Home > Multiculturality > In the skin of a lion

In the skin of a lion

Michael Ondaatje‘s In the skin of a lion is a re-evaluation of Toronto’s history. Throughout the novel the reader is told about several public works carried out during the early 20th century, such as the Bloor Street Viaduct and the Water Treatment Plant. The depiction of these landmarks, however, is made from the perspective of the European migrants who moved to Canada. While the official records seem to highlight the role of powerful dignitaries, M. Ondaatje focuses on those who remained “invisible”. The author vindicates the labour of the immigrants who participated in the construction of the city and gives them voice.

Although Patrick Lewis is the main narrator of the novel, the story is told from different angles. Most of the characters take part actively in the narration, becoming its tellers. As the author explains the reader in the second section of the book Patrick himself was nothing but a prism that refracted their lives.  Therefore, the novel could be considered a multi-narration, as it is altered through apparently unconnected episodes. However, as Gordon Gambling says in its article on the novel, their interconnectedness emerges only gradually, as audiences learn that the various tales belong to a shared history.

Likewise, the chronological order is disrupted and altered. In this way, M. Ondaatje subverts linear notions of causation, creating a discontinuous fragmented structure. This resistance to any notion of aesthetic order is characteristic of the Postmodernism, which reacts to the traditional Aristotelian linear narrative form. Despite of the diversity and heterogeneity of Postmodernist currents, most of them share the conception of history as non-linear and broken.

I love that sense that history is not just one opinion. I prefer a complicated history where an event is seen through many eyes or emotions…It is only when one steps back from those small things which are knitted together in the narrative that one can see, as Henry James said, ‘the figure in the carpet.’ M. Ondaatje


Michael Ondaatje. (2010, November 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:54, December 22, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Michael_Ondaatje&oldid=399652630

In the Skin of a Lion. (2010, December 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:56, December 22, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=In_the_Skin_of_a_Lion&oldid=402819541

Ondaatje, Michael.  (1987) In the Skin of a Lion: McClelland & Stewart

Gambling, Gordon. (1992) “Michael Ondaatje’s In the skin of a lion and the oral narrative”. Retrieved from http://www.lib.kobe-u.ac.jp/repository/90001073.pdf

Categories: Multiculturality
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