Characters In the Skin of a Lion # We must remember that character creation is a construct; an artefact and central ones do not necessarily represent the author. Characters are either portrayed sympathetically or unsympathetically. The former are called protagonists, heroes or good guys while the latter are antagonists, villains or bad guys. Sometimes main characters are picaresque – likeable but harmless rogues, larrikins or scoundrels –“loveable rogues”. Martin Amis points out that over two millennia humans first told stories of Gods, then Kings, then Epic Heroes, then ordinary people , then anti-heroes, then villains, then demons and finally themselves.
Context and Background # This is a Canadian novel written by an immigrant originally from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who moved to England when he was eleven and to Canada at the age of 19. Michael Ondaatje now lives in Toronto Canada. Though the novel was written during the 1980’s it is set from the First World War through to the depression to the late 19 thirties and depicts the toil and torment of earlier immigrant labourers who sacrificed their lives to make Canada what it is today.
Evaluation: # The New Statesman: “Ondaatje leaps beyond the contemporary preoccupation with a man “finding himself”: his central character does not monopolise centre stage. Patrick’s story is also the story of Canada – particularly of the building of Toronto – and is juxtaposed with the stories of his contemporaries; schemers, dreamers, actresses, immigrant workers, Nicholas the dare-devil bridge builder, Caravaggio the thief. The novel turns on how Patrick, the outsider, finally becomes part of something – a piece of the mural”.
Feminism: In The Skin of A Lion # Feminism is concerned about the roles of men and women in society - the disparity of power between men and women; the dominance of men and the submission of women. **** From the very beginning we see that the main influence on Patrick during his childhood is paternal, his father, who was “taciturn” and emotionally inhibited. The more important, underlying factor is the lack of feminine influence on Patrick in his formative and impressionable phase; there is no mention of a mother figure.
Introduction to In The Skin of a Lion # The Title comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh: “I will let my hair grow long for your sake, and I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion”. Ondaatje writes from the perspective of the unacknowledged drones of society, the voiceless manual labourers who are scarcely regarded by society, the rich or history. This derisory attitude is reinforced many times and Ondaatje successfully counters this by having their stories told.
Issues, Concerns, Themes, Values # 1. Integration into society # All people are born in isolation and gradually become integrated into a greater society comprised of dominant and marginalised groups. How well integrated you become is a determining factor of your status in that society. Societies can be exclusive or inclusive with individuals either engaged, involved and accepted or disconnected, alienated and rejected. Some, like Alice Gull make an early decision to withdraw from society to join a religious institution secluded from the world, however when a chance fall from the bridge gives her the opportunity of a new life she chooses a new identity and becomes politically active in assisting other underprivileged to integrate and gain a voice in the greater society.
A Marxist Approach - In the Skin of a Lion # Marxism is concerned with the conflict between the haves and the have-nots - the weak and the strong - the powerful and the powerless. A Marxist reading takes into account the class struggles, between the lower, working classes, the Proletariat, and the middle-class capitalists known as the bourgeoisie. For Patrick, and other migrants, this power disparity between them and the people higher-up, which includes Commissioner Harris, also includes a need to be included in the society.
Power - In the Skin of a Lion # Power comes from many sources, such as muscle, money, the barrel of a gun or from institutions, however in political terms, language, is the most powerful tool available to participants of a society. Articulate people have more influence than those who lack a good vocabulary. As Kingman said in 1988, “A democratic society needs people who have the linguistic abilities which enable them to discuss, evaluate, and make sense of what they are told, as well as to take effective action on the basis of understanding…………Otherwise there can be no genuine participation, - only the imposition of the ideas of those who are linguistically capable.
Style and Language # In the Skin of a Lion is written in a post-modern style: elements including things like seeing things through many viewpoints and showing the author’s hand in writing the book, known as metafiction, and a loose episodic structure. “All his life Patrick Lewis has lived beside novels and their clear stories.” 82. Metafiction – the power of language The puppet show illustrates this aptly. On Sunday evenings they meet at an illegal gathering of various nationalities.
Epic of Gilgamesh Text # There are many versions and interpretations of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Michael Schmidt, Princeton U. stresses that Gilgamesh is an alien text. The shards of the poem, found on scattered clay tablets around the Middle East cannot be forced into a coherent or familiar narrative that allows easy identification with King Gilgamesh and his unlikely friend, the wild man Enkidu. Schmidt encourages us to see “Gilgamesh” not as a finished, polished composition—a literary epic, like the Aeneid, which is what many people would like it to be—but, rather, something more like life, untidy, ambiguous.
The Epic of Gilgamesh # The Epic of Gilgamesh is putatively the earliest form of literature extant. He was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in today’s Iraq; he lived about 2700 B.C. Discovered in the late 19th C., The Epic of Gilgamesh is a narrative tale about the friendship between the King of Ur and Enkidu, a feral human raised in the wild.