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In Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi, what does Pi's name symbolize?I am already aware of...

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kaarts | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:03 AM via web

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In Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi, what does Pi's name symbolize?

I am already aware of the mathematical 3.14 and the relation between the number of decimal places being to hard to understand, but what else does his name symbolize?

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qejtzuk | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM (Answer #1)

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First, he is named for a swimming pool in France, due to the role that place played in the life of a dear family friend. There's an obvious connection to water, of which Pi has entirely too much by the end of the novel.

Additionally, it demonstrates Pi's assertiveness. He takes the initiative on his first day at a new school to interrrupt the roll call by writing his new nickname on the chalkboard, intending to pre-empt the harrassment he received with the unfortunate moniker "Pissing" at his old school. This stands in contrast to Hindu fatalism, which would simply accept his suffering.

You've noted the mathematical connection to the Greek letter Pi; you may also have noticed that this number is used for measuring circles. Have you caught the many references to circles in the rest of the novel? Start looking for those and you'll be amazed. He mentions the endless cycle of days on the Pacific, the limited perspective he has (surrounded by a circle of horizon), myriad physical objects that are circular in shape, and more. Circles certainly relate to the eternal nature of God, so prominent in Pi's life. They also represent an Eastern view of time (a Hindu worldview perceives life as circular, cyclical, as opposed to the linear, progressive nature of Judeo-Christian views of time).

In a sense the novel itself turns us in circles, leaving us wondering what really happened, unsure if there really is a conclusion. It turns us back on ourselves, asking questions about reality, perception, and narration.

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