I can well imagine an atheist’s last words: “White, white! L-L-Love! My God!”—and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying, “Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain,” and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.

Spoken by Pi, this quotation—chapter 22 in its entirety—emphasizes the important distinction between facts and imagination, the crux of the entire novel. Previously, in chapter 21, the author used the phrases “dry, yeastless factuality” and “the better story” after a meeting with Pi in a café; the repetition highlights this dichotomy. Religion is aligned with imagination, while lack of faith is linked to accurate observation and rationalism. In short, Pi is giving us a simple, straightforward explanation for the variants of his own story: the one with animals and the one without.

The quote condemns those who lack artistry and imagination, the inability to commit to a story. Pi himself is a consummate artist, a storyteller, and he believes all religions tell wonderful tales, though not literal truths. Pi believes that atheists (who do not believe in God) have the capacity to believe; they choose to believe that God doesn’t exist. At the end of their lives, they could embrace the notion of God and devise a story that will help them die in peace and contentment. Pi despises agnostics for their decision to make uncertainty a way of life. They choose to live a life of doubt, without any sort of narrative to guide them. Without these stories, our existence is “dry” and unpalatable as unrisen or “yeastless” bread.