Key Materials • Interview for CBC Canada Reads • Critical overview • Project Bookmark Canada • City of Toronto Archives • Excellent discussion of Skin(you’ll have to log into your library account to access this resource)
Historical figures: Clara Dickens (her actual last name was “Smith,” though Ondaatje changes it in the book; R.C. Harris; Ambrose SmallSub-historical figure: Nicholas Temelcoff“He never realizes how often he is watched by others. He has no clue that his gestures are extreme. He has no portrait of himself” (42).Fictional characters: Patrick Lewis, Alice (& Hana) Gull, Caravaggio (though based on the painter)
Patrick as searcher (consider: what is he looking for?)Patrick and agency (or lack thereof): “like water, you can be easily harnessed” (122).Patrick as “immigrant to the city” (53)Relevant Quote:“Patrick sat on a bench and watched the tides of movement, felt the reverberations of trade. He spoke out his name and it struggled up in a hollow echo and was lost in the high air of Union Station. No one turned. They were in the belly of a whale” (54).
Patrick’s childhood farmClara’s cottageThe country / pastoral (vs. the city)The Resort (Muskoka Hotel)The Garden of the BlindThe Boat
The Bloor Street Viaduct“The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water, and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet. Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working — horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley. There are over 4,000 photographs from various angles of the bridge in its time-lapse evolution. The piers sink into bedrock fifty feet below the surface through clay and shale and quicksand — 45,000 cubic yards of earth are excavated. The network of scaffolding stretches up. Men in a maze of wooden planks climb deep into the shattered light of blond wood. A man is an extension of hammer, drill, flame. Drill smoke in his hair. A cap falls into the valley, gloves are buried in stone dust. Then the new men arrive, the ‘electricals,’ laying grids of wire across the five arches, carrying the exotic three-bowl lights, and on October 18, 1918 it is completed. Lounging in mid-air. The bridge. The bridge. Christened ‘Prince Edward.’ The Bloor Street Viaduct” (26-27).
The Waterworks “In his dressing gown, at two in the morning, Commissioner Harris was happy in the cocoon of humming machines. He would get up and roam through the palace of water which he had dreamed and desired and built. Every electrical outlet blazed, lighting up disappearing corridors as if Viennese streets, turning the subterranean filter pools into cloudy ballrooms. The building pulsed all night in the east end of the city on the edge of Lake Ontario. It was rumored that people on the south shore in New York State could see the aura from it” (221).
The body/the bawdy/love/sexuality/gender/masculinity/performance (Clara, Alice, Temelcoff as performers)Language / SilenceCultural in-betweennessImmigration / nomadismPolitics (anarchy, Marxism)Capitol / labour (commodification, worker alienation)Flux / fixityPersonal lives / public history (the archive & the library)
Light/Dark/ShadowsWater imageryInsects/moths/moss/chrysalis/cocoons, etc.
Paratext, (Sub-)history, Counter-narrative, Fiction“This is a work of fiction and at times certain liberties have been taken with some dates and locales”“No longer will a story be told as if it were the only one”“Official histories, news stories surround us daily, but the events of art reach us too late, travel languorously like messages in a bottle” (145-6).
Place and the PlacelessPatrick’s home “did not appear on a map until 1910, though his family had worked there for twenty years and the land had been homesteaded since 1816” (10). “In the school atlas the place is pale green and nameless. The river slips out of an unnamed lake and is a simple blue line until it becomes the Napanee twenty-five miles to the south, and, only because of logging, will eventually be called Depot Creek. ‘Deep Eau.’” (10-11).Harris to Patrick: “There was no record kept” (236).
The Bridge, Workers, and Society“The previous midnight the workers had arrived and brushed away officials who guarded the bridge in preparation for the ceremonies the next day, moved with their own flickering lights — their candles for the bridge dead — like a wave of civilization, a net of summer insects over the valley” (27).
The Body, Work“Dye work took place in the courtyards next to the warehouse. Circular pools had been cut into the stone—into which the men leapt waist-deep within the reds and ochres and greens, leapt in embracing the skins of recently slaughtered animals” (129). Ondaatje describes how upon showering “the colour disrobed itself from the body” (132); but as the narrator tells us, the physiological effects of the dye would have a lasting effect upon the workers, who “had consumed the most evil smell in history, they were consuming it now, flesh death, which lies in the vacuum between flesh and skin, and even if they never stepped into this pit again—a year from now they would burp up that odour. That they would die of consumption and at present they did not know it” (130-131).
From Ahistorical to historicalOn Temelcoff: “This is what history he means. He came to this country like a torch on fire and he swallowed air as he walked forward and he gave out light. Energy poured through him. That was all he had time for in those years. Language, customs, family, salaries. Patrick’s gift, that arrow into the past, shows him the wealth in himself, how he had been sewn into history. Now he will begin to tell stories” (145-6).
