How Animals Teach Us to Be Human: Brain Text and Post-Darwinian Animal Fable in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

Xinyi Cao



Animal fable, a genre that anthropomorphizes animals to convey moral lessons, demonstrates the possibility that animals can be tools to teach us to be ethical human beings. In this article I adopt ethical literary criticism, especially its conception of human-animal relations and the term brain text to investigate the role and place of animal fable in Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi to explore how the post-Darwinian animal might be exploited by fabulists to tackle human reality. In the novel, brain texts of Pi as the storyteller reveal his intention to use stories as ethical interpretations of his experience which is precisely the nature of the animal story as an animal fable. Besides, brain texts of animal characters in the fable stress the existence of animal factor in human beings, especially primitive desires and instincts for food, on one hand, and necessity and inevitability of dominance of animal factor in extreme situations on the other. Converting humans to animals in literature, Pi demonstrates multifaceted identity of human beings and the possibility of interpreting human reality in plural ways.


animal fable, brain text, ethical literary criticism, Life of Pi, Yann Martel

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

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Yale University (US)

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Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

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University of Exeter (UK)

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University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
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Department of Political Science
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Philippines Studies Center (US)

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Barnard College (US)
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Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)