“In the Skin of a Lion,” by Michael Ondaatje
In the novel, “In the Skin of a Lion,” by Michael Ondaatje, the main character, Patrick Lewis, searches for identity and light. Without these elements, he lacks love and cannot survive the world. A passage in chapter three describes him as a lonely man that is isolated from the world around him. “Clara and Ambrose and Alice and Temelcoff and Cato- this cluster made up a drama without him. And he himself was noting but a prism that refracted their lives. He searched out things, he collected things. He was an abashed man, an inheritance from his father. Born in Abashed, Ontario. What did the word mean? Something that suggested there was a terrible horizon in him beyond which he couldn’t leap. Something hollow, so when alone, when not aligned with another- whether it was Ambrose or Clara or Alice- he could hear the rattle within that suggested a space between him and community. A gap of love,” (Ondaatje, pg.157) suggests his feelings of separation from his close companions.
Patrick Lewis is a lost soul and a searcher on a constant journey. In chapter three, ironically titled, "The Searcher", Patrick is searching for Ambrose Small but that is merely a metaphor for his vocation. "He searched out things, he collected things," (Ondaatje, pg.157) indicates that he is always searching for something. The title, “In the Skin of a Lion,” can also be used to illustrate Patrick's perpetual search. In the preface, Ondaatje states, "(T)he joyful will stoop... I will wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion." Patrick is wandering through the wilderness, searching and hunting. He has no purpose in life; he just searches. The thing that he is looking for is light. This ambiguous concept of light Ondaatje presents throughout the novel is not ordinary light, but one that illuminates the void of darkness. Just like the moths that Patrick is intrigued by that only tend toward light at night, Patrick only seeks light when there is none around him. Patrick continues his eternal search for light because he has none of his own to emit.
The central theme behind many stories is the loss and regaining of identity. Patrick has no identity of his own, and his only way of gaining a temporary one is through light. "And he himself was nothing but a prism that refracted their lives." (Ondaatje, pg.157) A prism, by definition, refracts light into a spectrum of colors. Correspondingly, Patrick contorts other characters’ identities as his own. The readers are introduced to this concept of reflecting light even before the novel begins. This is indicated by, "(D)riving the four hours to Marmora under six stars and a moon." Patrick is the moon; he can only reflect a star’s light. When reflecting light from the six stars, the main characters in the novel, Patrick is able to gain a temporary identity. This is what Patrick is searching for— his true identity. Throughout the novel, Patrick becomes like the...