Life of Pi Questions and Answers
by Yann Martel

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What is the significance of Pi's unusual name in Life of Pi?  

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When Pi begins being teased about his full name, Piscine, and mockingly nicknamed "Pissing Patel," he decides to take matters into his own hands. When he begins as a student at a new school, he claims a new identity for himself:

I got up from my desk and hurried to the blackboard. Before the teacher could say a word, I picked up a piece of chalk and said as I wrote: My name is Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as—I double underlined the first two letters of my given name—Pi Patel. For good measure I added Pi =3.14 and I drew a large circle, which I then sliced in two with a diameter, to evoke that basic lesson of geometry.

With his new name established, Pi thinks, "I was saved. I could breathe. A new beginning . . . [S]o, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge."

The number "pi" represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This irrational number's decimal representation is never-ending; that is, no person can grasp the entire number. Similarly, Pi's story is equally difficult to grasp, as Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto and Mr. Atsuro Chiba of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport elucidate when they tell Pi that they find his story "extremely hard to believe." Just as the number is elusive, so too is Pi's story, for it is left up to the reader to determine which version is "truth."

Additionally, Pi is a relentlessly curious person. His pursuit of knowledge, be it religious or biological, is endless, similar to the decimal representation of pi. He also finds the ocean to be endless as he floats adrift during his days stranded at sea, conjuring the seeming endlessness of pi.

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Pi's full name is Piscine Molitor Patel. Pi's parents named him after a family friend of theirs who loved to swim.  Well, that's not exactly true.  The family friend loved to swim and his favorite swimming pool was the Piscine Molitor in Paris.  Instead of naming Pi after the family friend, Pi's parents named him after the pool.  As Pi grew up, he was teased about his name because the pronunciation isn't far off of "pissing" and nobody wants the name Pissing Patel.  Pi simply shortened his name.  Perhaps being named after a friend that loved swimming and pools is a bit of foreshadowing to Pi's survival for weeks and weeks on the water.  Perhaps Pi's act of shortening his name is meant to remind people of the mathematical number.  Pi is an irrational number, and Pi admits at the end of the book that his story might sound irrational, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a good story.  

"So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?"

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