This extended essay will assess the impact of water as a
motif on the development of protagonists in a coming-of-the-age or
Bildungsroman novel. In order to explore this, this essay will compare and
contrast aspects of Life of Pi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, two
Bildungsroman novels from two different eras in literature. While The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn portrays eighteenth century American
romanticism, The Life of Pi is a fantasy-adventure novel. Although there is
evident time gap between the two works, the role of water is incorporated into
the stories similarly.
Water, for instance, is used paradoxically in both works.
During Pi’s and Huck’s journey to adulthood, water exemplifies life and death.
Due to them being crucial parts of the investigation, the geography, the water
type and its interaction with the protagonists are areas that are examined.
Where pi’s character development occurs in the vast expanse of the Pacific
Ocean, Huck’s journey takes him down the Mississippi River. Twain and Martel,
while personifying the differing role of water, also ensure that water embodies
multiple conscious entities.
In addition, water also functions as a plot device due to
being a continuous presence throughout both the novels. Both the protagonists,
witness a tremendous change in their attitudes after being introduced to the
natural world. This essay, though extensive, the evaluation done here is quiet
subjective. Water, is a great literary symbol and hence leaves room for ambiguity.
The majority of the meaning found in water is through personal perspective.
This statement should, however not limit the scope of the research question. In
conclusion, water plays a major role in the development of Bildungsroman
All through history, nature has always fascinated mankind,
especially those with artistic attributes. Aspects of nature such as the
seasons, the moon, the wildlife and their various ecosystems have in turn,
provided writers with an infinite source of inspiration. It is due to this
infinite nature of wilderness, that there is no greater resource for literary
Bildungsroman serves as effective material for studying the
use of nature symbolism. Nature is the prominent indicator of changing times in
the novels dedicated to the transition between youth and adulthood. The
seasons, for instance, represent the journey from the good times in an
individual’s life, to the hardships. The novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn and The Life of Pi, being with their protagonists (Huckleberry Finn and
Piscine Patel respectively) being adolescent boys with limited exposure to the
outside world. It is only after they are immersed into the natural world that
they experience a significant transformation.
Though these books represent two different literary eras,
both share a common theme of respect of nature. As a part of American
Romanticism, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, inherently praises the aspects
of the natural world. Huck’s detailed observations of the natural world as he
floats down the Mississippi River depicts this admiration. Life of Pi, exhibits
a similar trend. Pi, while stranded in the Pacific Ocean both fears and marvels
at its beauty. Even in his dangerous situation, he describes being placed in
the center of “a thrilling show… a spectacle of wind and water, an earthquake
of the senses that even Hollywood couldn’t orchestrate” (Life of Pi 128). The
fact that water is almost omnipresent in both works allows an extensive
research into its figurative connotations. Although, the impact of water on the
development of characters in a Bildungsroman novel will be specifically
Water is a necessity for both humanity and the wilderness,
for without it, neither would exist. As How to Read Literature Like A Professor
states “water in great volume speaks to us at a very basic level of our being”
(Foster 75). Water is comparatively quiet unique since it suggests many
different (often paradoxical) interpretations.
The effect of water on protagonist’s development is deeply
explored. From the innocent childhood up until maturity attained after
hardships, water has been a constant contributor to the plot. The relationship
between water and the protagonists’ run as deep as for the water to be
interpreted as both the novels’ most prominent supporting character.
Transition from childhood to maturity
Though the term “Bildungsroman” is derived from German, this
genre of novel has been used all around cultures, as the transformation of an
individual is a universal phenomenon. The goal of this genre is to depict the
“psychological and moral development” of the protagonist (Merriam-Webster). In
both, Life of Pi and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonists
undergo a significant transformation initiated by a common entity: water. The
way both the protagonists’ undergo this transformation in their youth is “both
a necessary and sufficient definition of these heroes” (Moretti 4) in the
context of Bildungsroman novel. Pi and Huck are forced to adapt to new circumstances
due to the interference of water in their childhood.
Before Pi’s family decided to move to Canada, he encountered
a sheltered childhood. Though his family had domestic issues, they were also
well endowed. Due to this, he enjoyed privileges such as attending a
prestigious boarding school. The swimming lessons he receives from his uncle
link his childhood to water. Pi’s first experience with water results in
“splashing” and “laughing” as he indulges in the “blue-green waves and the
bubbly surf” (Martel 9). Ironically, water is introduced to Pi in the very
setting which transitions him to adulthood. The phrase “bubbly surf” (9)
parallels the purity of a child. However, with age, Pi becomes more refined and
structured. This transition is reflected in his experience at the pool, which
exhibits “a proper rectangularity and formal flatness” (9). These words imply
that there is a sense of docility to the water. Furthermore words like “proper”
and “formal” indicate towards the acceptance of society, much like Pi’s lessons
are traditional. The circumscription of water in this case depicts the
isolation of Pi’s childhood, in which he is dependent on his family. The
entirety of his opportunities are handed to him or rather forced upon him by
his family and society.
Pi’s interest in zoology is a consequence of being raised to
love such an environment. Pi began to explore his spirituality, however, before
pursuing his opportunities. Pi is immersed into Hinduism, Christianity and
Islam, contrary to his parents’ request that he sticks to one faith. His
unprecedented devotion towards different religions signal the beginning of his
transition into adulthood. However, his true development is only ignited by the
wrath of water with the sinking of the Tsimtsum. This incident also with
resulting in Pi losing his family, also commences his battle against the ocean
for survival. His hindmost battle against this entity for survival represents
his internal struggle to understand himself throughout his transitional period.
Huck, on the contrary, experiences a tough childhood. The
majority of his life, he lacks a fatherly figure. Whenever his drunkard father
did show up, “he used to whale when he was sober” and often physically and
verbally abused Huck (Twain 13). Unlike Pi, Huck wasn’t born into a stable
family and neither did he receive proper education. Instead, he was raised into
a society that lacked morals and practiced prejudice. If the river hadn’t taken
Huck’s father away with it, he probably would have grown up in a corrupted