In the Skin of a Lion

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Chapter: The Searcher

they think they will make an order
like the old one, sow miniature orchards,
carve children and flocks out of wood

1. The events that begin “The Searcher” chapter can be compared to this stanza of Atwood’s poem “The Immigrants”. Patrick is in a state of denying his victimhood. He looks back on his hometown with memories of frozen laundry and hated whiteness and the smell of shit that followed him everywhere. He looks ahead to his future in Toronto and sees lavish possibility. “He could shave, eat a meal, or have his shoes coloured.” Similarly, the characters in the poem believe they are entering a land of promise, where they will be granted the opportunity unavailable back home. Wood, something used practically, will be so plentiful that it will be used to carve children and flocks. They will no longer have to pinch their pennies.

2. The shouting man in Union Station shares Patrick’s need to latch on to safety. He returns to the station because it represents an escape from the lonely life of an immigrant in a big city. He stays in his “safe-zone”, as if one step away was the “quicksand of the new world”. I believe that this foreshadows the struggles Patrick later faces with life in Toronto, as he is usually isolated. When Clara leaves him he clings on to her, obsesses, refuses to enter into a life without her. He then submits to Alice, finding safety in her presence.

Ondaatje uses biblical allusion in the last phrase of the chapter, “They were in the belly of the whale.” This refers to the biblical story “Jonah and the Whale”, in which a whale is used as a protectant for Jonah, sent by God, to keep him safe. Similarly, Union Station is Patrick’s cave before facing the real streets of Toronto. Until he experiences the city for himself, he can latch on to false hope, and the moments in the station are his last of protection. Secondly, he uses natural imagery when explaining his life back home, retelling the moments he...
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