Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2010

Document Type




First Advisor

Karen Jacobs

Second Advisor

Janice Ho

Third Advisor

Mary Klages


This thesis explores the relationship between historiography and psychotherapy through an analysis of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi using Hayden White’s essay “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact.” The use of historiography as a psychotherapeutic technique is a fairly recurrent theme in our culture. These two concepts are put together only superficially in Hayden White’s essay; this thesis seeks to explore and more clearly define the relationship between these two conceptual terms, particularly with regards to the notion of “truth” in the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Life of Pi offers up storytelling as a means of coping with tragedy, both in the fictitious character Pi Patel’s life (and the two stories he offers the reader about what happened to him on his nine-month journey across the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a tiger), but also for Yann Martel himself. The novel employs a variety of techniques to blur the line between truth and fiction, particularly in its narrative framing. Two recurrent motifs of the novel are also explored: the ability of storytelling to be the impetus of political change, and the use of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism to imbue the world with meaning and significance. The final section of the thesis argues that Pi’s story of surviving in a lifeboat with a tiger, the “story with animals,” was an “overemplotted” account, one that he told himself to avoid thinking about his even more traumatic reality. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if the stories we tell ourselves are fictional or true; when faced with the choice, as Life of Pi advises us, we should always go with the better story. In this case, we should believe the story with animals not only because it makes Pi feel better, but because it also makes us feel better.