In the Skin of Michael Ondaatje

by disentrance

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje’s second published novel, educates us of how the capital of Ontario came to be. The narrative takes place in the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution –nearing the Great Depression, and chronicles the life of young Patrick Lewis from the time that he was an innocent farm boy, up to his adult life in search of his identity. Through Patrick, Ondaatje depicts the plight of the early immigrant Torontonian workers and their struggle for all those who have lost their lives, and became forgotten without a single mention of their names into the buildings’ dust. Ondaatje also tells the tales of several other characters from their perspective, and how all their lives are interwoven into that of Patrick’s.

Michael Ondaatje himself was an early immigrant of Canada and later on moved to Toronto, which would explain his motive for writing such a novel on Canadian history. He recreated himself as his character Patrick and revisits this era with a goal set in mind. That goal being to expose the migrant workers’ condition and it fared really well, as he did so by exploring the different hardships that the fresh off a boat immigrant had to overcome through his set of characters. Difficulties such as learning an entirely new language, finding a job, adapting to the new customs and environment, and finding your soul mate. These problems are very well relatable through one or if not all of the above, to the multicultural public. Ondaatje exploits his characters’ vulnerability to evoke a sense of compassion for them by creating an insurmountable divide between the corrupt upper class and the abused lower class. He illustrates every one of his characters as real as they can be no matter how low of a rank they are to demonstrate how human each of them are and feels exactly how any of the rich people would feel.

What keeps Ondaatje’s audience reading is how poetically and romantically this novel is written, as how Patrick is retelling the tale to his adopted daughter, Hana. As the reader, it is as if we are the person being retold the story to, inside the car with “Patrick” and how it feels to be In the Skin of a Lion.


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