Original Research

Considering the alternative: Bakhtin’s carnivalesque and convergence of worlds of animals and humans in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

Susan Marais
Literator | Vol 39, No 1 | a1460 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v39i1.1460 | © 2018 Susan Marais | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 November 2017 | Published: 20 June 2018

About the author(s)

Susan Marais, School of Languages, North-West University, South Africa


Yann Martel’s Life of Pi recontextualises the traditional castaway narrative’s rationalist and reductivist worldview by incorporating carnivalised writing, or the carnivalesque, to examine alternative or ‘non-human’ ways of encountering the world. It is this subversive and liberating approach towards dominant cultural forms and beliefs that is manifested in Life of Pi through grotesque realism. Grotesque realism, as defined in Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his world, is relevant to Martel’s novel, as this convention purports that animals embody the raw physicality of existence through their instinctual and amoral nature. In the context of the novel, carnivalesque writing contributes to the blurring of boundaries between human and animal in a way that also reveals the transformative abilities of storytelling. The dissolution of boundaries that separate humans from animals and the rational from the irrational emphasises the redeeming potential in alternative – or imaginative – ways of interpreting existence and, ultimately, casts light on uncanny spaces of existence such as loss, suffering and deprivation.


Animal; Bakhtin; Boundaries; Carnivalesque; Grotesque Realism; Human; Hybridity; Imagination; Instinctual; Liminality; Rational vs. irrational; Post-postmodernism; post-secularism


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