The representation of immigration life in Michael Ondaatje's "In the Skin of a Lion"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

10 Pages, Grade: 2,6


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Autobiography of Michael Ondaatje

3. Native vs. Immigrant status

4. The changing city of Toronto

5. Today's Canadian society

6. Conclusion

7. Works cited

1. Introduction

Today there are many immigrants who move to other countries for a variety of reaons, particularly wars and poverty. They decide to move with the hope of getting a better life, for example to work at places with less physical effort. But problems are still created because most immigrants are poor and uneducated. They cannot speak the language and they are unfamiliar with their new surroundings.

This is especially true in the city of Toronto which is the home of countless immigrants who came for job opportunities and better quality of life.

This essay will argue that the life of the immigrant in Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion is represented as hard, but also that the presence of the immigrants changed the city of Toronto in a positive way. The following term paper will first introduce the author of In the Skin of a Lion and then compare the characters from the book by explaining the immigrant and native status . Furthermore, it will give an overview of the immigrants who changed the city of Toronto. At the end, this paper will point out today's immigration life with all of its difficulties.

2. Autobiography of Michael Ondaatje

One day Michael Ondaatje and his friend Robert Fones were doing a city tour by car through the city of Toronto. His friend then realized “how historically and architecturally interesting the viaduct was” (Jewinski 123). This assertion lead Ondaatje to read a lot of information about the history of the city and start to write about Ambrose Small, who was known as a millionaire. But later, he recognized that he “[...] became much more interested in the minor characters” (Turner qtd. in Jewinski 123).

Therefore, in the Skin of a Lion is about the city of Toronto with all of its history and various immigrants from all over the world. The author, Michael Ondaatje who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, like most of the immigrants to get a better way of life, has lived there for 20 years and got an overview of all the events that happened over that period. He wanted to write a book about his own experiences, which is presented through the lives of immigrants and their influence in an indirect way.

Michael Ondaatje wrote about immigants and how they shaped the city into what it is today. His novel includes events that really happened in the city of Toronto, for instance: the construction of the water treatment in 1930's and Bloor Street Viaduct in 1917. Furthermore, he also has a character who represents the missing millionaire Ambrose Small in 1919 (Davey qtd. in Edwards 141).

The protagonist, Patrick Lewis, lives with his family like a “native off-farm migration” (Porter qtd. in Jodi 57 ). Through this individual, Ondaatje gives his readers an insight into the life of immigrants. For though he is a native Canadian, he is surrounded by a lot of immigrants and is a part of their community.

3. Native vs. Immigrant status

In general immigrants are people who move from one country, often their homeland to permanently live in another country. They decide to leave their homes and take the risks to start a new life in a foreign country. For them, everything “starts from zero” because they have to learn a new language, adapt to a new surrounding and find the right job to work. In the Skin of a Lion is also about various figures who are immigrants or deal with immigrant life in their community. Especially, there are three characters who, in some characteristics, differ extremely. What they all have in common is their immigrant community, which they all belong to. Those are Temelcoff, a Macedonian immigrant, Caravaggio, an Italian immigrant, and the main character Patrick, who is orginally Canadian but lives his life like an immigrant.

The first character is called Caravaggio, an Italian immigrant who is described as a negative example of immigration life. He does not care about education or development in his life, as is shown by the fact that his living is made by being a thief and breaking into houses. Caravaggio “had trained as a thief in unlit rooms, dismantling the legs of a kitchen table, unscrewing the backs of radios and the bottoms of toasters” (ISL 197). This shows even immigrants who do not care about education try to be efficient in their jobs, in that case as a thief. Working as a thief means that they also have hours of labor. They are not able to work in the afternoon because someone could be in the house. Therefore, immigrants who work as a thief are unemployed in the afternoon. They are usually sitting “[in the cafe] in the west end of Toronto” (ISL 199). There are various kinds of thieves which can be distinguished:

“some [immigrants] were “displacers”, some stole animals, some kidnapped dogs and wives, some would deal only in meat products or paper information” (ISL 199)


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The representation of immigration life in Michael Ondaatje's "In the Skin of a Lion"
University of Tubingen
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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michael, ondaatje, skin, lion
Quote paper
Seher Selcuk (Author), 2014, The representation of immigration life in Michael Ondaatje's "In the Skin of a Lion", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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