98 pages 3 hours read

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2012

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Symbols & Motifs


In the novel, names form a significant part of the characters’ identities. They shape them and partially determine how others perceive them. When they first meet at the swimming pool, Aristotle and Dante instantly connect over their unusual names. They laugh about their eccentric names, but deep down they both have issues with their names.

For Aristotle, his name feels like a burden. He thinks about how he is named after his grandfather and shares the same name as “the world’s most famous philosopher” (84) He feels he can never live up to the expectations his name has burdened him with.

Dante’s issue with his name is connected to his difficulties over his Mexican heritage. Dante’s expresses frustration over Mexican people’s use of nicknames, particularly because his name does not easily lend itself to a Spanish nickname. He tells Ari that he feels he doesn’t belong anywhere because he isn’t “a real Mexican” like Aristotle (88). Later on, when Dante sees Ari’s truck for the first time, he says “You’re a real Mexican, Ari.” Ari replies, “So are you, you jerk,” to which Dante says, “Nah, I’ll never be a real Mexican” (245). Ari knows that Dante is bothered by his disconnection from his identity and that it matters deeply to him, even though he does not have the same issue.