Summary and Analysis
Chapters 1–15: Names, Titles, Reality
The novel’s first fifteen chapters relate Pi’s various transformations—the most important being Pi’s name itself. Pi Patel was born Piscine Molitor Patel, but because Piscine sounds like “pissing” and he was teased and humiliated at school, he changed his name to Pi.
Pi speaks at great length about the relationship between
humans and animals. Pi’s father feeds a goat to a tiger to illustrate how
completely wild the zoo’s animals truly are and that they are not to be thought
of as pets or people. But the most dangerous animals, Pi’s father believes, are
humans. The existence, morality, reality, and consequences of zoos are
discussed at length. Pi’s experience informs his dual majors of religious
studies and zoology.
Pi is mentored by two men with the same name: Satish Kumar.
These early chapters introduce the first, a biology teacher who is an atheist
and a communist. His influence on Pi is not insignificant and for Pi cements a
relationship between science and faith, which are usually thought of as
diametrically opposed ways of thinking and being.
This first section introduces the theme of transformative and
conflicting realities. The first hint of this theme is Pi’s choice to pursue
both religious studies and zoology. Pi’s slow and lengthy explanation of these
seemingly mutually exclusive interests expands into a discussion of what a person’s
name means and how a person accepts his or her reality.
Pi’s birth name, Piscine Molitor Patel, is transformed into Pi
Patel. Even before Pi gets his nickname, his formal name has undergone a
transformation, changing from the name of a swimming pool in France to the name
of a child. The pronunciation of his real name changes, too, from Piscine to “pissing,” and so it is changed
again. Pi goes from class to class writing, but not saying, “My name is Piscine
Molitor Patel, known to all as Pi Patel ‘π = 3.14.’” The number pi is full of
contradictions and transformations. It is an irrational number; it cannot be
expressed by any combination of rational numbers. The number pi is a direct
metaphor for the story of Pi Patel. Pi the number is irrational; the two
stories of what possibly happens to Pi the character are also irrational and
transformative way of thinking occurs in chapter 8. Pi’s family owns a zoo, but
instead of discussing the nature of animals with Pi and his brother, Pi’s
father makes human nature the focus of their zoology conversation, thereby
switching the assumed roles of humans and animals. According to Pi’s father, humans
prey on all life. Pi’s father even goes so far as to hide a mirror behind a
curtain with a sign that reads do you
know which is the most dangerous animal in the zoo? Visitors to the zoo,
assuming that an animal is behind the curtain, draw it aside to see themselves
reflected in the mirror. Ultimately Pi’s father is attempting to get the zoo’s
visitors—and his sons—to change their way of thinking about themselves.