'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel: Book Club Discussion Questions

Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi (2012)

Twentieth Century Fox

"Life of Pi" by Yann Martel is one of those books that becomes richer when you discuss it with friends. These discussion questions on "Life of Pi" will allow your book club to delve into the questions Martel raises.

In the book, Pi is forced to withstand brutal conditions and undergo a months-long perilous journey, all the while battling for his very survival. Many readers and some critics have called "Life of Pi" an absorbing, spiritual journey testifying to the power of faith (or spirituality) and the strength of the human soul, making it an excellent story for a book-club discussion.

(Spoiler alert: These book club discussion questions reveal important details about "Life of Pi," so you may want to finish reading the book before reading on.)

Plot Summary

Pi Patel is a boy who grows up in the South Indian city of Pondicherry, where his father owns and operates a zoo. The boy's name is actually Piscine, but he insists on being called "Pi"—something he announces to his classmates as he draws the rough numerical equivalent of pi (3.14) on the board one day. When he is 16, Pi's father closes the zoo due to financial difficulty, sells the animals to other zoos in North America, and sets off with his family for a sea journey to Canada on a ship called the Tstimtsum that is operated by a Japanese company. The animals, also on board, are destined for the United States.

Something happens during the journey that causes the ship to sink, along with all of the other members of Pi's family (his father, mother, and brother). Pi survives after, quite literally, being thrown into a lifeboat by crew members. The only other survivors on the lifeboat with Pi are a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger. The hyena attacks and kills the zebra and orangutang. The tiger emerges later from under a tarpaulin and kills the hyena. Pi and the Tiger, whom he calls "Richard Parker," forge an uneasy truce and they both survive a perilous nine-month journey on the open seas. Pi later relates his tale and gives two versions of what happened.

Questions and Points for Discussion

  1. Pi believes that animals in a zoo are no worse off than animals in the wild. Do you agree with him?
  2. Pi considers himself a convert to Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Is it possible to practice all three faiths faithfully? What is Pi's reasoning for not choosing one?
  3. Pi's story of surviving on a lifeboat with zoo animals is rather incredible. Did the far-fetched nature of the story ever bother you? Was Pi a convincing storyteller?
  4. What is the significance of the floating islands with the meerkats?
  5. Discuss Richard Parker. What does he symbolize?
  6. What is the connection between zoology and religion in Pi's life? Do you see connections between these fields? What does each of the fields teach us about life, survival, and meaning?
  7. Pi is forced to tell the shipping official a more credible story. Does his story without animals change your view of the story with animals?
  8. Neither story can be proved one way or the other, so Pi asks the official which story he prefers. Which do you prefer? Which do you believe?
  9. Throughout "Life of Pi," we hear about interactions between the author and adult Pi. How do these interactions color the story? How does knowing Pi survives and has a "happy ending" with a family affect your reading of his survival account?
  10. When Martel first hears of Pi's story, the person who relates the tale tells him, "This story will lead to you to believe in God." After Martel fully researches the story, he agrees. Why do you think the person relating the story made such a statement and why do you think Martel came to agree with him?
  11. In an interview with Martel conducted by Random House Reader's Circle, and published in a subsequent novel by Martel ("Beatrice and Virgil"), Martel stated: "I find it easier to suspend readers' belief if I use animal characters. We are cynical about our own species, less so about wild animals." What do you think Martel meant by that statement?
  12. What is the significance of the name "Pi?"
  13. Rate "Life of Pi" on a scale of one to 10 and explain why you chose that rating.
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Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. "'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel: Book Club Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/life-of-pi-by-yann-martel-361945. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2023, April 5). 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel: Book Club Discussion Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/life-of-pi-by-yann-martel-361945 Miller, Erin Collazo. "'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel: Book Club Discussion Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/life-of-pi-by-yann-martel-361945 (accessed June 9, 2023).