The representations of thematical concerns expressed through interchanging historical contexts often contribute to a texts validity and relevance in society

The representations of thematical concerns expressed through interchanging historical contexts often contribute to a texts validity and relevance in society, regardless of the initial context in which it was created. Michael Ondaatje’s 1987 narratological novel ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ has remained a valuable text withholding textual integrity and universal messages, reliant upon the exploration of Toronto’s unrecorded history in the early 1900’s through the lens of fragmented perspectives. By presenting a complex and dynamic portrait of the social constructs of colonial Canada and exploring how the intricacies of human relationships impact upon identity, the novel has successfully maintained universal relevance and continued to reflect upon societal values. Ondaatje’s textual manipulation of unorthodox narration and non-linear structure have ultimately contributed to the enduring value of ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ and emphasise that through the recognition of the marginalised society and use of textual form a text as such has the capacity to remain relevant within different contexts and therefore has enduring universal messages which have something valuable to say and say it well.
The contextual relevance of ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ lends itself to a cubism reading, in which Ondaatje’s manipulation of narrative treatment and omniscient narration construct valuable messages and invoke the responder to overcome the traditional perception of a single story. This sense of hyper-realism is established explicitly through Ondaatje’s circumvention of linear custom and authorial intrusion that “the first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.” The reflective allusion made to his work as a novelist is representative of Ondaatje’s purpose to add veracity to forgotten historical events and therefore in defying the stereotypical linear form and employing third-person narration has ultimately influenced the novel’s enduring textual integrity. Regardless of the non-linear structure composing of ‘separate’ stories however, Ondaatje progressively reveals the connections between each story: “Patrick saw a wondrous night web – all of these fragments of a human order.” The motif of the web is symbolic of the interconnectedness of responder’s personal lives, exemplifying that despite different receiving contexts, the valuable messages of connecting with others will always apply. A cubist aspect is further employed through Ondaatje’s attempt to invoke the readers own perception of the narrative through Alice’s unbeknown death; nearly 100 pages pass before it is revealed, challenging the reader to mould their own viewpoint surrounding her demise through elliptical structure. The opportunity for the responder to question the novel employs a universal reading and understanding, and allows for the text to speak to readers, encouraging them to have their own voice and therefore portraying important messages, allowing the text to withhold textual integrity throughout different contexts.
The representations of class divisions within ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ highlight the oppression and marginalisation of the workers and immigrants of historical Toronto and are challenged by Ondaatje by confronting the dominant version of history and giving a voice to those who were ignored in historical accounts. The dissimilarity between the workers and the rich is immediately established through the anonymity of the lower class and is juxtaposed through onomastic devices to introduce Harris as “Commissioner of the Public Works,” historically emphasising how the workers were recognised as a collective identity rather than individually. This is also suggested in the motif of water; whilst Harris perceives it as a symbol of life and creation, it is ironically the cause of death for many workers in the Waterworks by “heaving them in, shouldering them aside in a fast death.” Additionally, the imagery of the luxurious structure they are building is contrasted to the harsh conditions in which the workers face and dehumanises them, establishing a clear barrier between the lower and upper class: the workers were “pissing where they work, eating where someone else left their shit.” This is also comparable to Harris’ description of the palace of purification as having an “Egyptian feel,” equating his work to that of the Egyptians and coincidentally linking it to the cruel treatment of the workers and how some bodies were entombed in the structure during construction. However, the contribution of the workers is recognised by Ondaatje, particularly in the first epigraph: “never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one,” presenting the human experience as a complex web of interrelated lives and foreshadowing the importance of the workers in Toronto history, ultimately relaying a valuable message about the worth of individuals and therefore remaining relevant in multiple contexts.
Ondaatje’s portrayal of the complex nature of human life is emphasised in ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ through an intricate examination of human interactions and relationships and how they impact on identity, particularly through the characterisation of Patrick Lewis. This sense of isolation and minimal identity is addressed by Ondaatje as an “inheritance from his father,” and metaphorically through how “there was a wall in him that no one reached. A tiny stone swallowed years back that had grown with him.” This is representative