In chapter 56 of Life of Pi, Yann Martel uses literary devices to reveal that fear is a malignant adversary that attacks the mind until a person is destroyed, mentally and physically.
In the first paragraph of this chapter, Pi contemplates the destructive attack of fear on the mind, as he continues his journey stranded at sea with the tiger, Richard Parker. At this point in the story, Pi is further stranded on a small raft he has built to keep himself away from Richard Parker, and he has recently realized that it would take very little effort for Richard Parker to swim the distance between them and eat him; thus, fear is uppermost in Pi’s thoughts. As Pi discusses how fear infiltrates the mind, he personifies fear as someone who “[disguises]” himself “in the garb of mild-mannered doubt,” and then “slips into your mind like a spy” (161). This personification of fear underscores its true, tangible threat, illustrating that fear is not just a fleeting emotion, but that it is an entity that could cause as much damage to someone as a real person could. The comparison of fear to a spy wearing a cloak of doubt creates the sense that fear is acting covertly and maliciously against a person, emphasizing Pi’s position that while fear may start out seeming as harmless as simple doubt, it is truly the adversary of man. Pi goes on to also use personification to characterize disbelief and reason, which are the brain’s first defense mechanisms against fear. When disbelief tries to “push [fear] out,” Pi reveals that disbelief is a “poorly armed foot solider” (161). Next, the brain sends forth the reinforcement of reason, who is “fully equipped with the latest weapons technology” but who despite “superior tactics,” is defeated (161). The idea that the brain already has soldiers, reason and disbelief, mobilized and ready for war supports Pi’s position that fear is the arch-enemy of man, as soldiers exist to defend against intruders and members of their enemies. Reason, who Martel suggests is armed with advanced and intelligent weaponry, can’t even stand against almighty fear. The fact that, despite their best efforts, fear still defeats disbelief and reason, emphasizes the idea that fear has the power to totally destroy the mind. Contributing to the characterization of fear and the brain’s defense mechanisms is the diction employed in this paragraph. As Pi describes the altercation between fear and the mind, he describes the “soldiers” of disbelief as “armed,” and states that reason participates in “battle” with fear, but that ultimately, regardless of disbelief and reason’s “superior tactics,” they lose out to fear (161). These combat-related word choices each create the sense that when the brain fights fear, it is all-out war. Through this connotative language, the reader is thrust into a scene that more resembles a battlefield than a philosophical musing on an abstract concept, and the idea of the brutality and destructive nature of fear is made manifest.