In the Skin of a Lion

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Many angles can be taken in perceiving the truth and “real” story mixed in with the tangle of official history.

Ondaatje clearly empathises with the side of the workers in the novel. He positions us to feel connected with the workers, as he feels that the soul of the bridge is the men who toiled to make it possible. Nicholas Temelcoff, Patrick and Hazen Lewis are all manual labourers who take no part in the grand schemes of construction, but it is their lives that are risked, their sacrifices that build the waterworks. Nicholas Temelcoff is therefore represented poetically, as the “man in the air” who “floats” and “pushes in the air before him as if swimming in a river”; he is described using the simile that “he knows his position in the air as if he is mercury slipping across a map.” Patrick is the son of an “abashed man,” and he is fascinated with moths, but his vendetta against Harris and the waterworks is what most makes Patrick’s actions representative of class warfare. Patrick manages to “swim through the tunnel” he “helped build” and set up explosives that could bring it all down. The very fact that a simple working man, a man who helped build the waterworks, is able to bring the entire construction to its knees symbolises the inherent power of the worker within society.

While Ondaatje’s text can be viewed as Marxist, it also has elements that explore notions of gender. After Clara leaves Patrick, he becomes lost and it is Clara’s friend, Alice Gull that gives Patrick a purpose. Alice therefore functions as a mentor figure and also functions as a vehicle for Ondaatje’s own beliefs; Alice states that “you reach people through metaphor,” before going on to describe her performance at the waterworks as “what I reached you with earlier tonight.” The very fact that Ondaatje would choose to express his views through a female character, in this case Alice, foregrounds the feminine perspective within the text. Out of all the people Patrick deals with, it is...
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