Feminism In The Skin Of A Lion

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. This can be an explanation for why he becomes much like his father, that is, uncommunicative and introverted, when he grows up.

 “A tiny stone swallowed” by Patrick is a metaphor for the emotional and psychological barriers within him, which supports the fact that he develops into a person much like his father, due to his childhood experiences.

***“There was a wall in him that no one reached. Not even Clara, though she assumed it had deformed him. A tiny stone swallowed years back that had grown with him and which he carried around because he could not shed it. His motive for hiding it had probably extinguished itself years earlier…Patrick and his small unimportant stone. It had entered him at the wrong time in his life. Then it had been a flint of terror. He could have easily turned aside at the age of seven or twenty, and just spat it out and kept on walking, and forgotten it by the next street corner.”  ***Pg. 71 

As Patrick matures, one of the primary influences is Clara, with whom Patrick has his first ever female relationship. She does not attempt to pry him out of his shell, which doesn’t help Patrick’s inability to communicate, as he says “I’ve never spoken so much in my life” after speaking just one full sentence. However, a later relationship with Alice Gull persuades him to be friendlier towards people in general, as demonstrated by the quote “Love was like childhood for him. It opened him up.” These two relationships set him back on track with his life, bringing him of his insularity. Patrick’s life changes radically when Alice dies and he becomes the sole carer for her daughter Hana and he becomes socialised, humanised and empathetic.

The civilising influence of women on men is an enduring motif through the history of literature already evident in The Epic of Gilgamesh:  an allusion  to the world’s oldest extant piece of Literature.  

Summary of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh  was an historical king of Uruk in Babylonia, on the River Euphrates in modern Iraq; he lived about 2700 B.C. Many stories and myths were written about Gilgamesh, some of which were written down about 2000 B.C. in the Sumerian language on clay tablets which still survive. 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. 

Clara corresponds to the priestess of the Goddess of Love, Shamhat, a sacred prostitute, who in the Epic of Gilgamesh offers herself to Enkidu, and tames him that way. This young priestess whose name is Shamhat, offers herself to Enkidu, a wild brutalised man, and they make love continuously for seven days.  Enkidu is transformed by that experience, and becomes socialised, humanised and empathetic.

It’s a kind of anti-Garden of Eden story, or the opposite of that, where instead of sexuality being a fall, it’s an initiation into what it means to be human.

**Stephen Mitchell:     (Translator from Los Angeles) “**By becoming human, however, he loses something. He loses his kinship with the animals and the ability to be with them because they’re afraid of him after this experience. But he also gains something. He gains the beginning of self-understanding, and he also gains his great friendship with [Gilgamesh]

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a narrative tale about the friendship between the King of Ur and Enkidu, a feral human.  The two strong men who fight over the right of the King to sleep with Enkid’s bride on her first night.  When the fight ends in a draw, the two men, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become great friends and travel the world together.

It’s the first great friendship in all of literature, because this of course is the first book of literature that we have. So it’s very exciting and only the first in a series of incidents that include the feminine at their court. The whole sexuality of this book and its ability to see things beyond categories of good and evil, is very exciting. 

If you’re looking for messages, I think that the message is the book, that it’s an extremely exciting and dramatic and powerful story that has elements of all the great adventure stories. 

Patrick’s fascination with the feminine extends to the waitress at Thompson’s Grill:

Patrick ate most of his meals at the Thompson Grill on River Street where the waitress, through years of habit, had reduced to a minimum the action of pouring coffee or flipping an egg. He could spot the oil burns on her wrists, the permanent grimace in her eye from the smoke.

If she looked at those who ate here it occurred when they were not aware of it. She seemed self-sufficient, something underwater in the false yellow light of the narrow room against the street, the flawed glass creating shadows in the air. There was something transient about her though she had been there for years. Most of the chewers at the Thompson Grill had that quality.

Patrick would sit at an uncleared section so he could watch the fingers of her left hand pluck up the glasses and cups while the other hand, the muscles in intricate movement under the skin, swabbed the counter clean. It was several months before he became aware of the tattoo high on her arm, seeing it through a tear in the seam where the cotton had loosened.

*He came to believe she had the powers of a goddess who could condemn or bless. She would be able to transform the one she touched, the one she gripped at the wrist with her tough hand, the muscles stiffening up towards the blue-black of the half-revealed creature that pivoted on the bone of her shoulder. His eyes wanted to glimpse nothing else. *(page111-12)

 A further sign that Patrick is a sensitive new age guy (SNAG) is his attitude and behaviour to women; he is not a predator or pursuer, rather Alice finds him and they develop a mutually respectful loving relationship.  In his lovemaking with both Clara and Alice it may be relevant that the women are described as being on top, illustrating the equality of their relationships. 

For a general discussion on Feminist Criticism visit here.