Life of Pi: What’s In A Name?

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Yan Martel’s award winning novel, “Life of Pi”, is about the life of Piscine Molitor Patel, narrating many of the experiences he encounters that give light to many philosophies and ideologies about life. The protagonist in the story, Piscine Molitor, was named after a Parisian swimming pool, which was described in the story as a breathtaking area to take a good swim. However, Piscine having been fed up with the negative attention his name attracted in school, comes up with a new nickname for himself: Pi.

Like many other concepts that Martel uses within the plot as a tool for readers to gain a better understanding on things, the two aforementioned meanings of his name is one of which the utilized. The two names of the protagonist in the story of “Life of Pi” is one of the many tools which Yan Martel uses to embody much more meaning than what meets the eye. The narration of how he acquired the name “Piscine Molitor” is told early on in the novel within the third chapter. This close association to a body of water foreshadows the entire second chapter where he spends in the Pacific Ocean, a much bigger body of water, as a cast-away for 227 days.

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Moreover, the controlled and confined features of a pool imply the concept of boundaries, (a concept which the author constantly used/ made to appear in the novel), like the boundary that Pi made between him and Richard Parker was an essential tool that kept them both alive and the boundary between fact and fiction discussed in the author’s note. Lastly, this analogy of Piscine to a pool embodies the massive depth of this character in terms of his religious beliefs and outlook on life.

This may even be generally applied to the whole story, as one would constantly find deeper meanings and symbolisms to concepts and things all throughout. The protagonist then elaborates two chapters ahead of the aforementioned on how he gave birth to his new name for himself: Pi. The definition of this word is more commonly known to the definition of that in the realms of math. Pi is able to define it as an “elusive irrational number” which scientists and mathematicians use to gain rational knowledge on things. This definition nables the comparison of this number to one of the major topics dissected in the novel: religion. It is a belief that cannot be explained or proven through rational means, but provides man a better understanding of events, phenomena, and other experiences that he encounters. The mathematical concept of pi is also characterized as one of the most important fundamental constant in math that works with every circle. Again, the different circles symbolize the different religions, and the fundamental constant representing the one supreme being that every single religion worships.

Like Pi’s character in the story, he results to practice Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism simultaneously, believing that all the different religions one practices will always turn to the same Supreme being. Finally, it the number pi is described as a transcendent number which leads to it not being constructible and never ending. It represents the long eventful life of Pi which helped him see the rationality of things, and the authors technique in writing this story- leaving many questions and mysteries unanswered. Like the mathematical concept of pi, it fosters uncertainty and indefiniteness throughout the novel.

It is evident how the protagonist’s name truly delves into the story and characterizes the main character, allowing the readers to infer its deeper meanings and connections to the novel. Like the mathematical definition of pi, the true meaning of the name given to the protagonist is not definite. Its deeper meanings transcend boundaries, unable to confine the countless meanings filled in the two seemingly simple names. Yan Martel named the main character in his novel “Life of Pi” to unleash the different themes and traits that this novel dives into.

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Life of Pi: What’s In A Name?. (2017, Mar 20). Retrieved from

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