Life of Pi

Yann Martel

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Life of Pi | Symbols


Mathematical Pi

Tired of being called "Pissing" Piscine shortens his name to an "elusive, irrational number." Pi is a mathematical constant, 3.14, and its digits repeat endlessly. Mathematical Pi matches the character Pi's interest in the infinite and unexplainable.

Pi is used to find the ratio of a circle's circumference. Circles reoccur—Pi feels at the center of a circle when he has religious experiences and later when he's lost at sea.


In the lifeboat Pi grows to a man. It is both a vehicle and giver of life: the supplies on it save Pi from death. The boat also becomes a zoo, a home, and "God's ark."

Pi's conversion into a Christlike figure is on the lifeboat. Pi survives on the oar for three days and nights, like Jesus's resurrection. It is a temple as Pi spreads fish scales on his body like the Hindu tilaks. He endures suffering like St. John of the Cross, who believed the soul must experience a dark night of faith to reunite with Christ.

Algae Island

Algae island is the novel's greatest illusion. It seems full of promise—edible algae and water. Pi thinks it's miraculous but discovers it's a threat. Pi's decision to leave shows his new maturity.

The island may represent faith that is too secure. Here tests of faith are too easy: Richard Parker is tamed. If Pi stays he gives up the challenge of survival. Pi experiences spiritual death because his faith is no longer tested.


Water represents life and death. Pi longs for drinkable water during his ordeal but fears the water in the storm.

Water is Pi's name, Piscine Molitor, and he finds comfort in the "humble tidal ripples" where he learns to swim. Water is Pi's greatest need—life.

Water also takes his family. Pi describes it as an enemy "surging from below like a riotous crowd." Water represents loss of family and certainty.

On the ocean Pi realizes the natural world's forces can't be controlled or explained. Water symbolizes Pi's acceptance of realities that are "hard to believe," such as love and survival.

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