I learned the lesson that an animal is an animal, essentially and practically removed from us, twice: once with Father and once with Richard Parker” (Martel, 31). At that time, the tiger represents the Pi’s fear in his heart. Later on, when Martel talks about the tiger, it is almost about Richard Parker.
In Life of Pi, Richard Parker that accompanies Pi on his journey across the Pacific, represents Pi’s subconscious maturity level - the stage of his awareness of life and ability to cope with it.
The ship sank and Pi survived in a lifeboat being surrounded by chaos and scare. When he saw the tiger, it was the same as seeing the hope. He tried his best to encourage Parker not give up and the tiger struggled to swim to the life. Pi said,” Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you, Richard Parker!...You’re a strong swimmer. It’s not a hundred feet” ( Martel, 97). However, when he saw the tiger was so close to the lifeboat and threw the lifebuoy to let the tiger grab it, he suddenly woke up to what he was doing. It was an extremely dangerous animal! He tried to chase the tiger away, he even used the paddle to hit the tiger's head. “Let go of that lifebuoy, Richard Parker! Let go, I said. I don’t want you here, do you understand?... I would hit him on the head! I lifted the oar in the air” (Martel, 99). At the beginning of the shipwrecked, he was puzzled and did not know what to do. He did not want to be a lonely drafting on the lifeboat, so when saw the tiger, he wanted to save it, and he did not even consider whether to save a tiger is a wise decision. When he realized he was going to be the next goat and should not invite the tiger into his lifeboat, it was too late to make any changes. It was his loneliness and scare that urged him try to save the tiger, however it was also his scare that made him put himself in a dangerous situation. He could completely avoid the tiger, but his immatureness brought him more dangerousness. Moreover, he had to jump into the sea to protect him not to be attacked by the tiger.
Though the tiger was always threatening his life, after Pi calmed down, he began to think about the survival in the vast sea. Obviously his bravery overcame his fears. When the tiger raised himself onto the gunnel and looked at Pi, Pi’s mind whispered urgently to use Plan Number Six to kill him. Pi had a chance to kill the tiger, however, the fears made all Pi’s effort wasted. “Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown always like a bird... Every part of you, in manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear” (Martel, 161). When he faced the tiger, he found he was not brave enough to defeat his fear. He had no choice but to stay with the tiger.
Gradually Pi admitted that he has to stay with the tiger. He began to think about the relationship between himself and the tiger rationally. Like Pi said,” A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker...It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story” (Martel, 164). He decided to tame Richard Parker. Pi devised a training program for Richard Parker.” I had to make him understand that I was the top tiger and that his territory was limited to the floor...bordered by the neutral territory of the middle bench, was my territory and utterly forbidden to him” (Mattel 168). In order to survive, he had to start fishing not only for himself, but also for the tiger. Moreover, he devised some sort of canopy to shelter himself, improved his craft and learned to use solar still to produce fresh water from salt water. All what he had done has proved that he is becoming mature, not only to feel lonely and afraid. Even as a vegetarian, he learned to kill the fish, he felt guilty for doing it, but he had no choice as he wanted to be alive.
When Pi and Richard Parker reached land, Pi witnessed him walk in front of Pi into the forest without saying goodbye, he disappeared from Pi’s life forever. Pi wept like a child.” It was not because I was overcome at having survived my ordeal, though I was...I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously” ( Martel, 285). Even Pi has been trained to have a strong heart to survive his ordeal, he still feels sad for the tiger’s leave.
The theme of the tiger connects all aspect of Pi’s ordeal effectively. Unlike some novels where animals act like humans, in Martel’s story, Richard Parker behaves as a dangerous animal. The tiger is quite fearsome, but it is ironic that the tiger saved Pi’s life in the Pacific Ocean. Pi has to face many issues: stay with the tiger, lack of water and food, suffer from the loneliness and fear. However, he realizes that the direct threat is Richard Parker, so he tames it. And the success gives him a lot of confidence to keep struggle with any difficulties in the sea. We have to say it is the tiger that distract his attention, without the tiger, Pi might give up in the ordeal.
Richard Parker symbolizes Pi’s personality. On the lifeboat, he has to learn various actions to stay alive which are unimagined in his normal life. He has to learn to live with the tiger, kill fish and eat them. In his journey of survival, the tiger represents his fear and loneliness, but he overcomes them finally. He becomes braver and braver, mature and never looses his kind-heartedness. Pi’s experience demonstrates that when an individual suffers form loss, hurt or defeat, he/she also has greater opportunities to improve himself/herself.