Start your review of In the Skin of a Lion Write a review Shelves: historical-fiction , canadian-author , literary-pretentious , owned , read Its never a good sign when the first thing you do after finishing a book is to go to its Wikipedia page and scrutinize the plot summary for some hint of what happened. For some reason, I always choose to read a complex or very literary type of novel on what turn out to be my busiest weeks. I developed a unit for Grade 9s studying A Wizard of Earthsea. The narrative mostly follows one character, Patrick Lewis, son of an explosives expert. In the Skin of a Lion is a novel of blood, sweat, and tears of the immigrants who helped build one of the hubs of our nation. Ondaatje plays fast and loose with flashbacks, and maybe this says something about my limitations as a reader, but I prefer a straightforward internal chronology.
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Exact author. Violence, after all, is at times overt and physical in the novel, and at times it is also subtle, complex and psychological. Still, no matter how the violence is presented in the text, it is nonetheless omnipresent, always pulsing beneath the surface of the story and serving as the crucible in which relationships are forged and destroyed.
In this reading, the various forms of violence that are witnessed by the reader serve as the best means of understanding the quality of relationships. In other words, through the writing of the text, the author is not simply using violence as a simple plot device, but he is seeking to explore the function and meaning of violence in more general and overarching terms.
The reader is introduced to young Patrick Lewis, who helps his father deploy dynamite in order to clear up log jams in a river. While this type of violence is not interpersonal, the use of a strong explosive does have symbolic importance. Despite the fact that Patrick and his father are doing work that presumably clears the way, literally, for the construction of an infrastructure that will usher Toronto into the modern age, the message conveyed to the reader through the use of this metaphor is that destruction is as much a part of society building as construction is.
Certainly, while again it is not a directed sort of violence between feuding parties, it is nonetheless the application of brute force. This message if reinforced when the reader learns that Mr. While seemingly insignificant in the overall scheme of the story, the author uses this event to emphasize that people die unintentionally and unexpectedly in the process of building a community or a society. Many anonymous individuals toil and even give their lives in the process of nation-building, and they will never be recalled by history.
This forgetting is yet another kind of violence, for it obliterates the memory of those who made modern life possible. The early exposure to explosives will continue to have a significant influence on Patrick and his future experiences. The use of an explosive to play on the theme of violence in the novel is also important because not only is there the sense of something blowing up in a way that cannot be controlled or contained, there is also the sense of something that is hot or dangerous to even come near.
After this event and second exposure to explosives and violence, Patrick is forever changed. Over the course of the remainder of the novel, Patrick will appropriate the only tools of the powerful that are available to him to assert himself.
Since money is not one of the tools, Patrick uses what he knows: explosive devices. In the most concrete sense, explosives are more powerful than money, for they have the power to destruct what money has built.
An empathic reader understands that Patrick is not an evil individual, but one who has been subjected to so much hardship that he has appropriated the same kinds of violence that have been employed against him and turned those tools against the oppressors. Nonetheless, no matter how much the reader may come to find Patrick a sympathetic character, the use and presence of violence in the novel is so overpowering that one comes away from it feeling disturbed and harbors a new understanding for the many subtle and complex reasons for violence in all its forms.
While the elements of violence discussed here are certainly present in this novel, it is worth mentioning that such a paradox is not uncommon for Ondaatje and the thematic interests he explores in his prose Fallon Ondaatje, a transcultural immigrant himself, struggles to understand and accept his own patchwork identity and find his place in a society through the characters in his novels. The very conditions and circumstances that shape the immigrant, then, are themselves paradoxical.
These same dynamic tensions are what drive the life of the immigrant forward. He is not advocating violence, then, but is simply acknowledging that it exists. Given the admission of this fact, Ondaatje seems to sense that it is his obligation as a writer and as an immigrant to explore what violence is, how it used and by whom, and how it affects the various stakeholders in a society and how it compromises their ability to forge a unified identity. Looking outside the text, the reader can locate secondary material that supports this argument.
In interviews, for example, Ondaatje has positioned himself with relationship to his literary oeuvre, and has explained why so much of his work has been so violent. Rather, he wants to give voice to alternate narratives that may not otherwise enter the social conversation, as the tools of narrative power are often limited to the elite.
Given this, Ondaatje sees the office of the writer as a moral one. Writing about colonialism and immigration, then, necessarily involves exploring the multiple forms of violence—physical and psychological—that characterize these social phenomena.
The fallen nun
His father is a quiet man, and Patrick lives an isolated life alone on the farm, becoming an astute observer of insects and small life around him. His father teaches himself the art of dynamiting, and he gets himself a job in the logging companies helping clear log jams in the rivers by dynamiting stuck logs. Patrick helps him every step of the way, and it is only after his father dies that Patrick leaves for the city of Toronto. During the construction of the bridge, a group of nuns gets lost in the night and accidentally ends up on the half-built bridge. There is a fierce wind, and one of the nuns gets blown off the bridge.
In the Skin of a Lion Summary
Exact author. Violence, after all, is at times overt and physical in the novel, and at times it is also subtle, complex and psychological. Still, no matter how the violence is presented in the text, it is nonetheless omnipresent, always pulsing beneath the surface of the story and serving as the crucible in which relationships are forged and destroyed. In this reading, the various forms of violence that are witnessed by the reader serve as the best means of understanding the quality of relationships. In other words, through the writing of the text, the author is not simply using violence as a simple plot device, but he is seeking to explore the function and meaning of violence in more general and overarching terms.
Analysis of “In the Skin of a Lion” by Michael Ondaatje : Themes of Violence
Little Seeds[ edit ] The first chapter, "Little Seeds," describes the growing years of the main character, Patrick Lewis, providing causation for his subsequent actions in the novel. As a young boy in Depot Creek, Ontario, Patrick watches the loggers arrive in town in the winter, work in the mills in the other seasons, and skate on the frozen river. These elements form the foundation of the subsequent narrative: Depot Creek, the loggers skating, learning about dynamite, etc. The Bridge[ edit ] "The Bridge" deals with the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct , which will link eastern Toronto with the center of the city and will carry traffic, water and electricity across the Don Valley. One night, five nuns wander onto the unfinished bridge and one falls off. Nicholas Temelcoff, a Macedonian immigrant worker on the bridge, saves the nun who fell off the bridge, dislocating his arm.
In the Skin of a Lion