What does the character Pi symbolize in Life of Pi?

Quick answer:

In geometry, the Greek letter "pi" refers to the mathematical constant which is the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle, a number which begins with the digits 3.14159. In Life of Pi, the protagonist decides that this is also the meaning of the abbreviated version of his name.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Life of Pi, the protagonist succeeds in changing the meaning of his name and avoids a great deal of bullying in the process. Pi's full name is Piscine Molitor Patel. The word piscine is French for "swimming pool," and Pi is named after a famous and beautiful swimming pool in Paris. However, the word is also a near-homophone for the English word "pissing," a slang term for urination. Pi is in danger of going through his school career with the name "Pissing Patel."

Pi avoids this fate by taking charge of his own name on the day when he starts secondary school and insisting on defining the meaning for himself. He tells everyone that the meaning of his name is the mathematical constant represented by the Greek letter "pi." This is the number which begins with the digits 3.141592 and which in geometry describes the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

Life of Pi is a novel full of symbolism, and readers often notice that circles and cycles play an important part in it, from the endless cycle of time to the circle of the horizon when Pi is adrift on the ocean in the lifeboat. Pi's unreliability as a narrator could also be said to send the reader on a circular quest for truth and certainty.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial