This essay about the novel Anil's Ghost, By Micheal Ondaatje.

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In the novel Anil's Ghost, by Micheal Ondaatje, it is demonstrated that one of the main themes is the fact that a persons identity is not constant throughout his/her life. It grows and changes as the person does. The author demonstrates this by using Anil's friend Leif, and sailor as symbols, as well as through certain events in the character of Anil's life.

One of the way the author demonstrates the theme of the novel, the idea that a persons identity is always changing, is through the character of Leif. In the novel, it is said, on page 254, “When Leif left Arizona, Anil didn't hear from her for more than six months... Leif... was her closest friend.” This quote makes it clear that six months without hearing from Leif is troubling to Anil. It reinforces the point that Anil and Leif are very good friends. Leif is used as a symbol for identity.

The friendship between her Anil earlier is fun-filled. “Anil left a snapshot on her fridge of the two of them dancing at some party, this woman who had been her echo, who watched movies with her in her backyard.”(p.255) This time in Leif's life is used to represent one stage of her identity. Although Anil had not spoken to Leif in six months she still remembered the fun times they had together in the same way that a young girl who hasn't played with dolls in years still remembers all the fun she had doing so. Later in their friendship, the Leif she knew becomes a memory, and a new Leif gradually comes into play. The one that sends strange cryptic messages in the form of postcards with no writing. This represents a new identity. It is not entirely separate from the old one, as they still maintain some similarities, for example Leif's habit of illegally using people's phone lines. “As a teenager Leif had made long-distance calls on Sammy Davis Jr.'s stolen phone number.” (p255) Leif has a trait when she is young and when she is older, just like an identity. While it for the most part is different as one gets older, some parts remain the same. Later in their relationship, Anil discovers that Leif has Alzheimer’s, and has serious trouble remembering anything. This is another stage of identity. Since identity is formed in part by experiences and memories, Leif's loss of memory changes her identity completely. While she can remember some things like the fact that Anil “always thought Cherry Valance would die”(p.256), it is only when she is reminded and even then has trouble with the memory. This is in the same way that someone who is told that they often cried a lot as a child would have trouble with such a reminder. They may remember vaguely, but it is no longer a part of their identity. The author shows that Leif is a symbol for identity, in order to demonstrate the theme of the novel.

Another way the author demonstrates the theme of the novel, is by using sailor as a symbol. Sailor, like Leif is also used to represent identity. When Anil and Sarath begin working on sailor, neither of them knows who he is. He is in more than one piece, and perpetually incomplete just like an identity. “He turned [Sailor’s] heel bone sideways to find the centimeter deep chip that Anil had furrowed out of the calcaneus.” (p.74) This, as well the following quote are to illustrate that sailor is not complete. “[Sarath]…photographed sailor without the skull…” A person’s identity is never just one complete entity, like “family man” or “sport enthusiast”. It is a combination of different traits that come together to make up an identity. The person may be a sports enthusiast, a family man, as well as an avid fisherman, and recreational drug user. It is these little fragments of personality that make up and identity. Anil and Sarath take little pieces of sailor and his life, like pollen grain samples, and information on his appearance to piece together his identity. Also, in the beginning of the book, Sailor is a nameless, faceless victim. Later in the book, it is discovered that sailor used to work in a mine. While he’s still nameless and faceless, they now know something about him. Then even later, Ananda reconstructs Sailors face. He is no longer faceless. That aspect of him drops away. After that, they ask around, and find out sailors name. “Sarath and Anil had identified sailor at the third plumbago village. He was Ruwan Kumera and he had been a Toddy tapper.” He is no longer nameless. That aspect of him drops away. This is parallel to the idea that when one gets older, they like different things, form different opinions; behave differently than they might have when they were younger. These changes don’t happen overnight; they’re gradual and happen little at a time, based on your experiences and memories. The people Sailor “meets” in death represent his experiences and memories. They change Sailor, just as those things change a person identity. This is how the author uses Sailor as a symbol to represent identity, in order to demonstrate the theme of the novel.

Another way Ondaatje demonstrates the theme of the novel is through the experiences in Anil's life.

She is constantly changing fragments of her life to change her identity. For example, Anil’s relationship with her former husband lasted a very short span of time, and they had not known each other for very long before that. (“He and Anil were married quickly” (p.142) referring to her ex husband.) Those are the typical characteristics of one who might describe themselves as a romantic. Depending on the amount of time they knew each other, maybe even a hopeless romantic. This is part of her identity. Then during the course of their marriage, she changes. Not all in one day, but gradually. She starts to realize marriage is not for her, and she falls in love with her work. This is how the author demonstrates that identity is constantly changing. Another way he shows this using Anil’s life is her career as a swimmer. When she is young she is an avid swimmer, and her father used to take her swimming often. When she gets older, she dislikes being referred to as “the swimmer.” “She had spent fifteen years ignoring that early celebrity”(p.11), referring to her swimming fame. So much so that she will become dismissive. The person she identifies herself as as a child is not who she wants to be identified as an adult. Another way the author shows the theme is through her name, Anil. When she is young, Anil had a different name. While “At the age of thirteen,” (p.136) she decides that she cannot stand it anymore, and ends up with the name Anil. This is more literally her identity changing. Anil spends some part of her life being identified as one name, and can’t stand it anymore. She acquires the name from her brother and begins being identified as Anil. These are some ways the author uses to demonstrate one of the main themes of the novel concerning identity.

In the novel Anil's Ghost, by Michael Ondaatje, it is demonstrated that one of the main themes is the fact that a person’s identity is not constant throughout his/her life. It grows and changes as the person does. One of the ways the author demonstrates the theme of the novel, the idea that a person’s identity is always changing, is through the character of Leif. Another way the author demonstrates the theme of the novel is by using sailor as a symbol. Sailor, like Leif is also used to represent identity. Another way Ondaatje demonstrates the theme of the novel is through the experiences in Anil's life.

Source:Ondaatje, Michael. Anil's Ghost A Novel. New York: Vintage, 2001. Print.