Toronto Back in Time- Danielle Lawson

by capreviewroom

In the Skin of a Lion effectively takes the reader back in time to the city of Toronto in the 1920s and 30s.  Published in 1987, Michael Ondaatje brilliantly uses imagery to explore the subjects of social status and isolationism.  However Ondaatje’s use of imagery often overshadows the novel’s plot.  Divided into Book One, Two and Three, Ondaatje re-introduces characters Patrick Lewis, Hana and Caraggio to develop a fictional novel while re-telling the history of the construction of Toronto. 

Although Ondaatjes novel is fiction, “certain liberties have been taken with some dates and locales” as, stated in the opening pages.  In the Skin of a Lion brings to life the history of Toronto by using credible sources such as the Multicultural History of Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council whom he thanks on the acknowledgment page.  Ondaatje’s use of imagery and historical references brings to life the lives of Toronto’s working class immigrants in the 20s and 30s.

From beginning to end, Ondaatje’s use of imagery focuses on the mistreatment of Finnish immigrants in Toronto’s old society.  Ondaatje vividly depicts the harsh restrictions put onto the Finnish working class as character Patrick Lewis states “I am moving like a puppet” (120).  Comparing Patrick to a puppet emphasizes the control Toronto’s laws and upper classmen have upon himself and his colleagues.  Forced to meet in secret, Ondaatje depicts a sense of community between the immigrants as they escape the feeling of alienation in the streets of Toronto.

In the Skin of a Lion selected for the 2002 Canada Reads Competition, provides a vivid history of the construction of Toronto.  As well Ondaatje illustrates the struggle an immigrant in Toronto had to endure while constructing the city.  This work of fiction provides one with credible historic references while exploring Ondaatje’s fictional spin on the development of a new city. 

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