In The Skin Of A Lion
In the Skin of a Lion
Historical Obliviousness in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion
Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion narrates the forgotten stories of those who contributed to the building of the city Toronto, particularly immigrants and marginal individuals. In the very first page of the novel, Ondaatje stresses the concern with personal narratives and the act of storytelling: "This is the story a young girl gathers in a car during the early hours of the morning [...] She listens to the man as he picks up and brings together various corners of the story..." (4). Similar to Crossing the River, there is a framework story, that of a man telling a story to a girl, that opens and ends the novel and gives coherence to the many personal narratives. Patrick has an audience at two narrative levels, namely, Hanna at the textual level and the reader at the extra textual one. The reader is the recipient of the macro story, which is Patrick's act of storytelling, as well as of the micro stories contained in it.
Like Phillips' novel, Ondaatje's has a circular quality that makes stories transcend time and space; In the Skin of the Lion ends where it starts. The structure of the novel resembles a Chinese box since a series of interrelated stories form concentric circles, all of which converge in Patrick's act of telling a story to Hanna.
He saw himself gazing at so many stories [...] He saw the interactions, saw how each one of them was carried by the strength of something more than themselves [...] His own life was no longer a single story but part of a mural, which was a falling together of accomplices. Patrick saw the wondrous night web --all these fragments of a human order... (145)
Similar to Caryl Phillips' Crossing the River, there is a tension between History and "her/his-stories" in Ondaatje's novel. However instead of employing historical contexts to create the tension, Ondaatje makes subtle but explicit comments on historical oblivion to individuals and their stories. History is implicitly considered as a master narrative that allows no space to articulate local narratives and to account for the richness, variety and complexity of human experience. To counterbalance the
omissions and partiality of the historical master narrative, the alternative Ondaatje proposes is to privilege and celebrate a plurality of private and local narratives that give voice to the forgotten of History. Caravaggio, for example, is sadly aware of his
being left out of the History of the city he has helped to build. Like Nicholas Temelcoff, he is painfully conscious of his anonymity and marginality: "He was anonymous.[...] He would never leave his name where his skill had been. He was one of those who have a fury or a sadness of only being described by someone else" (199). His story has never been legitimised. When Nicholas Temelcoff realises "how he has been sewn into history. [He decides] he will begin to tell stories"...
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In The Skin Of A Lion, By Michael Ondaatje
In The Skin of a Lion is a novel depicting the constant hardships which the main
characters undergo throughout their lives. It focuses on the relationships among the immigrant
groups as they make up the majority of Toronto's population. Moreover, all through the novel the
idea of immigration is prevalent. The setting changes - from one place to another, as Patrick
moves from the countryside to the city and as Temelcoff moves from Macedonia to Canada.
Personal views change as Alice undergoes a transformation from being a nun to an actress and as
Caravaggio becomes a thief. The characters immigrate with one common goal - acceptance.
Thus, in In The Skin of a Lion immigration is perceived as a way to gain acceptance by society.
One of the main characters, Patrick Lewis, grows up in a rural part of Ontario without
the presence of a mother, nor any other relatives or friends. His only source of company is his
father, Hazen Lewis. However, the man is not talkative; as Ondaatje says "Hazen Lewis was an
abashed man, withdrawn from the world around him, uninterested in the habits of civilization
outside his own focus." (Ondaatje 15) Patrick's father is seen as a man who is dedicated to his
work to the extent where he does not wish to take interest in his child's life. "He was sullen even
in the company of his son. All his energy was with the fuse travelling at two minutes to the
yard..." (Ondaatje 18) Even, during those rare times Patrick and his father spend together, Hazen
Lewis's main focus remains on his work, which makes Patrick feel lonely and unaccepted. As he
becomes older however, Patrick moves to Toronto where he is surrounded by people who are
close to one another. "Patrick Lewis, the 'immigrant to the city', is drawn into the immigrant
groups by poverty and work; they engage his sympathy and his skill with explosives ... in their
fight for workers' rights." (Beran) While Beran argues that Patrick's connection to the
Macedonians is work-related, I think that Patrick is intrigued by their attitude towards one
another. He notices that their "... social life ... revolved around mutual and benevolent societies
established on the basis of village or place of origin." (Macedonian History) Patrick's
observations make him realize that he wants to be a part of the Macedonian community. He
wants to feel the affection he grows up without. He wants to be accepted. So when he finally is
accepted "... Patrick, surrounded by friendship, concern, was smiling , feeling the tears on his
face falling towards his stern Macedonian-style moustache." (Onddatje 113), he feels happy and
loved, because that is his wish. Therefore, Patrick's transition from Bellrock to Toronto
differentiates in terms of personal connections. Patrick immigrates in search of acceptance,
which he receives once he moves to the city.
Nicholas Temelcoff immigrates in a manner, similar to Patrick's. He moves from
Macedonia to Canada due to the Balkan war....
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