The Representation of 'Race' in Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion

Glenn Lowry, PhD

Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

This abstract from the CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture appears with the kind permission of Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. Copyright remains of course with the author and CLCWeb

Glen Lowry bases his discussion on the observation that critics tend to view Ondaatje's writing in terms of a progression towards complex issues of "race" and post-coloniality. In contrast, Lowry argues that the matter of "race" forms an integral aspect of Ondaatje's oeuvre and Lowry proposes that In the Skin of a Lion is a key site in the development of Ondaatje's engagement with issues of "race" and the cultural politics of post-coloniality. Focusing on Ondaatje's depiction of Toronto in terms of its complex history of shifting social spaces and his representation of Patrick and Caravaggio as "racialized" figures, Lowry discusses Ondaatje's engagement with whiteness as a social construct. Rather than critiquing Ondaatje's novel for an apparent absence of race-writing, i.e., writing about so-called "visible minorities," Lowry suggests that Ondaatje in fact "reverses the gaze" and throws the question of "race" back on the readers. Adding the figures of Patrick and Caravaggio to the writing of the city, In the Skin of a Lion undermines presumptions about the racial stability and hegemonic power of Toronto's and ethnic communities. Last, Lowry argues for a more thorough discussion of Ondaatje's critique of nationalism and multiculturalism vis--vis the cultural politics of reading and the construction of "whiteness."

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Postcolonial Web India OV Canada Michael Ondaatje

Last modified: 12 August 2004