Ondaatje and PatrickIn an interview, Ondaatje explains, “And I can tell you exactly how many buckets of sand were used, because this is Toronto history, but the people who actually built the goddamn bridge were unspoken of. They're unhistorical!” (21). — from an interview with Barbara Turner in Quill and QuireOf Patrick’s own research, the narrator tells us: “The articles and illustrations [Patrick] found in the Riverdale Library depicted every detail about the soil, the wood, the weight of concrete, everything but information on those who actually built the bridge” (145).
While reading In the Skin of a Lion I tried to apply postcolonial terms to each character and section of the narrative. The postcolonial relationship I found most interesting was between the character Patrick Lewis and the term hybridity. At first there seemed to be more obvious choices for connection to hybridity in the book because there are so many immigrant characters but that is what makes Patrick so interesting. Being born and raised in Canada, Patrick lives in a world of his own between his Canadian roots and the immigrants in the neighbourhood where he lives. Patrick identifies with the beliefs and values of the immigrants that he lives with, and is accepted by them but will never be one himself. His life amongst the immigrants also depicts his separation from people born in Canada. Patrick does not seem to identify as one particular ethnicity or with one culture and this can be seen as a third space. Even though Patrick has lived in Canada his whole life, he is straddling two cultures and does not feel fully connected with either of them. Do you believe Patrick is living in a third space? Do you think he created this isolation on his own? — Emma S.
I agree that immigrants attempting to adapt is definitely a major part of the story. There is a strong portrayal of various immigrant groups from Europe, who are being made to work on various projects by City Commissioner Harris. Patrick Lewis, despite being born in Canada, is as much an immigrant in Toronto as the rest of them, and also has difficulty adapting, which is why he spends time with immigrants, instead of with other Native-born citizens. This story is a story of the subaltern, the lowly immigrant without a voice, whose resentment against his masters finally reaches a peak when Patrick Lewis, the main character, attempts to blow up the water filtration plant. — James S.
In his novel In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje’s powerful use of symbolism is evident in many instances, most prominently the contrast between light and dark. This can be seen from the beginning of the novel when we meet Patrick, who is so fascinated with the moths being attracted to the kitchen window by the light: “He walks back into the bright kitchen and moves from window to window to search out the moths pinioned against the screens, clinging to brightness”(Ondaatje 9). And later on when Patrick sets out to discover the skaters whom he mistakes for lightning bugs or when he encounters Alice after her performance in the waterworks. This contrast, found throughout the novel with different meaning for different moments, is heavily employed in the chapter entitled Caravaggio. This is not a coincidence; the Italian painter Michelangelo Amerighi da Caravaggio is famous for naturalist depictions and symbolic use of light and dark in his paintings. Darkness plays an important role in this chapter about a thief whose work is so dependent on the absence of light. However, light is also symbolically used, particularly as the story of his first encounters with his future wife is told. What does the author’s symbolic use of light and dark in this chapter represent? And while we’re on the subject, what is the significance of Patrick Lewis saying “Lights”(244), the final spoken word in the story? — Julian S.
The novel In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje is one full of description and depiction of the difficulties faced by immigrants in Canada in the 1900's. Even though the location of these happenings is clearly specified, one could surely argue that similar problems appear for all immigrants anywhere in the world. In order to portray these events, Ondaatje utilises imagery and a complex time-line organisation. We are told of the means of adaption and creation of ethnic neighbourhoods which serve as a social support for all those away from their country of origin. Regardless of all the troubles that one anticipates to come across with such a move, the greatest ones often seem to occur as a surprise, in most cases unsuccessful love relations. Love problems seem to have caused great sorrow for Patrick Lewis, one of the protagonists of the story, whose life seems to have been relentlessly guided by matters of the heart. I cannot even begin to imagine the simplicity of Patrick's life if it weren't for these influences that one often undergoes during a lifetime. Do You think Patrick's life would have been less troublesome without a broken heart? Could this unhappiness have also been a cause of adaptation inability? — Matthew G.
Group ActivityI’ll assign each group a theme/idea/motif from slide 18. Your group’s task is to write a mini-essay on the assigned theme/idea/motif. Begin your essay with an introduction, and punctuate it with a strong thesis. Then, write one full body paragraph, complete with a quote (or two) and an accompanying in-text parenthetical citation (according to MLA style). Finally, write a short conclusion to your essay. Format and submit the essay to my email by the end of the class. I’ll correct it, and upload it to the website during the week.Spend about 15 minutes discussing the topic and discovering examples from the book, and then spend the remaining 30 minutes typing. Ensure that your introduction is well-constructed, and that your body paragraphs include clear topic sentences.