The protagonist of the story. Piscine is the narrator for most of the novel, and his account of his seven months at sea forms the bulk of the story. He gets his unusual name from the French word for pool—and, more specifically, from a pool in Paris in which a close family friend, Francis Adirubasamy, loved to swim. A student of zoology and religion, Pi is deeply intrigued by the habits and characteristics of animals and people.
The Royal Bengal tiger with whom Pi shares his lifeboat. His captor, Richard Parker, named him Thirsty, but a shipping clerk made a mistake and reversed their names. From then on, at the Pondicherry Zoo, he was known as Richard Parker. Weighing 450 pounds and about nine feet long, he kills the hyena on the lifeboat and the blind cannibal. With Pi, however, Richard Parker acts as an omega, or submissive, animal, respecting Pi’s dominance.
The narrator of the (fictitious) Author’s Note, who inserts himself into the narrative at several points throughout the text. Though the author who pens the Author’s Note never identifies himself by name, there are many clues that indicate it is Yann Martel himself, thinly disguised: he lives in Canada, has published two books, and was inspired to write Pi’s life story during a trip to India.
The elderly man who tells the author Pi’s story during a chance meeting in a Pondicherry coffee shop. He taught Pi to swim as a child and bestowed upon him his unusual moniker. He arranges for the author to meet Pi in person, so as to get a first-person account of his strange and compelling tale. Pi calls him Mamaji, an Indian term that means respected uncle.
Pi’s older brother. Ravi prefers sports to schoolwork and is quite popular. He teases his younger brother mercilessly over his devotion to three religions.
Pi’s father. He once owned a Madras hotel, but because of his deep interest in animals decided to run the Pondicherry Zoo. A worrier by nature, he teaches his sons not only to care for and control wild animals, but to fear them. Though raised a Hindu, he is not religious and is puzzled by Pi’s adoption of numerous religions. The difficult conditions in India lead him to move his family to Canada.
Pi’s beloved mother and protector. A book lover, she encourages Pi to read widely. Raised Hindu with a Baptist education, she does not subscribe to any religion and questions Pi’s religious declarations. She speaks her mind, letting her husband know when she disagrees with his parenting techniques. When Pi relates another version of his story to his rescuers, she takes the place of Orange Juice on the lifeboat.
Pi’s atheistic biology teacher at Petit Séminaire, a secondary school in Pondicherry. A polio survivor, he is an odd-looking man, with a body shaped like a triangle. His devotion to the power of scientific inquiry and explanation inspires Pi to study zoology in college.
The Catholic priest who introduces Pi to Christianity after Pi wanders into his church. He preaches a message of love. He, the Muslim Mr. Kumar, and the Hindu pandit disagree about whose religion Pi should practice.
A plain-featured Muslim mystic with the same name as Pi’s biology teacher. He works in a bakery. Like the other Mr. Kumar, this one has a strong effect on Pi’s academic plans: his faith leads Pi to study religion at college.
One of three important religious figures in the novel. Never given a name, he is outraged when Pi, who was raised Hindu, begins practicing other religions. He and the other two religious leaders are quieted somewhat by Pi’s declaration that he just wants to love God.
Pi’s wife, whom the author meets briefly in Toronto.
Pi’s son. He plays baseball.
Pi’s young daughter. She is shy but very close to her father.
An ugly, intensely violent animal. He controls the lifeboat before Richard Parker emerges.
A beautiful male Grant’s zebra. He breaks his leg jumping into the lifeboat. The hyena torments him and eats him alive.
The maternal orangutan that floats to the lifeboat on a raft of bananas. She suffers almost humanlike bouts of loneliness and seasickness. When the hyena attacks her, she fights back valiantly but is nonetheless killed and decapitated.
A fellow castaway whom Pi meets by chance in the middle of the ocean. Driven by hunger and desperation, he tries to kill and cannibalize Pi, but Richard Parker kills him first.
An official from the Maritime Department of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, who is investigating the sinking of the Japanese Tsimtsum. Along with his assistant, Atsuro Chiba, Okamoto interviews Pi for three hours and is highly skeptical of his first account.
Okamoto’s assistant. Chiba is the more naïve and trusting of the two Japanese officials, and his inexperience at conducting interviews gets on his superior’s nerves. Chiba agrees with Pi that the version of his ordeal with animals is the better than the one with people.
The human counterpart to the hyena in Pi’s second story. He is rude and violent and hoards food on the lifeboat. After he kills the sailor and Pi’s mother, Pi stabs him and he dies.
The human counterpart to the zebra in Pi’s second story. He is young, beautiful, and exotic. He speaks only Chinese and is very sad and lonely in the lifeboat. He broke his leg jumping off the ship, and it becomes infected. The cook cuts off the leg, and the sailor dies slowly.