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Michael Ondaatje’s novel ”In the Skin Of A Lion” Essay Sample

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Michael Ondaatje’s novel ”In the Skin Of A Lion” Essay Sample

When examining a text and its effect, it is important to realise that an audience is composed of multiple individuals, each with their own values and interpretations. In The Skin of a Lion, the novel by Michael Ondaatje is created from a complex range of interwoven storylines, and as a result, can evoke many different interpretations from its readers. These readings are evident among the magnificent web of themes, motifs and characters, spun by Ondaatje.

At one stage in the novel, the main character Patrick is said to have “come across a love story. This is only a love story. He does not wish for plot and all its consequences.” One senses that this is actually Ondaatje himself speaking, and that he is voicing the feelings of the reader at this particular stage. The love story intrigues and attracts the audience, who are to become as involved in these relationships as the characters themselves. The vivid representation is one of entangled passion, romantic obsession and heartache surrounding Patrick, Clara and Alice, as they become involved in the exploration of love, in its many forms. Ondaatje presents the reader with this universal theme and yet still manages to make it seem as though he is introducing us to a new world, one containing lust, sexual passion, and spiritual, friendship and parental love.

The novel is essentially about the working lives of men and women living in Toronto early this century. It details conditions of immigrant labour and contained in the background is the struggle of union movement for fair working conditions. This reading is exemplified when Patrick finds in the library “Everything but information on those who actually built the bridge.”

Throughout the novel is a strong fixation on Patrick’s tendency to be “a watcher, a corrector.” It is ironic that he chooses to become a “searcher” for Ambrose Small, as Patrick has been shown to be searching for himself throughout the novel. Similar to this idea is when Alice tells Patrick “You were born to be a younger brother”, and when Patrick admits to being “always comfortable in someone else’s landscape”.

Ondaatje chooses to have his language reflect the state of the characters, as it is only when Patrick accepts responsibility for Hana “I am her father”, and when he identifies himself to Commissioner Harris “I’m Patrick Lewis” that he discovers his role, and finds his voice.

However, it is not only Patrick who is searching for his voice, Nicholas urged the fallen nun to say something to him, and she, ironically, takes the name of the talking parrot, Alicia. At the same time, Nicholas is given a voice as a storyteller when he tells Patrick about rescuing the nun, “Now he will begin to tell stories”.

Other characters are also unable to give voice to their feelings, shown by his father calling the dances with an “unemotional tongue”, and when the author shows that re-naming the workers with English names takes away their identity.

The novel is actually an interconnected web, written from the multiple perspectives of each character as Ondaatje places each in the lion’s skin. It is only later that the reader realises how each is connected to the others, and what role each character is to have in the construction of this web. It is in this way that the plot is thought of as having lives running in parallel lines, occasionally meeting at dramatic points in the story.

It again seems to be Ondaatje speaking as Alice tells Patrick of a play where several actresses play the heroine, and after half an hour the “powerful matriarch” removes her coat and “passes it, along with her strength” to one of the minor character. It is actually a description of the novel itself, as “Each person had their moment when they assumed the skins of wild animals, when they took responsibility for the story”.

The multiple readings contained in the text enable a variety within its audience, as each focus on the aspects they consider the most valuable to the story. Ondaatje invites his readers to join him as an inclusion in his story, and as the stories unfold, he involves them by explaining certain aspects and conversing with them about the novel. It is in this way that Ondaatje takes on many personas throughout the novel, as he evolves from a creator to something more diverse, as he involves and instructs his audience in the way that they view and understand his novel.

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